Driving in Europe can be a great way to explore new destinations and cultures, but it can also be a daunting experience for UK drivers. Brexit has changed some of the rules and requirements for driving in the EU, so it’s essential to be prepared and know what to expect before you hit the road.
Driving licences and international driving permits
One of UK drivers’ most common questions is whether they need an international driving permit (IDP) to drive in the EU. The good news is that most UK drivers can still use their standard driving licence to drive in EU countries, as long as it is a photocard licence issued in the UK. However, there are some exceptions, and you might need an IDP to drive in some EU countries and Norway if you have a licence issued in Gibraltar, Guernsey, Jersey or the Isle of Man.
You can check if you need an IDP for the country you visit on the GOV.UK website. An IDP can be bought at Post Offices for £5.50, and you must be a resident of Great Britain or Northern Ireland, have a full UK driving licence and be 18 or over.
Insurance for your vehicle, caravan or trailer
All UK vehicle insurance provides the minimum third-party cover to drive in the EU, but you may want to check with your insurer if you need extra cover for theft, fire or damage to your vehicle. You do not need to carry a green card when you drive in the EU, which is a document that proves you have insurance. However, you still need valid vehicle insurance, and you may be asked to show your insurance certificate at the border or if you are involved in an accident.
Vehicle registration documents
If you are taking your vehicle to the EU for less than 12 months, you need to carry one of the following documents:
- your vehicle log book (V5C), if you have one
- a VE103 to show you are allowed to use your hired or leased vehicle abroad
If you are taking your vehicle to the EU for more than 12 months, you may need to register and tax it in the country you visit. You can learn more about taking vehicles out of the UK for 12 months or more on the GOV.UK website.
You must register some commercial and non-commercial trailers before towing them to or through most EU and EEA countries. This applies to trailers with a gross weight of over 750kg and all with a gross weight of over 3,500 kilograms. You can find out more about trailer registration on the GOV.UK website.
UK stickers and number plates
You must display the UK identifier when driving a UK-registered vehicle abroad. You do not need a UK sticker if your number plate includes the UK identifier with the Union flag (also known as the Union Jack). However, you will need to display a UK sticker clearly on the rear of your vehicle if your number plate has any of the following:
- a GB identifier with the Union flag
- a Euro symbol
- a national flag of England, Scotland or Wales
- numbers and letters only – no flag or identifier
If you are in Spain, Cyprus or Malta, you must display a UK sticker no matter what is on your number plate.
What to do if you are involved in a road accident
If you are involved in a road accident in the EU, you should do the following:
- Call the emergency services if anyone is injured or if the road is blocked
- exchange details with the other driver(s) involved, including name, address, phone number, registration number, insurance company and policy number
- take photos of the scene and any damage to your vehicle or trailer
- contact your insurer as soon as possible and follow their advice
- fill in a European accident statement form if you have one – this is not compulsory, but it can help to settle any disputes or claims. You can get one from your insurer or download one from the European Commission website
Tips for driving in Europe safely and legally
Besides having all the correct documents and equipment, there are some other things you should consider when driving in Europe:
- check the local rules of the road for each country you are visiting – some may have different speed limits, traffic signs, driving laws and toll charges than the UK. You can find useful information on the RAC website
- make sure your vehicle is roadworthy and has a valid MOT certificate if required – some countries may have stricter emissions standards or require winter tyres or snow chains in certain conditions
- plan your route in advance and have a map or sat nav handy – some countries may not allow the use of speed camera detectors or require you to switch off certain features on your sat nav
- drive on the right-hand side of the road and overtake on the left – this may take some getting used to if you are used to driving on the left in the UK. Be extra careful at roundabouts, and junctions and when changing lanes
- adjust your headlights so they do not dazzle other drivers – you can use headlamp converters or adjust them manually depending on your vehicle. You should also carry spare bulbs in case one fails while you are abroad
- wear a seat belt at all times and make sure any children are properly restrained – some countries may have different rules on child car seats than the UK. You can check the child car seat rules for different countries on the GOV.UK website
- do not drink and drive – some countries may have lower alcohol limits than the UK or even zero tolerance. The safest option is to avoid alcohol altogether if you are driving
- carry a warning triangle, reflective jacket, first aid kit and fire extinguisher – these are mandatory items in some countries and recommended items in others. You should also carry a breathalyser if you are driving in France
- have enough money or payment methods for tolls, fuel and parking – some countries may not accept credit cards or foreign currency at toll booths or petrol stations. You should also check where you can park legally and avoid parking fines or clamping
- be aware of any travel restrictions or requirements due to Covid-19 – some countries may require proof of vaccination, testing or quarantine before entering or leaving. You should check the latest travel advice for each country on the GOV.UK website before you travel
Driving in Europe can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience if you follow these tips and prepare well. Happy motoring!