Guide to driving abroad

Driving abroad covers far more than simply coping with the view from the "wrong” side of the road. Before you head out on the highway you need to do your homework. The rules of the road change from country to country and that includes everything from strange signs, speed limits to unique laws and regulations. So, for a safe, sound and worry free holiday, read on…


The freedom and flexibility of hiring a car abroad is like no other; it gives you access to hotspots hidden from the traditional tourist routes. In some countries this can be absolute bliss with empty roads to secret destinations. However, in others the road ahead can be chaotic and overwhelming. This is often a major obstacle for drivers, so do some research beforehand. Some countries, especially those with hilltop hideaways and winding roads have poor road infrastructure. This could be a challenge if you’re used to the UK’s high quality roads and driving standards. If you think our pot holes are bad, you may be in for a shock.

Road signs

Have no fear! The same set of road signs you see on UK roads can be found all over the world. So the common triangle warning signs you find on British roads can be found worldwide. You don’t need to know the language to recognise familiar signs and symbols. There may however be variations in colour for differing weather conditions; in snowy countries, triangular signs are often amber, as opposed to having the red with a white border we are accustomed to. Some other countries have adopted a diamond shaped sign, with an orange frame. Despite the variations in colour, the message remains the same.

Speed restrictions

Speed restrictions vary from nation to nation, but generally the signs look similar (although they’re usually in km/h rather than mph). If you’re unsure, travel a little slower than you would if you were in a similar environment in the UK – for example, 30 mph in a built-up area – to stay on the safe side. And don’t forget to account for things like wet weather or low visibility, which can slow down your reaction times!

Whatever you do, always respect the speed limits. In lots of countries, police can – and will – issue on-the-spot fines for speeding. Keep a look out for speed camera as they can be difficult to spot. In France the use of pre-programmed speed camera alerts is prohibited. Instead of using database camera locations, it is left for drivers to locate areas where restrictions are likely to be. It’s a confusing issue as the law differs from country to country. If in doubt, switch off your satnav – or at least have a map of the local area handy.

Car hire

Choose a reputable car hire company that is well known for its high safety standards – remember, the cheapest car deal may not always be the best. Try and get advice from people you trust with experience renting cars abroad. If you know friends or family who hired a car in the same area as you, ask them which company they used and if they had a good experience.

Once you’ve decided on the company you’d be happy to rent from, spend a bit of time selecting the insurance cover needed. Remember to read the small print before signing on the dotted line. You can always ask your insurer back home if they will cover policies abroad, as it may work out cheaper than buying it abroad.

Top tips

  • Talk to the local tourist office for guidance on the best places to see on your travels or where there may be disturbances on the road.
  • Remember that motorways often have tolls which must be paid by everyone - even unsuspecting British drivers.
  • It may be a legal requirement to carry equipment such as a warning triangle, first aid kit or breathalyser when driving. Check the legal requirements before setting off on your holiday, so you’re prepared with the correct equipment.
  • Never, drink and drive. This is a legal requirement, no matter what the location. However, in most countries, the drink-drive limit is less than the UK. In most European countries it is 50mg – the equivalent of a glass of wine, and a small one at that. Others have a no tolerance policy.

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