If you’re going to be driving your car abroad this summer on holiday, or if you’re planning to drive down to watch the 24 hours of Le Mans, the world’s oldest, active, endurance sports car race, did you know that if you drive through France you’re legally required to carry a portable breathalyser in your vehicle? No? You’re not alone.
But ignorance is not a legal excuse, so before you buckle up and head down to the south coast to begin your journey over to the continent, have a read through our guide to driving your car abroad, and make sure you’re fully clued up.
Before you leave the house
Before you leave your driveway, check you have all the documents you require to drive your car abroad. Such as:
- Full photocard driver’s license or a valid paper-only license (if issued before 31 March 2000)
- Car registration document (V5)
- Insurance documents (see below)
- An authorisation letter if your car is a company car, stating that you’re allowed to drive the car abroad
- Breakdown policy documents – better to be safe than sorry, repair bills for emergency work overseas will quickly add up
International driving permit
As it stands at the moment (pre-Brexit), you can use your Great Britain or Northern Ireland driving licence in all EU or European Economic Area countries and Switzerland.
If you’re planning on driving your car in any non-EU country, you might need an international driving permit – check where you’re going just in case.
In some countries you will need one if you’re planning on hiring a car, or only if you’re planning on staying for longer than 30 days. Each country is different, so do your homework before you leave home.
If you do need an international driving permit, you can pick one up, over the counter, from your local post office for £5.50. To qualify, you have to:
- be a GB or Northern Ireland resident
- have a full UK driving licence
- be 18 or over
Bear in mind, if you’re planning on travelling between countries, you might need to get different types of international driving permits.
If you have an international driving permit already, check its expiry date, because a 1949 permit only lasts for 12 months and a 1968 permit only lasts for 3 years.
How Brexit will impact driving your car abroad
If the UK leaves the EU without a deal on 12 April 2019, you may need an international driving permit to drive in all EU and European Economic Area (EEA) countries, apart from Ireland.
Also, you may need to get a new international driving permit because your existing one may no longer be accepted in some countries.
As a way of guidance, the government advices after Brexit you will need a:
- 1926 permit to drive in Liechtenstein
- 1949 permit to drive in Spain, Iceland, Malta and Cyprus
- 1968 permit to drive in all other EU countries, plus Norway and Switzerland
At the moment, if you want to drive your car abroad, you have to ensure that your current insurance provider covers you to drive outside of the UK (not all of them do).
The easiest way to find out if you can drive your car abroad or not, is to give your insurer a call and let them know you’re planning on driving your car abroad. If you’re not covered, they will most likely have add-on car insurance you can purchase, to cover you whilst you’re away. This add-on insurance typically lasts for 30 days, so if you’re planning on going away for longer, you might want to rethink your whole policy.
If you are allowed to drive on your current policy, always read the small print, because some insurers will have a clause that says you can only drive abroad up to a certain number of days.
Always ask your insurer for a Green Card (an internationally recognised proof of insurance) if you’re going to be driving in Europe. The card itself is free.
Emergency European driving kit
You know full well that sod’s law says you’ll have an emergency when you’re not prepared. So make sure you pack an emergency kit in your car for all eventualities, including a:
- First aid kit – you never know when accidents will happen
- Tool kit (if you know how to do basic car repairs)
- Reflective jacket – always wear this when you’re moving beside a road
- Warning triangle – some countries such as Spain require you legally to carry two warning triangles
- Fire extinguisher – car fires are more common than you think. According to the Fire Service, in the UK there are nearly 300 car fires every day, of course these aren’t all due to engine fires, but a percentage of them are.
- Portable breathalyser kit
- Headlamp beam converters
- Map of Europe – because you know the sat nav and/or your phone will pack up just when you need them the most
The AA has a handy guide for which countries have what requirements:
Service your car
Before you head off abroad, make sure your car is up to the journey. A quick service will see you right. At the very least:
- Check the water, oil and coolant level
- Check tyre pressures and thread
- Ensure you have a visible GB sticker or sign on your car
- You might also need to adjust your headlights so you don’t dazzle oncoming drivers. This is a simple job that you can do with a beam converter kit.
Know your road signs around the world
In a previous blog post we put together an infographic of international road signs, it’s definitely worth having another read through of it to refresh your memory.
Breaking the law abroad
One thing worth mentioning, if you are caught speeding abroad, you will be penalised for it. The local authorities will run your car details through the DVLA website and you will find a brown envelope pop through your door at some point on your return. Always stick to the speed limits.