What to do if you are taking your car or van abroad

For those company drivers thinking of taking their company car or van abroad, or for those thinking of hiring a car while overseas, there are some clear do’s and don’ts if you are to have a safe and, above all, legal trip.

Taking a leased vehicle abroad

Where the vehicle is leased, a Letter of Authority and a Vehicle on Hire certificate (VE103) are required from the leasing company to provide permission to take the car out of the country. Letters of Authority and the form VE103 will typically need to be applied for at least fourteen days before the departure date to give the leasing company time to raise the necessary paperwork. Insurers should be contacted well in advance too.

If the company owns the car / van, the driver will still need a Letter of Authority, and either the original V5C or a VE103 certificate, to take the vehicle out of the country and this should be carried at all times.

The company’s insurance cover also may need to be extended to cover foreign travel.

Please contact your fleet manager if you are in any doubt.

Hiring a car abroad

Motorists planning a trip abroad this summer are being warned they may need to take a special code with them if they want to hire a car. As of June 8, the paper counterpart of UK driving licences has been replaced with computerised records.

Anyone now wanting to hire a car abroad may need to create a licence check code to allow access to online records showing convictions for offences like speeding. And to obtain it, motorists will have to log on to the Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) website beforehand.

The DVLA advises people heading abroad to log on to its website – https://www.gov.uk/view-driving-licence before their trip. Here they can generate the access code if they want to hire a car while on holiday. The code will be valid for 21 days.

The DVLA website lets you see what details are on your licence, including what vehicles you can drive and any penalty points you may have.

To access your details, you will need:

Some motoring organisations, including the AA, are advising drivers not to destroy the paper counterparts of their driving licences, but carry them with them while driving abroad.

Before you travel

Before travelling, drivers are advised to carry out basic vehicle checks including checking tyre pressures and all fluid levels.

Breakdown cover may need to be upgraded or you may need to take out a stand-alone policy to ensure you have sufficient cover abroad.  Don’t assume that you are covered and always carry the breakdown company details.

There are also national motoring laws to take into account. For example, in most countries, headlamp beams will need to be adjusted to take into account other oncoming motorists, while some countries, like France, insist a set of spare headlamp bulbs are carried.

It is also compulsory to carry a reflective jacket in your vehicle when visiting France, Spain, Italy, Austria, Portugal and Croatia. It is compulsory to carry a warning triangle in some countries and recommended in most others.

You must always carry at least one unused, certified breathalyser kit for driving in France, although the original on-the-spot fine of a fine of €11 has now been postponed indefinitely. The breathalyser produced has to be in date – single-use breathalysers normally have a validity of 12 months.

Again in France, it is compulsory to disable your speed camera warning devices. Failure to do so will result in a significant fine.

Across Europe, as with the UK, the use of hand-held mobile phones while driving is outlawed, although penalties are usually stiffer, and when it comes to drink driving, there is only one safe rule – don’t do it. Other European countries’ drink driving laws are stricter than the UK and the penalties are severe.

You will need to display either a GB sticker or a Euro Plate with a GB Euro symbol on it. If you travel outside the EU, you may find both are needed, so either find out or ensure you have a GB sticker clearly displayed to cover yourself. If not, you risk an on-the-spot fine.

And, in winter, check whether winter tyres or snow chains may be required when driving abroad.

Even where it isn’t a legal requirement, it’s still a good idea to carry things like spare bulbs, a fire extinguisher, a torch and a first aid kit.

The international emergency number is 112. This is the same for all European countries so put it in your mobile and have it written down on your documentation.

Medical cover

If you’re going to a European Economic Area (EEA) country or Switzerland, make sure you’ve got a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)

The EHIC card entitles you to reduced-cost, sometimes free, medical treatment in most European countries.

However, the cover provided under the respective national schemes is not always comprehensive – and the cost of bringing a person back to the UK in the event of illness or death is never covered, so you should make sure you have adequate travel insurance as well.

Tips for driving abroad

Some general tips for driving in Europe would include:

  • Always drive on the right!
  • Be especially careful when setting off from service stations or restaurants on the left side of the road.
  • Take care when overtaking – allow more space between you and the car in front so you can see further down the road ahead.
  • Europe has strict drink driving laws, at least as strict as in the UK.
  • Seat belts front and rear are obligatory everywhere.  And for those travelling with children, the same rules as the UK apply with any child up to 12 years old or 135 cm in height required to sit in a suitable child car seat.
  • Speed limits are implemented rigorously. Radar traps are frequent. In France, for example, anyone caught travelling at more than 25km/h above the speed limit can have their licence confiscated on-the-spot.
  • Speeding and other traffic offences can be subject to on-the-spot fines. Make sure you have cash with you.
  • Be aware when using a filling station that diesel in many countries is called ‘gasoil’ or ‘gazole’. This is not gasoline or petrol.
  • Several countries, including Austria, Switzerland and the Czech Republic, require you to purchase a ‘vignette’ or motorway tax disc and display it on the screen before using motorways. You can get a vignette at all major border crossings and at larger petrol stations.

Drivers should also bear in mind that under the Road Safety Act 2007, foreign authorities can obtain information from the DVLA to chase motorists who have committed speeding and parking offences while abroad. If you get any convictions while away, they will count against you on your UK licence.

It is important to remember that each country’s motoring laws and regulations are subject to on-going review and update so do make sure that you are familiar with the laws which may affect your journey (including any countries you travel through).  Check with a motoring organisation like the AA or the RAC for current rules.

Please note that this document is for information only and does not constitute legal advice. It is your responsibility to ensure that you comply with all applicable laws and regulations whilst driving in other countries. If you are unsure about the relevant laws and regulations, please seek further advice. Useful information is available on the AA or the RAC websites.

driving abroad guide

Click here for the PDF download of our guide along with a handy checklist to help travellers get prepared.