A guide to driving in the EU on holiday

Planning to drive through Europe? Driving rules and requirements change from country to country, so before you head off on your next trip, make sure you’re prepared and have everything you need.

We’ve put together this useful guide that’s full of everything you need to know, from pre-trip checks and what to take with you to things to remember when you get there. 

Please note: This guide is aimed at UK citizens who plan to take their own vehicle or a hired/leased vehicle out of the UK for less than 12 months. There are different rules for commercial drivers, or if you’re planning to take your vehicle out of the UK for 12 months or longer.

European driving checklist

To do before you go:

  1. Check whether you can use your licence. 
    You need to take your Great Britain or Northern Ireland driving licence with you to drive abroad. Check yours is still valid – if it’s expired or about to expire, renew it before you go. 
    If you do need a new licence, it’s quicker to apply online. Online applications should receive their new driving licence within five days, applications by post will take longer. 

  2. Check your vehicle is ready to go.
    Before planning your trip, it’s vital to ensure that the vehicle you’re planning to drive is safe to take with you. UK law still applies to a UK-registered vehicle being taken abroad for less than 12 months, so you need to make sure your vehicle has the following: 
    - An up-to-date V5C 
    - A current MOT 
    - Has been taxed in the UK 
    - Valid UK insurance 

  3.  If required, apply for an international driving permit (IDP). 
    If you have a photocard driving licence issued in the UK, you don’t need an IDP to drive in the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein.
    If you have a paper licence, or your licence was issued in Gibraltar, Guernsey, Jersey or the Isle of Man, you will need to check whether an IDP is required with the embassy of the country you will be driving in.

  4. Check if your insurance covers the countries you’re driving through.

    Vehicle insurance
    All UK vehicle insurance provides the minimum third-party cover to drive in the EU (including Ireland) as well as Andorra, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Serbia and Switzerland. 
    You will need to check with your insurer if your insurance policy has extra cover for things like theft or damage to your car abroad. If you need more cover, you can take out temporary European car insurance, which is usually available from one hour to 30 days.

    Hiring a car
    If you’re hiring a vehicle, check that you can take it abroad with your car hire company. You will also need to carry a VE103 to show you’re allowed to use a hired or leased vehicle abroad. 

    Breakdown cover
    While it’s not a legal requirement to have European breakdown cover, it’s always a good idea to have it to make sure you stay safe. 
    Breaking down without cover can not only be expensive, but it can also be an added stress if you don’t know the local language. 
    You can usually get cover for a single trip abroad, or throughout the year if you regularly drive abroad.

    Travel insurance
    As with any holiday, you should make sure you have travel insurance that covers you for each country you’re travelling through.

    Caravans and trailers
    If you’re taking your caravan or trailer, you will need to get Touring and Caravan cover.

  5. Prepare any essential documents to carry in Europe.
Legally required: 
    • Full, valid driving licence 
      Check yours is still valid and renew your driving licence if it’s expired or about to expire.
    • National Insurance number 
      Make sure to have this easily to hand in case you need to sort any insurance claims. 
    • Proof of ID (valid passport) 
      To visit and travel within the EU, you will need a valid passport. Additionally, your passport needs to have been issued within the last ten years and should be valid for at least three months after the date you intend to leave the EU.
    • Proof of vehicle insurance 
      You can use your insurance certificate to prove to police or border authorities that you have the right paperwork.
    • Green card
      A green card is proof that you have vehicle insurance when driving abroad and can be obtained from your insurer. 
      You don’t need to carry a green card to drive in the EU (including Ireland), Andorra, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Serbia, or Switzerland. You do, however, still need valid vehicle insurance.
    • One of the following documents:
      • V5C certificate (vehicle logbook) 
        If you’re taking your own vehicle abroad for less than 12 months, you must take your vehicle logbook (V5C) with you. You may have to show it if you’re stopped at a port or while driving. 
        Your V5C must show your most recent address in the UK. If you need a replacement V5C, it can take five days if you apply online, or an estimated four to six weeks if you apply by post or if you’re updating your name or address.
      • VE103 vehicle on hire certificate
        If you’re hiring or leasing a vehicle, you will need to take a VE103 vehicle on hire certificate to show you’re allowed to drive it abroad. 
    Highly recommended:
    • Travel insurance documents 
      These are not a legal requirement, but highly recommended. 
    • European Global Health Insurance Card 
      If you’re eligible, this card can be used to get cover for emergency treatment abroad – including visits to A&E or routine maternity care. However, this is not a substitute for travel insurance and may not cover all health costs.
      Please note: the UK GHIC has replaced the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). If you have an existing EHIC you can continue to use it until the expiry date on the card. Once it expires, you'll need to apply for a UK GHIC to replace it.
    • European breakdown cover 
      Enjoy complete peace of mind with European breakdown cover. This is offered by a number of insurance providers and will insure you get the help you need in the event of a breakdown on holiday. Make sure to keep the policy number and documents to hand, in case of the worst-case scenario. 
    • Vignettes 
      A vignette is a form of road pricing used in several European countries, often in addition to compulsory road tax, that is based on a period of time the vehicle uses the roads. It varies by country whether vignettes are required for all road, or only for the use of motorways and expressways.
      In most countries, vignettes are small, coloured stickers which must be fixed to the windscreen, but some countries have introduced electronic vignettes. 
      Prices vary by country from €30 to €150, and all countries except Switzerland offer short-period vignettes for visiting vehicles. 
      You should always check where vignettes can be purchased prior to travelling, but they can often be obtained at border crossings, fuel stations and other outlets.
    • Clean air stickers
      • France
        You need a Crit’air vignette sticker to drive into 12 French cities or regions, including Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Montpellier, Bordeaux, Toulouse and Aix-Marseille-Provence. 
        A Crit'Air vignette costs €4.61 (£4) and covers the vehicle for its entire lifetime  as it depicts the EURO standards of the vehicle.
        Even travellers with a 100% electric car still need to display a sticker.
      • Germany
        There is an environmental scheme for Germany, but these stickers can be purchased at garages and hotels when you’re in the country, so do not need to be bought in advance. 
    1. Check whether you need a visa. 
      You do not need a visa for short trips to the EU or countries within the Schengen area if you’re staying as a tourist for 90 days or less in a 180-day period. 
      You may need a visa or permit if you want to either work or stay for more than 90 days.

    2. Check the laws and requirements of any countries you’re driving through.
      Here are some tips and things to check before you go:
    • Know where toll roads are and how to pay them.
      Sometimes cash is easiest.
    • Drive on the correct side of the road!
      Remember, most European countries drive on the right-hand side of the road (the exceptions are the Republic of Ireland, Cyprus and Malta). 
    • Know and stick to the local speed limits. 
    • Don’t drink and drive.
      All EU countries have strict alcohol limits, so don’t risk it. 
    • Always wear a seatbelt.
      Seatbelts are mandatory for all drivers and passengers across Europe.
    • Keep any kids in the back.
      Children under the age of 12 are not allowed in the front seat in many countries. 
    • Don’t use your phone.
      It’s against the law in almost all European countries to use a mobile phone while driving.
    • Check what equipment you're required to carry:
      • UK identifier
        When driving a UK-registered vehicle abroad, you must display the UK identifier. 
        If your number plate includes the UK identifier with the UK flag (aka the Union Jack), you’re good to go. If your number does not contain the UK identifier with the UK flag, you will need to display a UK sticker clearly on the rear of your vehicle.
        There are some exceptions to this rule. You do not need a UK sticker or identifier to drive in Ireland, but you must display a UK sticker no matter what is on your number plate if you’re driving in Spain, Cyprus or Malta.
      • Reflective jackets
        Wearing a reflective jacket is compulsory in most countries if the driver or a passenger gets out of an immobilised vehicle on a carriageway. It’s a good idea to make sure you have enough reflective jackets for all passengers, and that you can reach them without getting out of the car.
      • Warning triangle
        Aside from the UK, almost all European countries consider an emergency triangle to be a compulsory piece of equipment – in the event of an accident or breakdown. Some countries, such as Spain, Cyprus, Estonia and Bosnia, even require two. Even if the country doesn’t require this by law, it’s recommended to carry one in your vehicle.
      • Headlamp beam deflectors
        If you can’t manually adjust the beams, you’ll need to install deflector stickers.
      • First aid kit 
        A first aid kit and fire extinguisher are required by law in most Nordic, Eastern European, Baltic and Soviet countries – as well as the likes of Austria, Germany. Again, even if it’s not required by law, this is still recommended to have on board.
    • Additional recommended equipment for driving in Europe:
      • An up-to-date road map or satellite navigation system 
      • Photocopies of important documents 
      • European health insurance card 
      • Replacement car light bulbs 
      • Battery jump starter 
      • Fire extinguisher
      • A high-quality torch 
      • A spare fuel can
      • Additional engine oil 
      • Extra screenwash or water 
      • Blanket 
      • Sunglasses 
      • Sun cream 
      • Extra supplies of any necessary medications 
    Below, we’ve listed some extra things to check before you travel so you’re fully prepared to drive in Europe: 
    • Give your vehicle a full check with the help of our handy expert approved guide of vehicle checks to carry out before long journeys.
    • Plan your route in advance. 
    • Prepare for extreme weather:
      • Northern Europe in winter: snow and ice 
      • Southern Europe in summer: extreme heat
      • Check European fuel prices. 

      What should you do if you’re involved in a road accident while in Europe? 

      If you’re involved in a road accident in an EU or EEA country, contact your insurance provider. 
      Any claims or legal proceedings against the insurance provider of the responsible driver or the insurance provider of the vehicle will need to be made in the country where the accident happened. This may need to be in the local language.
      If the accident is caused by an uninsured driver, you may find that, in some countries, you will not get compensation. 

      If you enjoyed this blog, you might also like to read:
      Picture credit: TravelPriceWatch via Unsplash