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1 August 2021
Driving in Europe
Taking your car to the continent, or flying there and renting one, can save money and hassle – but get it wrong and you can run into problems and even 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.
The general requirements for driving to and in Europe haven't changed due to the coronavirus pandemic, but travel restrictions remain in place for many destinations. We've left the pre-coronavirus country-specific info here for reference, but make your own checks before travelling in case anything's changed. For the latest on travel restrictions, see Coronavirus Travel Rights.
While the UK left the European Union on 31 Jan 2020, it had no immediate affect on the rules and requirements for driving in Europe. But there will be changes from next year – for what we know so far, see our 20 Brexit need-to-knows.
Until then, here are the key things to check before driving to or in mainland Europe...
Before the UK left the European Union on 31 Jan 2020, you could use a UK driving licence to drive in all EU countries, along with Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, and that continued to be the case throughout the transition period that ended on 31 Dec 2020.
The Government had warned that, after this, UK citizens may need an international driving permit (IDP) to drive in the EU, but following the agreement of a post-Brexit trade deal just before the transition period ended, the Department of Transport told us that in most cases you WON'T need an IDP to drive in EU countries or Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
The only two scenarios in which you may need an IDP to drive in those countries are as follows:
If you do need an IDP, they cost £5.50, and depending on where you're planning to drive, you may need more than one as there are three different types – 1926, 1949 and 1968 . For full details on how to get an IDP, see our Is your driving licence valid? guide.
EU: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden.
EEA: Includes all the countries in the EU, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.
While Switzerland isn't in either the EU or EEA, full and valid UK driving licences are accepted there provided the holder is 18 or over.
If you're planning to drive elsewhere in Europe, you might need an IDP, which is a requirement or recommendation in over 140 countries worldwide, even if neither of the above scenarios apply to you. For example, you'll need the 1949 IDP to drive in Andorra but the 1968 IDP to drive in Turkey, while you'll need a 1949 to drive in Cyprus if you're staying more than 30 days.
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?
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 on your licence – 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.
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:
As we've said above, if you're hiring a car in Europe, you'll need:
If travelling outside the EU and EEA, you may also need:
Before the UK left the European Union on 31 Jan 2020, and during the transition period that ended on 31 Dec 2020, EU rules meant that if you had UK car insurance policy when driving your car in the EU or European Economic Area (EEA) you automatically had third-party cover – ie, you were covered if you hit another car, but not if you damaged your own or it was stolen.
But now, before you travel, you'll need to get an insurance 'green card', which is an international certificate issued by UK insurance providers to guarantee that the holder has the required minimum level of third-party cover. These are usually free, though some insurers charge an admin fee to issue them.
If you drive in the EU without an insurance 'green card', you risk being refused entry to the countries you're planning to drive in or even accused of driving without insurance, risking a fine or your vehicle being seized.
The European Commission announced on Wed 30 Jun that UK drivers will no longer need an insurance green card, but the rule change has yet to come into effect, so for the time being you still need to get one if you're planning to drive your own vehicle in an EU country. When it does come in, you should still take a copy of your motor insurance certificate with you, so you're able to prove you're covered if necessary.
You'll continue to need to ask your insurer for a green card if taking your car to a number of non-EU and non-EEA countries, including Albania, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Turkey and Ukraine.
If you want comprehensive cover, rather than the third-party covered offered by a green card, 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 your policy. There may be a charge to do this, but some providers will do it for free if you're only going for up to three days.
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 short time, contact your provider to upgrade your cover to Europe. As with car insurance, this could cost you 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.
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:
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 to use there, 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.
Car hire firms will usually provide all the necessary equipment – but it's technically the driver's responsibility, not the hire firm's, to make sure it's onboard. So when checking over a rental car before you drive off, make sure you have all the necessary equipment.
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.
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, to curb pollution. If you have an older car it could be banned altogether at certain times.
France introduced an emissions sticker scheme in 2017, and there is a similar one in place in Germany. In Belgium, only drivers of the most polluting vehicles need buy a permit, 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.
If you're driving in Europe in the summer, beware additional rolling vehicle bans which may be brought in during heatwaves. During especially hot periods, some cities ban older and less efficient cars altogether – even if you have an emissions sticker – as the heat makes air pollution worse.
For example, Paris and Lyon have already imposed temporary bans on some vehicles during heatwaves this year, in addition to their usual emissions rules. In Paris, cars with the Crit'Air 3 badge were banned (cars with Crit'Air 4 or above were already banned), meaning up to 60% of vehicles reportedly couldn't enter the city.
It’s shaping up to be a long hot summer and unfortunately there's no easy way to predict when or where these temporary rules will be applied. The best way to check is to look online at the websites of official emissions schemes or local news stories to see if any additional restrictions have been imposed.
What if you're renting a car in Europe and driving in a low emissions zone? Well, 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 get a sticker yourself as you'll need vehicle registration details to do so.
Many European countries, 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 – there are websites that can give you an idea of costs before you go – and keep it somewhere accessible to avoid any last-minute fumbling at the barriers.
Many toll roads now accept credit cards too – so if you've a specialist overseas card, 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.
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, chances are that if you're driving in Europe, you'll be driving 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'. This is especially easily done when pulling back onto the road after a fuel stop or lunch break, so be aware.
Also exercise extra caution at roundabouts and junctions, and when overtaking. For more help, see the AA's tips on driving on the right (point 7).
If you're taking your own wheels overseas, you'll 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 £6-£10 – AA converters* are currently £4.28 (not including delivery) at Amazon.
Don't leave looking into them until the last minute, as depending on your car you may need to get a mechanic 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 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 see our Overseas Travel Tips guide.
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 the AA and RAC you could be fined if you don't.
Stickers and magnetic plates are available from the likes of the RAC (£1-£3) and Halfords* (£2-£4). You may be able to find them cheaper elsewhere online, but make sure they conform to the following specifications:
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 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 July 2019. Rules can change without warning though, particularly with emissions schemes which are mid-roll-out – so check local info too before you go.
Antwerp and Brussels each have a low emission zone (LEZ).
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 number plate.
A number of French cities now have low emission schemes, and more are being added all the time. Cities affected include:
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 – about £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 (about £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.
It's not actually compulsory for UK-registered cars to carry any special equipment. However, it's recommended you carry a reflective jacket and warning triangle, as these are compulsory for German cars.
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 a car's emission standard 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 (about £5.35) 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.
As in the UK, it's not compulsory to carry any special equipment.
Ireland doesn't have any low emission zones or schemes that apply to cars.
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 (about £60) 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, much like in London, if you want to enter the historical centre, otherwise known as area C.
If you enter area C on weekdays between 7.30am and 7.30pm, the congestion charge costs €5 (£4.50ish) if you pay it in advance or by 11.59pm the same day, or €15 (£13ish) if you pay after then but within seven days. The penalty for non-payment is a fine of between €70 (£60ish) and €285 (£250ish).
You can pay the charge in advance or after entering area C using the official Milan city website (you'll need to translate it into English using Google Translate or similar unfortunately) or via parking meters, newsagents, Azienda Trasporti Milanesi (Milan's public transport company) and Intesa Sanpaolo ATMs.
Arnham, Rotterdam and Utrecht have low emission zones (LEZs). But 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).
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.
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.
A permanent low emission zone (LEZ) was introduced in Madrid in November 2018.
Barcelona sometimes put temporary restricted zones in place if air pollution reaches a high level.
Barcelona: Petrol cars manufactured before 2000 and diesel cars manufactured before 2006 aren't allowed in the temporary restricted zone when it's put in place. See the Barcelona city council website for more info.
Switzerland doesn't have any low emissions zones or schemes at present.
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