Everything You Need to Know When Driving a Car in Mainland Europe

Written by Danny Collins
Last updated: May 31, 2023

Driving in mainland Europe can be an exciting and adventurous experience, allowing you to explore the diverse cultures and stunning landscapes of countries such as Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and many more. However, before embarking on your journey, it is essential to familiarise yourself with the necessary documents, equipment, and rules of the road to ensure a safe and hassle-free trip.

In this article, we will provide you with a comprehensive guide on everything you need to know when driving a car in mainland Europe.

What Countries are in Europe?

map of europe 2023

Europe is home to a multitude of countries that offer picturesque roads and captivating destinations for travellers. Some of the countries in mainland Europe include Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden. Each country has its own unique charm and driving regulations, making it crucial to be well-prepared before venturing out on the roads.

Documents You Need When Driving in Europe

car insurance for driving in europe

Before hitting the road in mainland Europe, it is essential to ensure you have the necessary documents with you. These typically include:

– Valid full driving licence: Ensure that your driving licence is valid and accepted in the countries you plan to visit.

– Proof of ID: Carry your passport or a valid ID card to establish your identity when required.

– Proof of vehicle insurance: It is mandatory to have valid motor insurance coverage that provides at least the minimum legal requirements for the countries you will be driving in. Ensure that your policy covers driving abroad.

– V5C certificate: This document, also known as the vehicle logbook or registration certificate, provides proof of ownership for your vehicle.

– Travel insurance documents: It is advisable to have comprehensive travel insurance that includes medical coverage, as well as coverage for potential vehicle-related issues such as accidents, theft, or damage.

– European breakdown cover policy: Consider obtaining European breakdown cover to protect yourself in case your vehicle experiences mechanical issues during your journey.

– Vehicle tax and MOT documents: Ensure that your vehicle tax and MOT (Ministry of Transport) are up to date before travelling. Some countries may require proof of these documents, so it is essential to have them readily available.

– Crit’air sticker (only if driving in France): If you plan to drive in France, make sure to obtain a Crit’air sticker, which indicates the environmental impact of your vehicle. This sticker is necessary to enter low-emission zones in certain cities.

Equipment You Need for Driving in Europe

high vis vest driving in europe

In addition to the required documents, certain equipment is mandatory when driving in Europe. These include:

Reflective Jacket:

In many European countries, including France, Germany, Italy, and Spain, it is a legal requirement to carry a reflective jacket inside your vehicle. This jacket must be worn in case of emergencies or breakdowns on the roadside.

Warning Triangle:

A warning triangle is essential for alerting other drivers in the event of a breakdown or accident. It is mandatory in most European countries, including Austria, Belgium, Croatia, and the Netherlands.

Headlamp Deflectors:

To avoid dazzling oncoming drivers, it is crucial to adjust your headlights accordingly. In the UK, cars are right-hand drive, and therefore, the headlights are designed for driving on the left-hand side of the road. When driving in mainland Europe, it is necessary to fit headlamp deflectors to ensure your lights do not blind other motorists.

UK Car Sticker:

If your vehicle has a GB (Great Britain) or UK (United Kingdom) euro-symbol number plate, it is advisable to affix a UK car sticker to the rear of your vehicle. This sticker helps identify the country of origin of your vehicle, as the UK is no longer part of the EU.

First Aid Kit:

While not a legal requirement in all countries, carrying a first aid kit is highly recommended for your safety and that of others. It should include essential supplies such as bandages, antiseptic wipes, and adhesive tape.

Safety Helmets:

If you plan to ride a motorcycle or scooter during your European journey, it is vital to wear a safety helmet that meets the required standards. It is also advisable to check the specific regulations regarding helmet use in each country.

6 Things You Need to Know Before Driving in Europe

friends having roadtrip in europe

Driving in mainland Europe can be a different experience compared to driving in the UK. Here are six key things you should know before embarking on your European driving adventure:

Look out for Low Emission Zones:

Several European cities have implemented Low Emission Zones (LEZs) to improve air quality. LEZs restrict access to certain vehicles based on their emissions. It is important to research and be aware of any LEZs on your route to avoid penalties or fines.

Always Drive on the Right:

In mainland Europe, vehicles drive on the right-hand side of the road, which is the opposite of the UK. This can take some adjustment, so ensure you are familiar with the rules of the road before driving in each country.

Learn About European Road Signs:

Road signs can vary across different European countries. Familiarise yourself with common road signs and their meanings to ensure you can navigate safely and understand the rules of the road.

Drinking and Driving is Illegal:

The legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limits for driving in European countries are generally lower than in the UK. In many countries, the limit is 0.05%, while some countries have a zero-tolerance policy. It is always safest to avoid drinking alcohol if you plan to drive.

Research the Toll Collection:

Many European countries have toll roads or bridges, and the payment methods can vary. Research the toll collection system in each country you plan to visit and be prepared with the necessary cash or electronic payment methods.

Do Not Surpass the Speed Limits:

Speed limits can differ from country to country, so it is essential to be aware of and adhere to the local speed limits. Speeding fines can be hefty, and some countries have strict enforcement measures, including automatic speed cameras.

Brexit: Are your European Travelling Plans Affected?

brexit and european driving

Since the UK’s departure from the EU, there have been changes to the rules and requirements for UK drivers travelling to Europe. While the specifics may vary, the UK government advises that UK drivers should consider obtaining an International Driving Permit (IDP) in addition to their UK driving licence.

This permit acts as an official translation of your driving licence and is recognized in many countries worldwide. It is recommended to check the latest government advice and requirements before travelling to ensure a smooth journey.


Driving a car in Mainland Europe offers an incredible opportunity to explore diverse landscapes, experience different cultures, and create lasting memories. By understanding the necessary documents, equipment, and rules of the road, you can ensure a safe and enjoyable driving experience. Remember to check the specific requirements for each country you plan to visit, stay informed about any changes due to Brexit, and always prioritise safety when driving in Europe. So, pack your bags, buckle up, and get ready to embark on a memorable European road trip adventure.