Driving in Europe: what you need to know

Map of Europe

Planning a European holiday and taking the car? We’ve compiled a list of “need to knows” to help ensure a smooth trip.

The essential documents you need to drive in the EU? 

A run-in with the local Polizia or Gendarmes is the last thing you want if you're driving on the continent this summer. So to help avoid a hefty fine if you're pulled over, below are the essential documents you need to stay legal:

  • A full valid, UK driving licence 
  • Your Passport 
  • Your Travel Insurance documents 
  • Your original vehicle registration certificate V5C certificate (logbook), if you own your own car. Or if you have a car on contract hire or lease, a “Vehicle on Hire” certificate to prove you have authority to take your vehicle overseas (check with your finance or leasing company for any required permissions)
  • Depending on your destination’s Covid-rules: up to date vaccination certificates. You can check the latest requirements on the government advice for foreign travel website

Other useful documents:

Breakdown Cover

If you want to avoid the hassle of being stranded in an unfamiliar foreign place, make sure you have a breakdown policy that covers Europe. Remember, many policies will just cover you for the UK, so if in doubt, check with your breakdown provider or get a quote on MotorEasy European breakdown cover.

Hiring a car Overseas?

If you’re planning to hire a car abroad, we recommend you take your DVLA code. The code, effectively provides your vehicle hire company with a copy of your driving record and convictions. While rarely requested by hire companies, it’s best to avoid the added hassle if asked for evidence. Apply for a copy of your code from the DVLA website up to 21-days before you're due to hire your car (note the code will be valid for 21-days).

I've heard I need a Green Card for Insurance?

Up until August 2021, if you were driving in the EU, you would have needed an insurance ‘green card’. Issued by UK insurance companies, the card was effectively an international certificate to prove the driver had the required minimum of third-party insurance cover.

Green cards are now no longer required in the EU and EEA, as well as Andora, Switzerland, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina.  But if you’re venturing further – say Albania, Turkey or Macedonia – you’ll still need to apply for a Green Card. If in doubt, it’s best to check and apply for a Green Card with your car insurance company.

Required equipment for driving in Europe 

Perhaps we’re too relaxed in the UK, but on the continent, certain jurisdictions take a stronger line on compulsory equipment and accessories you need to carry in your car.

The AA web site has a useful country-by-country breakdown on the specific items required for each country, the most common of which include:

  • Reflective jackets (one for each passenger) 
  • Spare bulb kits for your headlights
  • Headlamp converters (see below)
  • A hazard warning triangle 
  • Safety helmets compulsory for riders and passengers of motorcyclists and moped users 
  • First aid kit (compulsory in Austria, France and Germany) 
  • UK car sticker – GB stickers are no longer accepted

One item no longer on the compulsory list are breathalyser kits which, until 2020, every driver had to carry in France. The much criticised requirement, has since been discontinued.

If you need to stock-up on any of the above items, remember you can log-in to your FREE MotorEasy account to access discounted voucher codes on key motoring essentials at Halfords.

Will you need an emissions sticker?

In a bid to reduce the levels of pollution, many countries cross Europe including France, Germany and Italy, have introduced clean air "environmental zones", with restricted access to zero or low polluting vehicles. To help enforce the zones, which cover several large cities and heritage sites, drivers have to display an emissions sticker or "vignette" on their windscreen. Failure to do so can result in a fine of £60 or more.

The rules generally apply to vehicles manufactured before September 2015, although beware, certain cars sold after that date may still qualify as polluting vehicles banned from access. For more information on the specific emissions restrictions, visit the Urban Access Regulations in Europe web site, where you can search Europe-wide list of restricted zones as well as find links to purchase stickers. As their site suggests, give yourself plenty of time to purchase a sticker if you're planning to visit a low emissions zone and make sure you buy from an official provider - some web sites are charging up to five times the stated price. 

Headlamp converters

Headlight converters are a compulsory requirement in the majority of countries across Europe where you have to drive on the right. The converters, which are even required for daylight hours, attach to a specific area on your headlights, where they deflect the beam and avoid dazzling oncoming drivers.

Again, you can buy converters from stores like Halfords, so make sure you log-into the free MotorEasy account area where you can access discount-vouchers for in-store purchases. The relatively inexpensive converters are a small price to pay compared to an "on-the-spot" fine you might receive if pulled over on the continent. Furthermore, failure to attach headlight converters may also invalidate your insurance. 

Some final tips for safe travels

Wherever you're heading in Europe this summer, we wish you bon voyage / buen viaje / gute reise / whatever the case maybe. 

  • Remember to drive on the right! 
  • Pre-plan your driving routes – sat-navs are great, however it can be handy to have a traditional map on hand 
  • Take regular breaks – concentrating on driving on the other side of the road can become tiring 
  • Keep loose change – many European roads operate toll roads 
  • Keep checking wearable items such as windscreen wipers, tyres and lights 
  • A MotorEasy car warranty protects your vehicle wherever you are in the EU – up to 60 days
  • EU breakdown cover 
  • Watch our for speed limits - each country has different speed limits
  • Remember speed limits are in km/h rather than mph
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