Tips for driving abroad including: licence requirements, insurance and breakdown cover, local laws, headlights and GB sticker.
Tips For UK Drivers Abroad
Tips for driving abroad help make your journey safe, legal and relaxing. Among others they relate to the: driving licence, insurance, breakdown cover, headlight conversion, GB sticker, local rules and what to do in an emergency.
A British or Northern Irish licence is valid within the European Union and European Economic Area (and Switzerland). But take note: the paper counterpart that once accompanied the photocard has been abolished. This counterpart was used by (say) a vehicle hire company to confirm information not available on the card such as how many points you have. The photocard is only a summary. The counterpart has been replaced with the Share Driving Licence service that – with your permission – provides the hire company with access to all your details via a one-time access code. You generate the access code online at www.gov.uk/view-driving-licence.
International Driving Permit
An International Driving Permit (IDP) is required outside the European Union and European Economic Area. To qualify, you must have a full licence, be eighteen or over and resident in Great Britain or Northern Ireland. The permit comes in two forms. Most countries require IDP 1949 whereas others – including Brazil, Iraq and Somalia – require IDP 1926. The RAC and Post Office can confirm whether a permit is required and supply it for £5.50. An application cannot be made more than three months before the date of travel, and the permit remains valid for twelve months.
Best ensure that your motor insurance provides enough cover. A fully comprehensive policy typically only includes third party protection overseas, for example. This means the insurer compensates third parties following a collision, but you pay to repair or replace your car. Third party does not cover theft or fire either. It is wise to pay a further premium for comprehensive protection. Furthermore, some countries beyond Europe require you to have a green card as proof of insurance that your provider can supply. Even if a green card is not legally required, it is worth having as some authorities in remote areas wrongly expect to see it.
Ensure your breakdown insurance includes foreign travel. If not, pay a premium to extend it or start a separate policy. Companies often provide short cover – perhaps a few days in France - and multi-trip extensions that last months. Whatever the period, ensure that the policy includes repatriation of the vehicle and its occupants in case it cannot be fixed abroad. Furthermore, choose a company that has multi-lingual staff to minimise communication issues. It gets harder to find cover once a car hits fifteen years.
Documents to pack include your: V5C (log book), insurance certificate, green card, licence and International Driving Permit (if required). If the vehicle has been borrowed, hired or leased take a letter of authorisation from the registered keeper too. If in this scenario the V5C is not available take a Vehicle on Hire certificate (VE103). It might be obtained from BVRLA – a trade body for the rental/leasing sector – or All Fleet Services that provides admin services. It is wise to carry photocopies of these documents.
A British vehicle drives on the left so the headlights point slightly in this direction. Handy for illuminating a kerb. The problem is that when it drives on the right these beams dazzle oncoming traffic. This is an offence that leads to an on the sport fine (in some places). There are two solutions. The easiest is headlight converter stickers that attach in seconds and direct light in the appropriate direction. The typically cost is about £5 and it is worth having a spare set. An alternative is to take the vehicle to a mechanic who will adjust the beams using (often) an allen key. The lights must then be reconfigured upon repatriation.
The vehicle must have a GB sign to avoid a fine. The traditional solution is a white oval sticker on the rear window. However, in more recent years front and rear registration plates can – if requested – incorporate a GB Euro symbol that has a blue background plus a series of yellow stars above the GB. This alone is sufficient in the European Union and European Economic Area. It is not sufficient in further afield destinations. If there is any doubt it is best to play safe and display the traditional sticker.
Local Driving Rules
Rules vary from country to country. In France, for example, a reflective jacket must be kept in the cabin within reach of the driver. It cannot be stored in the boot. There is no requirement for foreign vehicles to carry a jacket in Norway. You are still required to carry a self-test breathalyser while driving in France, even though they are a legal requirement there is no current legislation demanding a fine for non-compliance. In Hungry lights must be switched on outside built-up areas, in Estonia it is illegal to pass a tram that has stopped to let passengers on/off, and in Cyprus you cannot use the horn close to hospitals. The key is to recognise the specifics of your destination. Consider equipment, traffic laws such as who has priority at junctions, and the drink-drive limit. The RAC has a wide range of information. See www.rac.co.uk/travel/driving-abroad.
Prepare The Vehicle
A vehicle that has been properly prepared is likely to be trouble free. Check the tyres – for pressure, tread depth and damage – and ensure that all the exterior lights work. Pack spare bulbs too. Check levels such as the: engine and transmission oil, brake fluid power steering fluid, radiator coolant and windscreen wash. Also ensure the wiper blades efficiently clear the windscreen. Consider whether the battery struggles to start the engine. If so it might be worn out, hindered by rusty positive/negative connectors or only being trickle charged via an inefficient alternator. It is far easier to fix such imperfections at home than in a foreign country.
In An Emergency
The European emergency number is 112. Furthermore, your motor insurance and breakdown provider should confirm the telephone numbers to call – and the procedures to follow – should your car have a problem. It is wise to keep this information easily to hand.