8 things to remember when driving abroad

Carlton Boyce / 23 April 2019

It's important to do some research about the rules of the road overseas, as just a little preparation can help you feel more confident and give you the chance to enjoy your time away. Here are some useful tips for driving in foreign countries.



Photocard paper counterpart

In England, Scotland and Wales, the paper counterpart to the photocard licence was abolished on 8 June 2015 and information about penalty points is now held on the DVLA's driver record. However Northern Ireland retains a two-part licence composed of a photocard and paper counterpart. 

It's worth printing your own driving licence record from DVLA's website as you'll need to know your driving licence number, national insurance number and postcode. You can also create a licence ‘check code’ to share your driving record with the car hire company you intend to use, if hiring a car.

If you’re driving outside Europe, you might also need an International Driving Permit - and you definitely will need one after Brexit. They’re cheap and easy to obtain, but the process does take time, so it’s worth checking early. You'll need a Green Card from your insurer too after Brexit.

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.

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Check your car

If your car’s service is due soon, 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.

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 plan a road trip

Check your sat nav

Sat nav laws differ from country to country; in France, for example, it is against the law to use a sat nav that indicates the location of speed cameras, so make sure you know what the rules are before you go there.

If you're using a sat nav and you've rented it with your car, make sure the system speaks English.

If you're using your own sat nav, make sure it's had an update recently - you can do this by connecting it to your computer and following the manufacturer's instructions. 

How do sat navs work?

Check your insurance policy

Making sure that you have breakdown assistance cover while abroad makes a lot of sense. 

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.  

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Drive on the correct side of the road

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!

Also, remember to alter your headlamps in preparation for driving on the right-hand side of the road.

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Be aware of road clearance

Take care when looking at road maps, particularly for old cities. Sometimes, normal-looking roads can turn out to be alleys or streets so narrow you have to pull in your wing mirrors to squeeze through.

Read up on the road rules

Study road signs in advance to familiarise yourself with basic road rules and signs. You can find country-specific information online, or contact your car rental company and see if they can provide some basic information to keep with you in the car.

Driving in France

Essential kit to keep in the car

This list is a good starting point, but do check what the rules are for different countries so you don't get caught out and fined.

• Driving license – paper and plastic

• Insurance certificate

• Vehicle registration document (V5)

• GB identification badge

• Headlamp beam converters

• First aid kit

• Car warning triangle

• High visibility reflective jacket

• Spare set of bulbs

• Two single-use breathalyser kits.

• Loose currency for toll roads.



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.