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Driving a car from the UK to Europe

Martynn's Tips

Martynn Randall is technical editor at Haynes and has been with us for approaching 30 years. He's written more than 60 Haynes publications and has owned more than 85 cars and 60 motorbikes... so far!

If you’ve ever visited the UK to see friends or relatives, they may have added you as a named driver to their car insurance policy so you can make your own way around the country. After all, they drive on the same side of the road as us, so why not? And it'll save you having to fork out a heap of money to hire a car.

But supposing you're planning a longer stay and fancy taking the car on a ferry or through the Channel Tunnel into France and beyond?

There are rules to follow, paperwork to fill out, hoops that demand a degree of administrative athleticism if they're to be leapt through. And failing to do any of these things could result in an expensive fine or worse, should you be pulled over by the European police. So, here’s what you need to know.

Australian driver’s licence, passport and international driving permit

Carry your passport and full Australian driver’s licence with you. You’ll also need an international driving permit.

The Australian Automobile Association is the issuing authority in Australia for International Driving Permits. It costs $49 plus postage and is valid for 12 months.

UK insurance cover

The owner of your UK car must notify your insurance company that you intend to drive your car abroad. The good news is that a standard UK car policy will cover you to drive in the EU, but they might need to apply for a green card to drive in certain countries, such as Albania, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Turkey, and Ukraine.

Remember, too, that if you’re towing a caravan, they'll need a separate green card for that.

It’s also worth making sure that your insurer will cover you if your car is broken into or damaged while you’re abroad.

Finally, make sure you have appropriate travel insurance.

V5C registration documents

Don’t forget to take the UK vehicle’s registration (V5C) document with you. That’s a must.

UK sticker

UK stickers and numberplates

First things first, check your car’s numberplate. If it has a 'UK' identifier with the Union flag on the left-hand end of the plate, then you don’t need to do anything else. However, if it has a 'GB' identifier with the Union flag, or if it has a Euro symbol, or the national flag of England, Scotland, or Wales, then you’ll need to affix a UK sticker on the rear of your vehicle (and the rear of any caravan/trailer you might be towing).

However, if you plan to drive in Spain, Cyprus, or Malta, then you need to display a UK sticker, no matter what is on your vehicle’s numberplate.

Tax and MoT

Yes, you might be driving abroad, but the car will still need to have a valid MoT (Ministry of Transport) test certificate, and the car needs to be UK-taxed (known as VED). But then the owner should have that all covered.

Crit Air vignette

France’s Crit’Air vignette

If you plan to drive in certain cities in France, then you’ll need to apply for a Crit’ Air Vignette, the colour of which relates to the emissions produced by your vehicle. And this still applies even if you drive an electric vehicle.

However, it isn’t expensive at around $8, and it lasts for the life of the vehicle. If you fail to display a sticker, then you’ll be liable for a fine of around $300, so it makes sense to get the sticker.


What needs to be in the car?

There are a few things you need to have before driving in Europe. For a start, you need to have a reflective jacket for everyone in the vehicle. You must also carry a warning triangle in most countries. If you plan to drive in France, Germany, and Austria, then you must also carry a first-aid kit in the car, and you must also carry a breathalyser if you want to drive in France.

And if your headlamps can’t be adjusted before you travel (all European countries drive on the 'wrong' side of the road, after all!), you’ll need to apply headlamp beam deflectors. Bear in mind, too, that some countries demand that you carry spare bulbs for ones that can be easily replaced, and in Spain, you must carry the relevant tools to do so as well.

Reflective vests