Driving in Europe

Before you can drive on the autobahns and boulevards, there are a few laws and regulations you need to know about. We’ve put together some pointers to help you stay safe. But remember: laws can change. So make sure you double check with the Foreign Office before you set off.

What are the basics?

Drive on the right – unless you’re in Ireland, Malta or Cyprus

Take extra care on roundabouts and when you pull out from parking spaces. You’ll find tips to help you drive in Europe on the RAC website.

Pick up a GB sticker for your bumper

If your car’s more than seven years old, it won’t show its country of origin on your number plate so you’ll need to get yourself a sticker from a car accessory shop. Some countries give on-the-spot fines if you don’t have one.

Get to know the road signs

Especially the ones we don’t have in the UK. And remember the speed limits in Europe are usually displayed in kilometres, not miles.

If you’re starting your journey in France, this fact sheet includes some common French road signs and advice about driving in other European countries

Check the minimum driving age

It’s 17 in the UK and Ireland, but in most European countries it’s 18. Always check before you go.

Know the alcohol limits

Most European countries have lower alcohol limits than the UK. And quite a few, like the Czech Republic, don’t allow you to have any alcohol in your system at all.

Adjust your headlights to a dipped beam

This is so you don’t dazzle oncoming drivers if you’re going to be driving on the right – and it’s compulsory in many European countries. You might need a mechanic to help you do it, so don’t leave it until the last minute.

Remember the number 112

It’s the European emergency telephone number.

Which documents should I take?

You’ll need your:

  • passport
  • driving licence
  • vehicle registration permit – the original, not a copy
  • letter of authorisation if you’re driving a borrowed or company car
  • Vehicle on Hire certificate (VE103b) if you’re driving a hire care
  • car insurance documents – it’s a good idea to call your insurer before you leave to check you’re covered for driving abroad, and see if you need to add extra cover
  • breakdown cover documents – double check your cover includes Europe and that you’re definitely covered for the country you’re visiting and the dates you’re away.

In some countries you might also need an International Driving Permit. You can apply for one at the Post Office three months before you travel and it’ll be valid for a year.

What should I pack?
  • Spare change for tolls and making calls if your mobile phone dies
  • A hands-free kit for your phone – it’s illegal to hold your phone while you’re driving
  • Maps or GPS so you know where you’re going – try the RAC route planner before you leave
  • A high-vis jacket and emergency warning triangle – it’s a legal obligation in lots of European countries
Anything I should know about driving in…?

Austria

It’s a legal requirement to use winter tyres between 1 November and the 15 April.

Belgium

It’s illegal to use cruise control in some areas – special signs will tell you where.

Bulgaria

It’s compulsory to have your lights on in the day time between 1 November and 1 March.

Cyprus

If you’re convicted of drink driving you can face up to two years in prison.

The Czech Republic

There are no motorway toll booths. Instead you need to buy a special sticker – you could get an on-the-spot fine if you don’t. Stickers are available at almost every petrol station or post office in the Czech Republic

Denmark

Police can seize your car if you can’t pay an on-the-spot fine.

Estonia

You might need to go to court if you drink alcohol after you’ve been involved in an accident. Steer clear until the police have finished taking all the details and tests they need to do, and you’re nowhere near your car.

Finland

Speeding fines and some other fines vary depending on your income.

France

You should have an electronic or chemical breathalyser in your car at all times.

Germany

If the thought of driving on the autobahn makes you nervous, here are three tips to remember:

1. Be extra careful when you change lanes – there are huge differences in the speed people drive at in each one.

2. Take care if you use the left lane to overtake: the average speed is usually around 125mph.

3. Only use the left lane if your car’s up to it. And keep your eyes peeled for people changing lanes ahead of you.

You’ll find more tips for driving in Germany on the RAC website.

Greece

Police can give on-the-spot fines.

Hungary

There’s a zero-tolerance policy on drink driving and the police can withdraw your licence on the spot.

Italy

Every uniformed police officer can also carry out traffic surveillance.

Lithuania

It’s illegal to have an open container of alcohol inside your vehicle.

Luxembourg

You can find out more about driving in Luxembourg on the RAC website.

The Netherlands

If you’re convicted of drink driving you have to go on – and pay for – a three-day course, or pass a test before you can drive again.

Norway

If you’re caught driving with a blood alcohol concentration higher than 0.8%, you could go to prison for up to three weeks.

Poland

The speed limit in built-up areas increases from 50 km/h to 60 km/h between 11pm and 5am.

Portugal

Passengers must use the nearside door to get out, so they don’t step into traffic.

Romania

If you’re convicted of drink driving you could lose your licence for up to 90 days and face imprisonment.

Sweden

You should always have your headlights on and set to a dipped beam, even during the day.

If you’d like more information, you’ll find country driving guides on the European Traffic Police (TISPOL) website.

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