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Driving in Europe - all you need to know

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!

As the UK emerges, blinking, into sunlight following the seemingly never-ending darkness (and rain!) of winter, there’s only one thing for it. Road trip! The sunnier climes of Europe beckon, so let’s get packed up and hit the road.

But wait. 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.

Passport, driving licence, international driving permit

First of all, you need to make sure you take your passport, because without it you won’t be going anywhere. You must also have your driving licence with you. And if you have a new, photo ID driving licence, then that’s all you need to do.

However, if you have an old paper licence, then you might need to apply for an international driving permit, so it pays to check. The full list of countries that require you to have an IDP is here.

The good news is that an IDP costs just £5.50 and is available from any Post Office.


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

Remember, too, that if you’re towing a caravan, you’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.

Registration documents

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

And if you have a company car, you’ll need to fill out and carry a vehicle-on-hire (VE103) form, which shows that you have permission to take your hired or leased vehicle abroad. This form should be provided by your fleet manager, but is also available from the AA, the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA), the RAC, and the Road Haulage Association.

UK sticker

Numberplates and UK stickers

First things first, check your car’s numberplate. If it has a UK identifier with the Union-flag, 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.

MoT and tax

Yes, you might be driving abroad, but you still need to have a valid MoT certificate, and your car needs to be taxed.

Crit Air vignette

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 £4, 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 £155, so it makes sense to get the sticker.


Mandatory equipment

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, 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