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Driving abroad

Using a car abroad is a great way of discovering a country. However, it's essential to know the regulations and insurance implications.

John Brady, Head of Commercial at John Lewis Insurance, tells you what to look out for.

Q & A with John Brady

Q. What's your background and what experience do you have in providing Car Insurance advice for drivers abroad?

I've worked in financial services for 20 years, including banking, credit cards and insurance. The last five have been spent at the John Lewis Partnership, where I helped to launch and develop John Lewis Insurance, including our personal insurance cover for homes, travel, pets, weddings, events, and of course, drivers. John Lewis Car Insurance gives you up to 90 days cover for travelling in the European Union.

Q. Do drivers abroad still need to have a Green Card?

A. It depends where you're going. The Green Card is designed for drivers in Europe. It acts as proof that the insurance taken out in the country where your car is registered meets the minimum legal requirements of the country you're visiting.

Quotation MarksDriving abroad gives you the freedom to explore your destination at your own pace and in the way you want to.Quotation Marks

However, most European countries don't ask for a Green Card any more. Usually the Certificate of Motor Insurance issued by your insurance company is enough. If you're planning to travel outside these countries, you'll need to let your insurance company know as soon as possible before you travel.

See a list of the countries that no longer need a Green Card

Q. Are there any things you need to have with you when you drive abroad?

A. Yes, it's essential to have:

  • Your insurer's claims telephone number and if you have European breakdown cover, their number as well.
  • Your Car Insurance certificate, policy booklet and schedule.
  • Your vehicle registration document or certificate (V5 or V5C) or your vehicle on-hire certificate (VE 103). If you don't have one, you can get this through the DVLA, however it can take at least 14 days to get one.
  • Your driving licence - make sure the details on it are up-to-date before you travel.
  • A spare set of keys.

Keep these things with you when you're driving, but remember not to leave them in your car. It's also a good idea to have:

  • A spare tyre (where fitted)
  • A first-aid kit in your car
  • A warning triangle
  • A torch
  • Spare windscreen wash and a large bottle of water.

Q. How old do you have to be to drive abroad?

A. You need to be aged at least 18 to drive in Europe and at least 21 years old if you want to hire a car.

Q. Do I need an International Driving Permit (IDP)?

A. An IDP is a formal document that translates the details on your driving licence into several languages. This allows foreign authorities to check your identity and driving permissions with ease, for example, the type of vehicles you're allowed to drive and how long your licence is valid for.

A current full UK driving licence is valid in most European countries and ony a few countries require IDP.

See the latest list of countries which require an IDP

Q. How do I get an IDP?


  • You can apply for an IDP at your local Post Office, the AA, the RAC, RSAC and the Green Flag Motoring Assistance Recovery Club.
  • You need to be a UK resident, have passed your driving test and be over 18-years-old.
  • A small fee is usually payable - check with one of the above motoring organisations for more information.

Remember that you have to apply for an IDP before you leave the UK.

Q. What are the rules about car lights abroad?

A. You don't need yellow headlamps in France any more, but you should adjust your headlamps for driving on the right. Most motoring accessory shops and motoring organisations sell headlamp beam converters.

Dip your headlights or use sidelights when driving through tunnels. You must drive with dipped headlights on all roads at all times in Denmark, Norway and Sweden, and in Finland you have to use dipped headlights outside built-up areas.

Q. Have you got any expert tips for us?

A. Different countries have different regulations, but there are a few things that are always useful to remember:

  • On some roundabouts, traffic already on the roundabout has priority.
  • Make sure you have small change in the correct currency with you to pay road tolls.
  • Always give priority to buses and military vehicles - you have to give way to trams in Belgium and the Netherlands.
  • Do a quick safety check before you travel - ensure the spare tyre is in working order and you have the necessary jacks and equipment to change it. Check the oil and water levels and carry spare windscreen wash just in case.
  • Finally remember, driving is on the right in all European countries, except the UK, Irish Republic, Cyprus and Malta.

For further tips and advice, please see our quick guide (PDF).

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