Driving your car outside the EU

How to prepare and a guide to international driving permits

Driving abroad

20 March 2018

Taking your car beyond EU boundaries can be daunting, but with a little research and some careful planning you'll be on the road in no time.

There are a number of factors to consider when taking your car abroad outside of the EU. To help make your trip less daunting, this guide explains the paperwork you'll need to take with you and how to prepare your car, and gives an overview of licensing requirements and import and export rules.

International driving permits

Most countries outside the EU will still accept a full, valid UK driving licence, but only when accompanied by an International Driving Permit (IDP).

There are two types of IDP: the IDP 1949, valid in the majority of countries, and the IDP 1926, valid in Brazil, Iraq and Somalia. Both are available from the Post Office, the RAC and the AA at a cost of £5.50. You'll simply need to fill out a form, and prove that you are a resident of GB or Northern Ireland, have passed your driving test and are over 18.

Remember that an IDP is only valid with your full photocard driving licence. As the paper counterpart licence is being taken out of use from the 8th of June 2015 to pave the way for a new electronic system, you will no longer need to carry this with you. To find out more about how UK driving licences are changing, read our short guide.

It's also important to note that an IDP is different from an International Driving Licence (IDL), so don't confuse the two.

Personal paperwork

Your passport and full driving licence are obvious essentials, but there are a number of other pieces of paperwork to put in order.

A valid car insurance document that guarantees cover in every country you travel to is nearly always a legal requirement. With that in mind, you should always check with your insurer to make sure you're covered for the country you're visiting – if you're an AXA customer, see further information on countries you're covered to drive in. You're also likely to need your original V5c vehicle registration document in your vehicle at all times.

Exporting your car

Although the UK government doesn't require drivers to complete paperwork for trips of less than 12 months, many customs offices outside Europe require European drivers to pay a deposit against import duties and taxes. These charges vary according to local tax law. If you'd rather sort everything before you enter your destination country, you may want to consider a Carnet de Passage en Douanes, usually called simply Carnet de Passage or Carnet.

A Carnet is required for travel in Africa (except Tunisia and Morocco), Australia, New Zealand, Asia, the Middle East, and is recommended for most South American countries. It takes the form of a five, 10 or 25-page document that acts as a passport for your car: granting entry and exit into five different countries, or on five different occasions, without tax and duties.

The only Carnet de Passage issuer in the UK is the RAC, which charges fees of £215 - £225, plus a refundable security deposit based on the value of your vehicle, your car insurance premium, and the risk level of the country you're travelling to.

Preparing your car

Many countries have specific laws about what you must carry in your car. Common requirements are a warning triangle, first aid kit, reflective/high vis vest, a clearly displayed UK sticker and spare headlight bulbs. You may also want to consider:

  • A fire extinguisher
  • Basic tool kit
  • A tyre inflator and sealant kit
  • Spare antifreeze, oil and water

We also recommend keeping a note of crucial numbers to call in the event of an accident, including the international numbers for your insurer, and the local emergency number.

Before setting off, it's important to give your car a thorough once-over to make sure it's in a fit condition to travel. Check the tyre tread depth (a minimum of 1.6mm is required) and pressure levels. Get under the hood and check your oil and coolant levels, as well as refilling the wiper fluid. If there are any strange engine noises or other concerns, don't put them off: now is the time to see a trusted mechanic.

Practical tips for driving outside the EU

Even if you're a very experienced driver, it's wise to research local laws, hazards and customs before you set off. A great place to start your research is the British Government’s website, which suggests driving cautiously and defensively as a general rule of thumb, and provides a breakdown of travel advice for 225 countries or territories. From there, we recommend researching the following areas:

  • Whether the country drives on the left or the right
  • Speed limits – remember, many countries state limits in km/h, not mph as in the UK
  • Drink-driving limits – it's best not to drink at all when driving, but strict limits in some countries mean abstaining the night before is essential too
  • Legal driving ages – some countries also have specific laws about women driving
  • Local toll roads and bridges – it's sometimes handy to keep change in the car
  • Road signs – knowing the visual cues is essential, especially when your attention is focused on deciphering a foreign language