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Driving in Europe

Full help, incl equipment needed, insurance & speed limits

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Kelvin Goodson | Edited by Steve N

Updated Quarterly

Taking your car to the Continent, or flying there then renting one, can save money and hassle - but get it wrong and you can run into problems and potentially face hefty fines. This guide has full help, including how to check you've the right paperwork and insurance cover, plus country-specific info on speed limits, emissions rules and extra equipment you'll need.

Brexit Impact

The UK leaves the EU in March 2019, so some of the info below may be subject to change after that. UK driving licences will be valid in the EU until at least 29 March 2019. We'll update this guide when we know more.

This is the first incarnation of this guide. Please give us your feedback, suggest improvements and share your tips in the Driving in Europe forum thread. Thanks to the RAC for checking this guide for us.

Driving in Europe checklist

Here are the key things to check before driving to or in mainland Europe:

Make sure your driving licence is valid

If you're driving in Europe, you'll need to take your licence with you. The good news is Great Britain and Northern Ireland driving licences can be used in all countries in the EU and European Economic Area (EEA) - so long as you have a full, not provisional, licence.

Which countries are in the EU and EEA?

While Switzerland isn't in either the EU or EEA, UK driving licences are also valid there provided the holder is 18 or over.

If you’re planning to drive elsewhere in Europe, you might need an International Driving Permit (IDP), which is either a requirement or recommendation in over 140 countries worldwide. For example, in Andorra and Hungary you'll need one if you've still got a green paper UK driving licence, while in Turkey you'll need one if you're staying more than three months. For more info on where you need an IDP and how to get one, see our Is your driving licence valid? guide.

Has your driving licence expired? It may sound obvious, but it’s an easy one to miss at any time, let alone when driving abroad. So before you depart, check the expiry date on your current licence. If it’s due to expire before your planned return from Europe, you’ll need to renew before you go. Full details in Is your driving licence valid?

Hiring a car? Request a DVLA code to take with you too

If you're hiring a car abroad, then as well as taking your driving licence you should request a personal code from the DVLA. You can do this up to 21 days ahead. It's so hire firms can check for points - you may need to provide the code when you go to the counter to collect your car.

In practice, MoneySavers have told us many firms don't seem to ask for the code, but it's wise to get one anyway just to be on the safe side. For full info on how to get it, see DVLA code help.

Take the right documents

V5C

The AA recommends taking the following documents with you when driving abroad, to avoid being fined or even having your car towed:

If you're taking your own car, you'll also need:

  • Vehicle registration certificate. Otherwise known as the V5C or log book - you'll need the original, not a copy.
  • Motor insurance certificate. See more on this below.

If you're hiring a car in Europe, you'll need:

  • A DVLA licence check code. Hire firms won't always ask for this, but it's worth taking to be on the safe side. See full DVLA code help.

If you're travelling outside the EU and EEA, you may also need:

  • Visa(s). To check the entry requirements of the country you're visiting, see the foreign travel advice on Gov.uk - for example, you're likely to need one in Turkey.
  • International Driving Permit. See more on this in Is your driving licence valid?

Taking your own car? Check your insurance…

Under EU rules, if you have a UK car insurance policy then when driving within the EU or EEA you automatically get third-party cover - ie, your provider will pay out if you damage another car, but not if you damage your own or it gets stolen. Some comprehensive UK policies go further and also offer comprehensive European cover - if in doubt, check.

Make sure you take a copy of your motor insurance certificate with you so you can prove you're covered.

If you're planning to drive in a European country which isn't part of the EU or EEA, you may need to ask your insurer for a ‘green card’ - essentially an international insurance certificate that proves your policy provides minimum cover.

You won't need a green card in Andorra, Serbia or Switzerland, which recognise third-party cover in the same way as EU countries. But you will if taking your car to Albania, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Turkey or the Ukraine. The green card should be free of charge, although your insurer may charge you to extend your cover if it sees fit.

If you need to extend your insurance - for example, if your policy only gives third-party EU cover but you want comprehensive - call your insurer giving your dates of travel and the countries you'll visit (or plan to pass through, even if it's only for a few hours) to extend the policy. There may be a charge of £20-£30, but some providers will do it for free if you're only going for up to three days. For more info, see Car Insurance Abroad.

… and whether your breakdown cover is valid in Europe

Car check-up

UK breakdown cover is rarely valid overseas, so check before you go anywhere.

If yours isn’t, and you’ll only be away for a relatively short time, contact your provider to upgrade your cover to Europe. As with car insurance, this could cost you a bit extra.

If you don’t already have breakdown cover, and you're only likely to be away for a few days a year, take out a cheap UK policy and then upgrade it just for a few days– check that option’s available before taking out the policy though.

If you regularly drive on the Continent, it may be cheaper to take out an annual breakdown policy that also covers Europe. For full help, see Cheap Breakdown Cover.

You may need to buy extra equipment to keep in your car, eg, a reflective jacket

In the UK there's no legal obligation to carry any particular equipment in your car. But in many European countries it's compulsory to have certain gear - exactly what depends on the country and time of year, but usually it includes some or all of the following:

  • Reflective jacket
  • Warning triangle
  • Snow chains or winter tyres (depending on season, conditions and terrain)

While it may seem unlikely you'll be caught without the necessary equipment, bear in mind that by not carrying it you'll be breaking the law. In Belgium, for example, you could face a fine of up to €1,500. So if you're driving your own car in Europe, or hiring one in the UK, you should buy the equipment that's compulsory in the country/countries you'll be driving in before you travel.

To find out what you're legally obliged to carry in popular European destinations, check out the country-specific help below. You can buy accessories and kits that meet European regulations from the AA shop* and RAC shop - you may be able to find what you need cheaper elsewhere online, but check it conforms to the necessary standards of the country you're visiting before buying.

Hiring a car? Check the boot before you drive off

Car hire firms will usually provide all the necessary equipment - but it's technically the responsibility of the driver not the hire firm to make sure it's on board. So when checking over a rental car before you drive off, make sure you have all the necessary equipment.

Turn your phone into a free sat-nav

While it's not required equipment, you're likely to want a sat-nav system when driving in Europe. Car rental firms often charge over £10/day extra for one, but you don't need to pay - there's a trick to turn your phone into a free worldwide sat-nav.

Check if you need an emissions sticker to avoid a £70+ fine

French emissions sticker

Depending on where you're planning to drive in Europe, you may need to display an emissions sticker or badge on your windscreen. Several countries on the Continent require you to do this to drive through certain cities at certain times in order to curb pollution. If you have an older car it could be banned altogether at certain times.

France introduced an emissions sticker scheme last year, and there is a similar scheme in place in Germany. In Belgium you only need to buy a permit if your car emits a certain level of pollution, while in Italy you can only drive through certain historical centres and major towns if you're a resident.

In some cases you'll have to order a sticker before you leave the UK, so check what you need and see full details of how to get one in our country-by-country info below. It's vital to do this if you'll be driving in a low emissions zone - usually the stickers only cost a few quid but if you're caught without one you could be fined £70+ in some cases.

Beware rip-off emissions sticker sites. We've seen third-party websites selling French and German stickers at more than FIVE TIMES the going rate. For the cheapest options, see our country-by-country info.

Hiring a car? Check with the rental firm

If you're renting a car in Europe and are driving within a low emissions zone, check with the hire firm if it's organised a sticker. In Germany, for instance, hire cars come with stickers by default.

You're unlikely to be able to apply for a sticker yourself as you'll need vehicle registration details to do so.

Keep loose change in your car for tolls

Many countries on the Continent, including France, Ireland, Italy and Spain, have toll roads where you pay at a gate to use them. While most tollbooths now accept a variety of payment methods, it’ll make your journey a lot less stressful if you’re prepared for any eventuality.

So keep enough loose change and cash in your car in the correct currency or currencies to cover the cost of toll roads, and keep it somewhere accessible to avoid any last-minute fumbling at the barriers.

Many tollroads now do accept credit cards too though - so if you've overseas plastic you may be able to use that instead (and get a better rate). For the cheapest cards to use abroad, see our Travel Credit Cards guide.

Remember to drive on the right

Driving on the right in Germany

Apart from the UK (and the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man), there are just three European countries that drive on the left - Cyprus, Ireland and Malta. So the chances are that if you're driving in Europe, you'll be needing to drive on the right.

As you'd expect, it can take some getting used to if you've not done it before, especially in a left-hand drive car. The AA advises first-timers to give themselves extra time to get where they want to go, take regular breaks and travel with an alert passenger so you've someone to give you the heads up if you lapse into 'left-hand side autopilot'.

Also exercise extra caution at roundabouts and junctions, and when overtaking. For more help, see the AA's tips on driving on the right.

Going in your own car? You'll need headlight converters

If you're taking your own car overseas, you're going to need headlight converters. That's because at night the headlights of cars designed for driving on the left-hand side of the road will dazzle oncoming drivers in countries where you drive on the right. It's a legal requirement in most European countries not to dazzle oncoming drivers, and if you don't take steps to ensure your car doesn't you could receive a fine if stopped - or even invalidate your insurance.

Headlight converters are stickers that adjust the dipped beam of your headlights to prevent them dazzling oncoming drivers. They're generally compatible with a huge range of cars and come with fitting instructions. Kits are widely available and usually cost around £8-£10 - AA converters* are currently discounted though and cost £5.55, not including delivery.

Don't leave looking into them until the last minute, as depending on your car you may need to get a garage to adjust your headlights for you instead.

Remember to remove converters as soon as you return to the UK, and also that in some European countries it's compulsory to use dipped headlights or daytime-running lights in tunnels, when visibility is poor due to rain, fog etc or even throughout the day regardless of the conditions.

If you're hiring a car in Europe, you can take a child car seat for free

If you're travelling with tots and planning to fly to the Continent then hire a car once you get there, you'll need a car seat.

Renting one can be pricey, adding £7-£8 a day to the cost of hiring a car in many cases. The good news is many airlines let you check in a car seat for free, in addition to your usual luggage allowance.

For more info, and a airline-by-airline list of exactly what you can take with you for free, see our Overseas Travel Tips guide.

Do you need to display a GB sticker?

Unless the number plates on your car have a Euro symbol and the Great Britain (GB) national identifier on, it's compulsory to display a 'GB' sticker on your car when travelling in the EU - according to both the AA and RAC you could be fined if you don't.

Stickers and magnetic plates are available from the likes of the RAC and Halfords*, the former costing around £1-£3 and the latter around £3-£4. You may be able to find them cheaper elsewhere online, but make sure they conform to the following specifications:

  • Black letters
  • White background
  • Ellipse shape with width greater than height
  • Letters at least 80mm high with a stroke width of at least 10mm

Country-specific need-to-knows

The rules on how fast you can drive, what equipment you need to take and what emissions stickers you may need vary by country to country.

To help, we've summarised the key info below for the most popular destinations in Europe for UK drivers. (There are 50 sovereign states in Europe, so we haven't done them all - we're MoneySavingExpert, not MotoringOverseasExpert. But for comprehensive country-by-country info see the AA website.)

Double-check before you go. We've summarised the info for each country below as best we can, based on local information plus AA and RAC tips - and last updated it in August 2018. Rules can change without warning though, particularly with emissions schemes which are mid-rollout - so check local info too before you go.

Driving in Belgium

Speed limits

  • Motorways: 120kph (75mph)
  • Outside built-up areas: 90kph (56 mph) in Brussels-Capital Region and Wallonia, 70kph (43mph) in Flanders
  • Built-up areas: 50 kph (31mph)
  • Residential areas: 20 kph (12mph)

Compulsory to carry

  • Reflective jacket
  • Warning triangle

Emission rules

Antwerp and Brussels each have a low emission zone (LEZ).

  • Antwerp: To find out if you have to pay for your car to enter the LEZ, take the test on the Antwerp city website. If your car passes but has a UK numberplate, you'll still need to register for free no later than 24 hours after entering the LEZ, again using the Antwerp city website.

    If your car doesn't pass the test, you can buy an LEZ day pass online, which you can do on the day - these cost €35 (around £30) and allow you to enter the LEZ until 6am the following day. You're limited to eight per year per vehicle. If your car fails the test and you enter the LEZ without buying a pass you could be fined €150 (around £130).
  • Brussels: If your car has a UK numberplate you'll need to register in advance on the Brussels region website before entering the LEZ. To check if you'll have to pay, refer to the tables on the Brussels region website - you'll need your vehicle registration certificate (AKA logbook or V5C) handy if you don't know your emissions standard.

    If your car meets the criteria for entering the LEZ for free, registering is all you'll have to do. But if you have to pay, then you can buy a day pass after registering. These cost €35 (around £30), and you're limited to eight per year per vehicle. If you enter the LEZ without registering your car, or in a car that doesn't meet the free-entry criteria and doesn't have a day pass, you could be fined €150 (around £130).
  • Registration and day passes for Antwerp and Brussels are not interchangeable. Registration and day passes are only available online - you're not required to display a sticker or any other physical proof in either city as checking is done by numberplate.

Driving in France

Speed limits

  • Motorways: 130kph (81mph)
  • Urban motorways and dual carriageways with central reservations: 110kph (68mph)
  • Outside built-up areas: 80kph (50 mph)
  • Built-up areas: 50 kph (31mph)

Compulsory to carry

  • Reflective jacket - kept within reach
  • Warning triangle
  • Breathalyser - while there's no fine for not having one, the law states you must be able to produce one unused, certified self-test breathalyser. You can get a pack of two from Halfords* for £5.99 in-store or via Click & Collect, or order for £5.97 including delivery from Amazon*
  • Snow chains - compulsory in some areas during winter, must be used as per road signs

Emission rules

A number of French cities now have low emission schemes, and more are being added all the time. Cities affected include:

  • Chambery - emergency scheme, access only restricted if pollution reaches a particular level.
  • Grenoble - permanent scheme, only applies to commercial vehicles.
  • Lille - emergency scheme, access only restricted if pollution reaches a particular level.
  • Lyon - emergency scheme, access only restricted if pollution reaches a particular level.
  • Marseille - emergency scheme, access only restricted if pollution reaches a particular level.
  • Paris - permanent scheme, applies daytime on weekdays.
  • Strasbourg - emergency scheme, access only restricted if pollution reaches a particular level.
  • Toulouse - emergency scheme, access only restricted if pollution reaches a particular level.

If you want to drive in a restricted area, whether there's a permanent or emergency scheme, you'll need to display an air quality certificate sticker, known as a Crit'Air vignette, on your windscreen. If you don't you could be hit with an on-the-spot fine of €68 - over £60.

There are six different types of sticker - the type you get will depend on the emissions standard your car meets, and will dictate where you can drive. Once you've got a sticker you can drive in any city's restricted area and it's valid for the lifetime of your car.

Stickers cost €4.21 (around £3.75) including postage from the official French environment ministry website. It's worth digging out your vehicle registration certificate/logbook before you get started if you're not familiar with your car's emission standard. While the website says stickers should arrive within 10 days of application, the RAC says it can take up to six weeks, so take that into account when planning your trip.

Driving in Germany

Speed limits

  • Motorways: 130kph (81mph) on some motorways - on others there is no official speed limit (this is shown by a circular white sign with five diagonal black lines)
  • Outside built-up areas: 100kph (62mph)
  • Built-up areas: 50kph (31mph)

Compulsory to carry

It's not actually compulsory for UK-registered cars to carry any special equipment. However it is recommended you carry a reflective jacket and warning triangle, as these are compulsory for German cars.

Emission rules

There are low emission zones in most major German cities, including Berlin, Cologne, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Munich and Stuttgart.

Drivers are legally required to display an emissions sticker known as an 'Umweltplakette' to enter these zones. There are three colours of sticker - green, yellow and red - with the colour denoting what emission standard the car carrying it meets and therefore whether it can enter a particular zone. Most cities only allow cars with green stickers to enter. If you enter a low emission zone without a sticker, you could be fined £70+.

The cheapest way to buy one is from the official Berlin city website (though stickers are valid in all LEZs across Germany). They cost €6 (around £5.30) including postage - allow 14 days for delivery. They only need to be replaced if they're damaged or you re-register your car. While you can also buy stickers from the vehicle licensing authority, vehicle inspection centres and some garages, be aware that the price isn't fixed by the German government, so some places sell them for more than twice the price.

Driving in Ireland

Speed limits

  • Motorways: 120kph (75mph)
  • National roads (including dual carriageways): 100kph (62mph), or as indicated by road signs
  • Local and regional roads: 80kph (50mph), or as indicated by road signs
  • Built-up areas: 50kph (31mph)

Compulsory to carry

As in the UK, it's not compulsory to carry any special equipment.

Emission rules

Ireland doesn't have any low emissions zones or schemes that apply to cars.

Driving in Italy

Speed limits

  • Motorways: 130kph (81mph)
  • Dual carriageways: 110kph (68mph)
  • Urban motorways: 70kph (44mph)
  • Outside built-up areas: 90kph (56mph)
  • Built-up areas: 50kph (31mph)

Compulsory to carry

  • Reflective jacket
  • Warning triangle
  • Snow chains (or winter tyres) - depending on conditions, must be used where signs indicate

Emission rules

Most major towns and cities in Italy have low emission zones, especially in the north. There are restrictions on where you can drive in Rome, Milan, Turin, Florence, Bologna and many more cities.

In most cases, you can't drive into cities during the day on weekdays, although in some cars are barred on Sundays too. Penalties for entering at a restricted time range from €70 (around £62) to a very steep €450 - circa £400.

For the vast majority of zones, permits to enter them when restrictions are in place aren't available to visitors, though some cities do allow you to enter if you're staying at a hotel within a low emission zone. Information in English is difficult to come by, so check with your hotel before travelling if that's the case and your Italiano is non buono.

The exception is Milan, where a congestion charge is payable if you want to enter the historical centre, otherwise known as Area C, much like in London.

See full details of the Milan congestion charge

Driving in the Netherlands

Speed limits

  • Motorways: 130kph (81mph)
  • Outside built-up areas: 80kph (50mph)
  • Built-up areas: 50kph (31mph)

Compulsory to carry

As in the UK, it's not compulsory to carry any special equipment.

Emission rules

Rotterdam and Utrecht both have a low emission zone (LEZ). However you don't need to order an emissions sticker in advance - all that matters is the date of your car's first registration, which you can find on your vehicle registration certificate (which you may know as your logbook or V5C).

  • Rotterdam: If you have a petrol car, you can enter the LEZ without paying provided it was first registered after 1 July 1992. If you've a diesel, you can enter without paying if it was first registered after 1 January 2001. If you have an older car and want to enter the LEZ, you can apply for a one-day exemption. These cost €25.30, last for 24 hours and are only available via the official Rotterdam website. If you enter with an older car and no exemption, you risk a fine of €95 (£85).
  • Utrecht: If you have a diesel car, you can enter the LEZ if it was first registered after 1 January 2001. You risk being fined €90 (£80) if you enter with an older diesel car. There aren't currently any entry requirements for petrol cars.

Driving in Portugal

Speed limits

  • Motorways: 120kph (75mph)
  • Outside built-up areas: 80kph (56mph)
  • Built-up areas: 50kph (31mph)

Compulsory to carry

  • Photographic proof of identity
  • Reflective jacket
  • Prepaid motorway toll tickets - you have to prepay tolls on many motorways in Portugal. You can do this via a automated credit card system, off-the-shelf card activated by text message, pre-paid ticket or temporary electronic device. Full info, including rates, can be found on the official Portugal Tolls website

Emission rules

Lisbon is the only city in Portugal to have a low emission zone (LEZ) - and it's actually two zones. You can drive in zone 1 provided your car, whether petrol or diesel, complies with Euro 2 emission standards, which generally means cars manufactured since January 1996. You can drive in zone 2 as long as your (petrol or diesel) car meets Euro 1 emission standards - those manufactured since January 1992.

There's not a lot of information about the zones available in English, but this Lisbon City Council leaflet gives you an idea of where they are.

Driving in Spain

Speed limits

  • Motorways: 120kph (75mph)
  • Outside built-up areas: 90kph (56 mph) on ordinary roads, 100kph (62mph) on roads with more than one lane in each direction
  • Built-up areas: 50 kph (31mph)
  • Residential areas: 20kph (12mph)

Compulsory to carry

  • Reflective jacket - you won't be fined for not carrying one, but you could be for not wearing one on the road should you break down, so keep it handy
  • Warning triangle - one is compulsory, but two are recommended as you could get fined for using only one in the event of an accident or breakdown
  • Spare wheel and tools to change a wheel

It's worth noting that you're NOT legally obliged to carry a spare pair of glasses with you if you need them to drive, as is sometimes reported. But according to Spain's Directorate of Traffic you could be fined if you need your glasses to drive and they're broken, so carrying a spare pair is advisable.

Emission rules

Spain doesn't have any permanent low emissions zones or schemes at present, but Madrid and Barcelona sometimes put temporary restricted zones in place if air pollution reaches a high level.

  • In Barcelona, this means petrol cars manufactured before 2000 and diesel cars manufactured before 2006 aren't allowed in the restricted zone. See the Barcelona city council website for more info.

  • In Madrid, this can mean speed and parking restrictions, and the banning of 50% of vehicles on alternating days depending on their number plates. See the Madrid city council website (in Spanish - translate into English using Google Translate or similar) for more info.

Driving in Switzerland

Speed limits

  • Motorways: 120kph (75mph)
  • Outside built-up areas: 90kph (56mph)
  • Built-up areas: 50kph (31mph)

Compulsory to carry

  • Snow chains - must be used where signs indicate
  • Warning triangle - must be kept within easy reach - ie, not in the boot
  • Motorway tax sticker - if you drive on the motorway you'll need to display a colourful vignette sticker to show you've paid tax. You can buy these in advance online for £35 from the official Switzerland Travel Centre, or get them from customs offices at the Swiss border for around £31 - they're also sold at most Swiss post offices, petrol stations and garages. If you buy a sticker now it'll be valid until 31 Jan 2019. If you use the motorway without a sticker you could be fined around £155.

Emission rules

Switzerland doesn't have any low emissions zones or schemes at present.

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