The basics of driving abroad

Carlton Boyce / 06 July 2015

Planning to drive abroad? We look at the current rules for driving abroad and share our top tips to ensure your trip is safe, comfortable and legal.

Driving abroad is much easier than it used to be; entry to the European Union might be a great dinner party topic, but it can’t be denied that a single currency and easier movement across borders has made the continental driver’s job much easier.

There are still pitfalls though, so we’re here to guide you through the process leaving you free to enjoy your grand tour!

The paperwork

The paper element of the driving licence was scrapped on 8 June 2015, with all penalty points now being accessible online. However, it’s unlikely that every car hire desk or police officer you encounter abroad will know this so I’d hang on to the paper copy for a while yet, just in case…

If you’re driving outside Europe, you might also need an International Driving Permit. They’re cheap and easy to obtain, but the process does take time, so it’s worth checking early.

You should also carry your car’s insurance certificate, registration document (V5), and MOT certificate if applicable. Company car drivers also need a letter from the registered owner of the car giving permission for it to be taken abroad.

Find out more about the car tax rule changes.

Your car

If your car’s service is due soon, I’d get it done before your holiday, rather than waiting until afterwards. If it isn’t due, then why not consider a mini-service, just in case there are any niggling nasties lurking under the bonnet? Either way, half-an-hour invested in doing your own checks now beats trying to troubleshoot at the side of the autoroute, doesn’t it?

Changing the headlights’ dipping pattern on modern cars is usually fairly straightforward and the days of having to stick a black adaptor on the glass are long gone, but it’s better to check ahead of time than to have a last-minute panic on the ferry.

How to hire a car...

Breakdown cover

If you’re using your own car and you have comprehensive breakdown cover already you will probably be protected throughout Europe, but it’s worth checking as it isn’t a certainty and driving elsewhere might incur an additional premium.  

If you don’t already have cover, then why not check out Saga Breakdown Assistance?

Remember to drive on the right…

All European countries – except the UK, Malta, Ireland, and Cyprus – drive on the right-hand side of the road. It becomes second nature very quickly but it is easy to get confused in some situations when your mind is occupied on other things; turning out of a minor road, for example, can be a real problem as you’re focused on looking out for oncoming traffic rather than thinking about what side of the road to drive on.

Some people put a ‘post it’ note on the windscreen to remind them, while I prefer to ask my passenger to remind me if he/she thinks I’ve got it wrong!

Read Saga's guide to driving after your 70th birthday.

The bits you always forget…

If you’re driving in France, the rules around breatherlysers are confusing as although it is a legal requirement to carry them, there is no penalty for failing to do so. It is recommended that you carry two disposable breathalysers anyway, just to be on the safe side. You should also carry a fluorescent jacket, first aid kit, and warning triangle plus plenty of change for the inevitable tolls!

Oh, and you’ll need a GB sticker for the back of the car - but everyone buys them at the ferry terminal, don’t they?

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.