Using a car abroad is a great way of discovering a country, but it's essential to know the regulations and insurance implications before you go. Whether you’re taking your own car abroad or hiring one on holiday, it’s worth getting everything in order before you set off.

1. Know before you go

Using a car abroad is a great way of discovering a country, but it's essential to know the regulations and insurance implications before you go.

Whether you’re taking your own car abroad or hiring one on holiday, it’s worth getting everything in order before you set off. If you have any queries please call us.

For emergency services in mainland Europe, dial 112.

Note: you need to be aged at least 18 to drive in Europe and at least 21 years old if you want to hire a car.


Following the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December 2020, you now need a Green Card if you wish to drive in the EU, according to

You will need to be able to present a physical copy of the document to be allowed to drive in EU countries, as digital copies are not currently accepted. In a change to the previous requirement, Green Cards no longer need to be printed on green paper: the document can now comprise black print on white paper.

It's important to note that if you're towing a trailer or caravan, you will need a separate Green Card for the caravan or trailer (two in total).

We won't charge you for issuing a Green Card, but you need to contact us at least a month before you leave to give us time to get the document to you.

2. Car insurance

Take your Certificate of Insurance and your Green Card with you to prove you have car insurance and third party cover while driving abroad.

Currently, all car insurance providers are required to give you at least the minimum legally required cover in any EU country (third party liability cover in the UK) – but not all providers automatically extend this cover to include accidental damage to, loss or theft of your own vehicle.

In addition to the cover required above, John Lewis Car Insurance comes with 180 days full cover including accidental damage, theft or loss as standard. You can also buy additional Breakdown Cover.

3. Travel insurance

Car insurance can cover personal injury, but it may not cover all medical costs after an accident. EU agreements mean you can access free or low cost medical treatment in Europe as long as you have a valid European or Global Health Insurance Card (EHIC or GHIC), but you won’t be covered for emergency repatriation in case of serious injury.

You should take out Travel Insurance to cover medical costs in case of a car accident.

4. Staying safe

To reduce risk of breakdown or mechanical trouble while abroad, take your car in for a service before you leave.

Do a quick safety check before you travel - ensure the spare tyre is in working order and you have the necessary jacks and equipment to change it.

Check the oil and water levels and carry spare windscreen wash and a spare tyre/tyre repair kit with you just in case.


Essentials to take with you:

Your insurer's claims telephone number and if you have European breakdown cover, their number as well.

Your car insurance certificate, green card, policy and schedule.

Your vehicle registration document or certificate (V5 or V5C) or your vehicle on-hire certificate (VE 103). If you don't have one, you can get this through the DVLA, however it can take at least 14 days to get one.

Your passport and driving licence - make sure the details on it are up-to-date before you travel.

A spare set of keys.

Set of headlamp converters to adjust your lights for driving on the right.

Keep these things with you when you're driving, but remember not to leave them in your car.

It's also a good idea to have:

A spare tyre (where fitted) or a tyre repair kit.

A first-aid kit.

A warning triangle and high visibility jacket (one for each person in the vehicle).

A torch, tool-kit, spare bulb kit, fire extinguisher.

Spare windscreen wash and a large bottle of water.

Snow tyres or chains, antifreeze and window scrapers if you’re driving in cold weather.

In some countries such as France, it is compulsory to carry working self-test breathalyser kits and failure to do so can lead to on-the-spot fines.

In some European countries, such as Austria, it is compulsory for you to carry a high-vis jacket, warning triangle and first aid kit - not doing so results in on-the-spot fines.

5. Speed limits

Always drive under the speed limits on motorways and highways abroad. The limit on major roads in the UK is 70mph, but limits in other countries vary so always check before you travel.

6. Drink-driving limits

Alcohol limits for driving are lower in mainland Europe than in the UK. British law limits 80mg of alcohol in 100ml of blood (0.08%), but EU countries including Spain, France and Finland only allow 0.05% before you are breaking the law. In Sweden the alcohol limit is just 0.02%. Know your limit and don’t drink and drive.

7. International Driving Permit (IDP)

An IDP is a formal document that translates the details on your driving licence into several languages. This allows foreign authorities to check your identity and driving permissions with ease, for example, the type of vehicles you're allowed to drive and how long your licence is valid for. A current full UK driving licence is valid in the EU / EEA.

See the latest list of countries which require an IDP.

You can apply for an IDP at your local Post Office, the AA or the RAC. You need to be a UK resident, have passed your driving test and be over 18-years-old. A small fee is usually payable.

8. Adjust your headlamps for driving on the right

Most motoring accessory shops and motoring organisations sell headlamp beam converters.

Dip your headlights or use sidelights when driving through tunnels.
You must drive with dipped headlights on all roads at all times in Denmark, Norway and Sweden, and in Finland you have to use dipped headlights outside built-up areas.

9. Other driving regulations differences

Different countries have different regulations, but there are a few things that are always useful to remember:

On roundabouts, traffic already on the roundabout has priority.

Make sure you have small change in the correct currency with you to pay road tolls.

Always give priority to buses and military vehicles - you have to give way to trams in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Finally remember, driving is on the right in all European countries, except the UK, Irish Republic, Cyprus and Malta.

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