Driving abroad isn’t difficult but you do need to learn to cope with being on the other side of the road, different traffic signs and hazards from hairpin bends, and potholes, oxcarts and elephants that you rarely encounter on British roads.
Driving abroad advice and car hire tips
Do your homework before setting out and drive defensively and you should be fine.
Most but not all countries will allow you to drive on your national licence for up to three months. If you do need an International Driving Permit, they are are available from the AA (www.theaa.com) or over the counter from selected Post Offices.
You should take your car’s registration papers with you as proof of ownership and carry photo ID with you at all times.
Within the EU, your existing insurance policy should be sufficient to cover the minimum legal requirement. Beyond EU borders, 40 countries worldwide sign up to the Green Card scheme which again guarantees that you have legal minimum insurance and saves you having to buy any further insurance locally. Your insurance company should provide the card for you free of charge.
However it is worth topping up your policy to get comprehensive accident and breakdown assistance as the costs can skyrocket abroad.
What to take
If taking your own car abroad, you may need to buy some new kit to stay legal. To start with, you’ll need a GB identifier sign. You should probably buy headlight adjusters to reset the angle of beam, needed to compensate for driving on the opposite side of the road. In Spain, and Portugal (amongst others), it is a legal requirement to carry spare light bulbs, a reflective jacket, and warning triangle.
Take a spare set of car keys, spare glasses if you need them for driving, a basic tool kit, invest in a phrase book with a good section of motoring terms and sat-nav loaded with the right area (or a good map), preferably both.
Check how old you need to be to hire – it can vary from 21 to 25 while in some places you need to have had your licence for at least a couple of years. Take your licence, your passport and a credit card with enough credit to cover the deposit (which can go up to £3,000).
Look at taking out a policy to insure your Collision Damage Waiver and Excess which can vary from £200 to £1600; to do it locally can cost up to £20 a day.
Shop around as rental prices vary hugely, even between the major international car hire companies (and one won’t necessarily be the cheapest in every destination). There are obviously many price comparison websites, and most tour operators and airlines offer deals through their preferred suppliers but these aren’t necessarily the best offer either.
The many smaller local agencies may give you a better deal although surprisingly you can often get better deals by buying in advance from a big agency at home. You also need to be careful as unless you have a good recommendation, you’ll need to do a lot of homework and could still end up with a rent-a-wreck and no backup.
Except for a handful of former British colonies (such as Malta, Cyprus, Australia and South Africa), driving is on the right, which also means going round roundabouts the wrong way and giving way to the right. It can also make it more difficult to judge things spatially and see out of your mirrors if driving a British car, so check very carefully when turning, parking and backing.
Seat belts are usually compulsory and many other countries have more stringent rules on speeding and drink driving than the UK. If in doubt, simply don’t drink at all if driving. Possession of a radar detector is illegal in many countries, even if it’s switched off, so if you have one, leave it at home and switch off the speed camera function on your sat-nav.
While a few well-publicised countries such as Germany allow you to drive incredibly fast on motorways, the average is 120/130 kph on motorways, 60/70 kph on rural roads and 40/50 kph in towns with strictly enforced limits and on-the-spot fines. Remember that your toll tickets are timed and can be used as evidence of speeding.
If you do have an accident, take photos of any damage, call the police (it’s a legal requirement in some countries) and if in doubt, contact the British consulate who can help you get legal representation.