Direct Line magazine

Driving abroad: Know the local rules

Updated on: 5 April 2024

Image of road with cars at night

There’s more to driving abroad than just making sure you’re on the correct side of the road. There are specific laws to obey dependent on your location.

Make sure you have your licence, insurance and vehicle registration documents with you wherever you travel. It’s also a good idea to keep your passport with you, as you’ll need ID if the police stop you.

If you’re taking a car from the UK it must also be equipped with UK stickers and headlight beam converters.

Yes, you read that right. Since September 2021, the distinguishing mark (or national identifier) you must display on vehicles registered in the United Kingdom that are driven abroad has changed from GB to UK.

Do I need a green card?

You don't need to carry a green card when you drive in the EU (including Ireland), Andorra, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Serbia or Switzerland. You do still need valid vehicle insurance. The website has more information about green cards.

Do I need an International Driving Permit (IDP)?

You don’t need an international driving permit (IDP) to drive in the EU, Switzerland, Iceland, Norway or Liechtenstein provided you have a photocard driving licence that was issued in the UK.

However, some EU countries do ask for an IDP if you have a paper licence, or a licence that was issued in Gibraltar, Guernsey, Jersey or the Isle of Man.

Please note: from April 2024 you can no longer get an IDP over the counter at the Post Office. You can instead get hold of an IDP from shops that offer PayPoint services.

The website has more information about International Driving Permits.

Here’s a rundown of rules to follow when driving in some of Europe's most popular countries.


French roads have varying speed limits, depending on the conditions (normal, rain, poor visibility).

  • Motorways: 130km/h, 110km/h, 50km/h

  • Urban motorways/dual carriageways: 110km/h, 100km/h, 50km/h

  • Other open roads: 80km/h, 70km/h, 50km/h

  • Built-up areas: 50km/h

Speed camera warning devices are banned in France, so if your sat nav has this function, disable it before you start driving.

Make sure you have a warning triangle and a reflective jacket in the cabin of the car. It’s recommended you use dipped headlights during the day, whatever the weather, but be absolutely certain they’re on when visibility is poor.

You’ll also need to apply for a clean air sticker, Crit’Air vignette, at a cost of around £4. It can take weeks for the sticker to arrive, so be sure you apply well in advance of your trip. Driving without the sticker in restricted areas can result in an on-the-spot fine of up to €135.

It’s also advised that each car should have at least one unused breathalyser displaying the French NF certification mark. This is only guidance though, so you can’t be fined if you don’t have one.

Bear in mind...

The French police can fine you on the spot. They do take credit cards, but for extreme offences you could have your licence confiscated. If that happens, and there isn’t another driver with a valid licence in the vehicle, they’ll impound the car.


Like France, there are a variety of recommendations for travelling in Germany. Make sure you have a warning triangle, reflective vest and a first aid kit, and use dipped headlights or daytime running lights while driving.

Despite what you may have heard, German road users do have to abide by speed limits for the majority of travel. However, large portions of the Autobahn are unrestricted and carry only a recommended speed limit.

  • Motorways: 130km/h recommended

  • Other open roads: 100km/h

  • Built-up areas: 50km/h

Bear in mind...

If you’re driving in Germany during the winter, you must have winter or all-season tyres fitted or you could face a fine.


Drivers in Italy must stick to the following speed limits depending on conditions (normal, precipitation).

  • Motorways: 130km/h, 110km/h

  • Main roads and dual carriageways: 110km/h, 90km/h

  • Secondary roads: 90km/h

  • Urban motorways: 70km/h

  • Built-up areas: 50km/h

Drivers are also expected to reduce speed at night, near intersections, schools, bends, etc.

The motoring law most commonly broken by Brits in Italy is straying into a Zona Traffico Limitato (ZTL). These are areas usually in towns and city centres and are either totally prohibited to cars or limited to residents with permits. Enter one of these zones without permission and you’re likely to end up with a fine. The entrance to a ZTL will be marked by a white circle with a red border, but not every ZTL has the same rules, so make sure you read the instructions under the sign. 

Italian law says drivers must keep a warning triangle in the car, and it's a good idea to also keep reflective jackets and replacement lightbulbs in the car. During the day, dipped headlights should be used outside built-up areas, irrespective of the weather. Snow chains or winter tyres must also be used during winter months where signs indicate.

Bear in mind...

Stay calm - it’s illegal to use your horn in built-up areas.


Speed limits in Spain line-up similarly to other major European destinations.

  • Motorways and dual carriageways: 120km/h

  • Roads with more than one lane in each direction: 100km/h

  • Ordinary open roads: 90km/h

  • Built-up areas: 50km/h on roads with two lanes per direction, 30km/h for one lane per direction and 20km/h on roads shared with pedestrians.

The rules of the road are strongly upheld in Spain. For example, not indicating when changing lanes on the motorway is a big no-no.

Cars must carry one warning triangle (two are recommended), and drivers should carry reflective jackets and spare spectacles if glasses are required for driving. You must also have a functional spare tyre or a tyre repair kit.

Bear in mind...

Spanish police can issue on-the-spot fines. Tickets should have an explanation in English on the back of them, and drivers have up to 15 days to dispute any fines. The dispute can be conducted in English too.

Just like Italy, it’s against the law to use your horn in a built-up area.


Speed limits are as in Portugal.

  • Motorways: 120km/h

  • Other open roads: 90km/h

  • Built-up areas: 50km/h

Like France, speed camera warning devices are illegal. Keep a reflective jacket, warning triangle, plus spare bulbs for your external lights in the car’s cabin. If you wear glasses or contact lenses, make sure you’ve got a spare pair in the car.


Speed limits in Belgium depend where in the country you’re driving

  • Motorways: 120km/h

  • Open roads in Wallonia and Brussels Capital region: 90km/h

  • Open roads in Flemish region: 70km/h

  • Built-up areas: 50km/h (30km/h around schools)

  • Residential areas: 20km/h

Keep a warning triangle and reflective jacket in the car as you can be fined if you don’t have them.

The Netherlands

The speed limits in The Netherlands are: 

  • Motorways: 130km/h

  • Outside built-up areas: 80km/h - 100km/h (depending on local signs)

  • Built-up areas: 50km/h

We recommend carrying a warning triangle, reflective jackets and spare bulbs in the car. Also, try to keep your hands off that horn. If you're in a built-up area, you can only use your horn in cases of extreme danger.

Bear in mind...

If your sat nav shows you where fixed speed cameras are, you need to deactivate that function while driving in The Netherlands.


Speed limits in Austria are: 

  • Motorways: 130km/h

  • Other open roads: 100km/h

  • Built-up areas: 30km/h - 50km/h

Be sure to keep a reflective jacket, warning triangle and first aid kit in the car. You should also note that dashboard cameras are prohibited in Austria.

Czech Republic

Speed limits.

  • Motorways: 130km/h

  • Other open roads: 90km/h

  • Built-up areas: 50km/h

Drivers must use dipped headlights during the day and cars must contain a warning triangle, first aid kit and a reflective jacket.

Be aware that no amount of alcohol in the blood is permitted when driving in the Czech Republic. Don’t be caught out by driving the morning after a few drinks.

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