Taking Your Car Overseas

Taking Your Car Overseas

If you’re not keen on flying, taking the family car across the Channel to Europe can be the perfect solution for a family holiday. You don’t need to worry about hiring a car when you get there, don’t have to get to grips with an unfamiliar vehicle and can take as much stuff away with you as you can cram into the boot. However, you shouldn’t just load the car up and head for Dover. Depending on where you’re going, there will be specific driving laws and regulations you should be aware of. Also, if you’re driving the car for longer distances than usual, it’s sensible to make sure the car is in great condition before setting off.


Most people driving in continental Europe aren’t stopped by the police and won’t need to ever show documents. However, if you are stopped, it can make life a lot easier if you have everything the police ask for. The obvious thing you need is your driving licence. If you are one of the minority of people still using the old style paper licence, think about upgrading to the pink photocard licence before you set off. You should also take something to prove that you have insurance on your car, and the V5 certificate to prove that you are the registered keeper too.

Our European neighbours have different methods of managing car tax and MOT than we do here in the UK. You won’t be stopped on a French motorway for not having car tax in the UK. As the MOT is a test of roadworthiness, similar rules apply to in the UK. You can easily check whether your car has valid tax and MOT online before setting off on your European adventure. If your car’s tax or MOT runs out within the next four weeks, get the renewal done before you leave. Car tax can be renewed online from wherever you are in the world, but getting a MOT will require a trip to a garage.

Extra Equipment

Most journeys from the UK start with a drive through France. There are several requirements for driving in France which could catch you out if you’re not prepared for them, and result in a hefty fine too. If you are driving for even a short distance through France, you are expected to have the following items in your vehicle:

  • Headlamp converters – these are stickers which are used to divert the direction of the headlamp beams for driving on the other side of the road
  • Reflective vest – you need at least one hi-vis jacket per person in the car to be worn if you break down and leave the car
  • A GB sticker on the rear of the car by the registration plate, unless you have a blue section on the left of the plate with the EU symbol and the GB letters instead
  • A warning triangle to be placed on the side of the road should you have to stop
  • Breathalyser – although there is a law stating all drivers in France should carry a breathalyser in the car, there are currently no fines or other penalties for enforcing this.
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Driving Practicalities

If you’re not used to driving on the right, it can take a bit of getting used to. Motorways are generally easier than junctions and roundabouts. Take your time, concentrate on positioning in the road and don’t allow yourself to be rushed by other drivers. Speed limits vary across Europe, and in some countries the limits vary according to whether the road is wet or dry.

If you fancy a glass of wine with your long, lazy lunch, then be aware of the drink drive limits too. Although the limit in England and Wales is 0.8 mg per ml of blood, in most countries of Europe it’s 0.5mg and in Cyprus and Finland, even lower. Don’t risk a huge fine for being caught over the limit. Even if it’s just your first DUI offense, it could be a big issue.

Toll Roads

Toll roads are far more common in the rest of Europe than they are in the UK, and if you’re in a rush to get through France to the Mediterranean coast, then you’re going to want to take advantage of the faster routes. Motorways are generally split into sections, and you’ll get warning of when tolls are approaching with large signs on the side of the road. Keep a stash of smaller 1 or 2 euro coins to pay tolls at the automatic booth, which usually gives you change if you haven’t exactly the right change. Many toll booths have now been upgraded to accept contactless credit and debit card payments and this is usually quicker. However, remember to check what deal you have with your bank or credit card provider for making payments overseas. If you are hit with a large foreign currency charge each time you use your card, it will wipe out any saving. Tolls might be higher if you’re towing a caravan, or driving a minibus rather than the standard family car.

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If you have a satnav system, it’s usually possible to pay a little bit extra to download mapping which covers individual countries, or Europe as a whole. It’s easier to rely on a satnav rather than a map, and these often have the added bonus of flagging up traffic jams up ahead and giving an estimated time to your destination. One thing which is illegal in France however is a radar detector, which shows police speed traps up ahead. If you have one of these fitted to your car, leave it at home.

Maps are the other alternative, and if you don’t have a satnav it’s entirely possible to navigate to your destination using a combination of Google maps and hard paper copies. Plan out the route before leaving the UK, and know where the major junctions are. Try to avoid driving in major cities where possible. Cities like Paris, Rome or Madrid are famous for heavy traffic and local drivers are unlikely to be patient with a confused British driver in the wrong lane.

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