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driving in Europe
  1. Green Card
22nd September 2023

The ultimate checklist for driving in Europe

The experts at Sterling give you a checklist for all the documentation you need, plus the extra equipment you should pack when driving your car in Europe, whether for business or pleasure.

Car Insurance from just £125 per year

Besides getting your vehicle in good shape for a continental road trip, there’s a lot more to think about before driving in Europe. Here’s our checklist of everything you need to drive in Europe, from travel documents to the extra equipment and spares you should carry to keep on the right side of the law.

Important travel documents

When driving in Europe you will need to be able to produce all manner of important documents to prove you are eligible to drive, you own your vehicle, and you have the correct insurance. Here is a list of what you need to take.

Full valid driving licence

Not taking your driving licence is an easy oversight, like not signing your passport before you get to the ferry port or the Channel Tunnel! Don’t forget your full driving licence when driving in Europe. It will be accepted in all countries in the EU and the European Economic Area (EEA). 

Even though Switzerland isn’t in the EU or EEA, you can still use your UK driving licence as long as you are 18 or over.

Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC)

Motorists planning on driving in Europe will need to pack a Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC), which replaces the old European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).

GHIC will offer similar protection for travellers as that afforded by EHIC: ’emergency and medically necessary healthcare needs’ when a UK resident is in the EU on a temporary stay, for business or pleasure. The GHIC will not cover you in Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland.

GHICs can be obtained through the NHS website and are free of charge. Travellers are advised to apply at least two weeks before their trip.

The GHIC is not intended as a replacement for regular travel insurance, which you should take out for protection against lost luggage, emergency illness or injury, delays or cancellations to your trip, and more.

Check your car insurance

If you are driving in Europe it’s always best to ensure your car insurance covers you whilst you are abroad, as you may not have overseas cover. We offer free European cover with our car insurance policies for up to 30, 60 or 90 days depending on your needs.

It is also worth noting you may need green card insurance should you be travelling to certain countries such as Albania, Ukraine, Turkey, Moldova, Russia, Belarus or Azerbaijan   To find out how to get green card cover, contact Sterling on 0344 381 9990.

International Driving Permit

If you are driving in Europe, an International Driving Permit (IDP) will allow you to drive in countries where a UK licence alone is insufficient. An IDP can be obtained over the counter from the Post Office for £5.50. There are three types of IDP, each allowing you to drive in different countries, so if you are touring Europe, you may need more than one. 

You can use the Post Office IDP checker tool to find out if you will need a permit, which permit you will need, and what supporting documentation you will need to supply with your application. 

Holiday documentation

When you are driving in Europe you may be asked by border security to show your return ferry or Channel crossing tickets and your accommodation booking confirmation. Carry them with you and keep them to hand, keeping printouts of online bookings and confirmations to minimise inconvenience. 

Passport

Your passport must be valid for at least six months. It’s also a good idea to take a photocopy and/or store your passport digitally and keep it separate to the original when you travel. This will help you get a replacement more easily if you lose your passport while travelling.

Vehicle log book (V5C)

You must take your vehicle log book (V5C) with you if you’re taking your vehicle abroad for less than 12 months and you may have to show it if you’re stopped at a port or while driving in Europe. The V5C tracks the registration and taxation history of a specific vehicle and confirms your ownership of it.

You’ll need to apply for a V5C or update your V5C in advance to ensure it arrives before your journey.

driving in Europe
When you are driving in Europe you will need a basic tool kit, and it helps if you know how to use it.

European breakdown cover 

Our European breakdown cover is available from £42 a year and provides you with 60 days’ breakdown cover while driving in Europe in any one calendar year. Sterling can arrange roadside recovery or a reliable home repair service, whether your car or van breaks down in the UK, Europe or further afield. 

Emissions stickers

When driving in Europe, you will find some countries have tough regulations that require you to buy and display an emissions sticker showing how much pollution your vehicle generates. They cost very little, but the fines you receive for not displaying a sticker can be very expensive.

Drivers travelling through parts of France should now display a windscreen emissions sticker labelling how much their car pollutes according to the French government. The label will set holidaymakers back £4, but should you fail to correctly display one, you may end up with a £58 fine, which could rise to £154 if not paid within 45 days.

Fines of around £640 could be handed out from 2024 onwards when the country’s camera-based enforcement goes live.

In total, there are 14 locations in France that require the sticker known as Crit’Air, which lasts for the lifespan of your vehicle and must be displayed before you cross the Channel. It is worth noting there are six different types of stickers and you will need to display the correct one upon entering the country. They range from 0/E to 5 with the cleanest polluting cars such as electric and hydrogen fuelled engines requiring a 0/E.  

The 14 areas are:

  • Paris
  • Bordeaux (starting in 2024)
  • Grenoble
  • Lyon
  • Lille
  • Nice
  • Marseille
  • Reims
  • Aix-Marseille-Provence 
  • Montpellier
  • Clermont-Ferrand 
  • Toulouse
  • Strasbourg
  • Rouen

Cities with low emissions zones may prohibit your car at certain times and could even ban higher polluting vehicles completely. You can find out where you will need an emissions sticker and which of the four stickers you will need online. 

Other European countries have also introduced emission regulations such as Switzerland with Stick’Air and Spain with DGT stickers.

Checklist of equipment needed for driving in Europe

In many European countries, it’s compulsory to have certain equipment in the car. Exactly what you need varies from country to country and time of year, but it usually includes some or all of the following.

Check your satnav

If you are driving in Europe, it is illegal in France and several other EU countries to use satnavs or other electronic equipment that alerts you of speed enforcement cameras. If your satnav provides such alerts, it is recommended that you switch them off before you enter Europe.  

Reflective jackets

When driving in Europe there must be one reflective jacket for each passenger and they must be kept within the cabin of the car.

Warning triangle

driving in Europe
It is good practice to keep two warning triangles in your car – and it is law in most European countries.

A warning triangle is compulsory in most countries. Many countries require you to have two: one for in front and one for behind your vehicle. 

Two breathalysers

In most European countries, it is compulsory to carry a breathalyser in your car, but it makes sense to carry two. This is because if you only have one and are stopped by police and ordered to take a breath test, you will not have one to use in the event you are stopped again during your journey.

Headlamp beam deflectors

When driving in Europe deflector stickers are needed to prevent dazzling oncoming drivers. You can buy deflector stickers from most car shops and, more expensively, at ferry ports and the Eurostar terminal. You may also be able to adjust the beam manually.

GB car sticker

You will need a GB sticker unless you have a GB Euro number plate.

First aid kit

This is compulsory in Austria, France and Germany and advised in all other European countries.

Bulbs, basic tools and other spares

Replacement bulbs, belts, wiper blades, oil, water and other lubricants, along with the tools to fit replacement parts or top-up lubricant levels, are also advisable. 

Research before you travel

Equipment needs for driving in Europe vary from country to country, so research what you need in the country of destination and the countries you will have to drive through.

Fines for non-compliance with local driving laws can be expensive and often payment is required on the spot.

Remember the rules of the road 

Your muscle memory often kicks in when you are driving, but it’s imperative that you obey the rules of the road when behind the wheel in a foreign country. Unless you are driving in Ireland, Malta or Cyprus, you will be driving on the opposite side of the road when travelling through Europe. 

This may not seem like a drastic change, but it is enough to confuse first-time holiday drivers. Ensure you give yourself extra time to complete your journey and take regular breaks. And pay extra attention when approaching roundabouts, junctions and overtaking as this works differently to driving in the UK.

Driving rules in specific countries 

We’ve summarised the basic information you need to know ahead of driving in the most popular European countries Brits travel to each year. 

Driving in Belgium

Compulsory items

  • UK sticker
  • Warning triangle
  • Reflective jacket

Emission rules

Antwerp and Brussels both have a low emission zone (LEZ).

Driving in France

Compulsory items

  • UK sticker
  • Warning triangle 
  • Reflective jacket
  • Crit’Air sticker
  • Headlamp beam deflectors
  • Winter tyres or snow chains – these are compulsory in some areas during winter (1 November to 31 March)

Emission rules

A number of French cities now have low emission schemes, and more are being added all the time.

Driving in Germany

Compulsory items

  • UK sticker
  • Warning triangle
  • Reflective jacket for each occupant – compulsory to wear if you leave your vehicle due to an accident or breakdown
  • First aid kit
  • Headlamp beam deflectors 
  • Winter tyres or snow chains – these are compulsory in some areas during winter, or snowy conditions
  • Environmental badge
  • Umweltplakette sticker – this is the emissions sticker you need in Germany

Emission rules

Major cities such as Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Cologne, Stuttgart and Munich all have low emission zones. You will be required to display your emissions sticker known as ‘Umweltplakette’ to enter these zones. There are three colours of stickers: green, yellow and red. Each colour denotes your car’s emission standard.

Driving in Ireland

Compulsory items

No special equipment is required.

Emission rules

There are no rules or schemes at the time of publication.

Driving in Italy

Compulsory items

  • UK sticker
  • Warning triangle 
  • Reflective jackets for each occupant – these are compulsory to wear if your vehicle breaks down or you are in an accident
  • Headlamp beam deflectors 
  • Spare tyre
  • Winter tyres or snow chains – these are dependant on conditions, and during certain times of the year. Must be used where signs indicate

Emission rules

The majority of Italian cities now have low emission zones, especially in the northern regions. You will find restrictions in Milan, Florence, Turin, Rome and Bologna as well as others. A lot of these tourist destinations will ban you from driving during weekdays and some cars will be banned on Sundays too.

Driving in the Netherlands

Compulsory items

No special equipment is required, but you will need a UK sticker.

Emission rules

Rotterdam, Utrecht and Arnhem have low emission zones (LEZs). Unlike other countries you will not need to order an emissions sticker for your vehicle in advance (it is quite easy to do so). All that matters is the date of your car’s first registration, which you can find on your vehicle registration certificate (V5C).

Driving in Portugal

Compulsory items

  • UK sticker
  • Reflective jacket
  • Headlamp beam deflectors
  • Photo ID
  • Prepaid motorway toll tickets – you can prepay tolls on the official Portugal Tolls website

Emission rules

Lisbon is the only city in Portugal to have a low emission zone (LEZ)  and has two zones within it. You can drive in zone one provided your car complies with Euro 2 emission standards, which generally means cars manufactured since January 1997. You can drive in zone two if your car meets Euro 1 emission standards – those manufactured since January 1992.

Driving in Spain

Compulsory items

  • UK sticker
  • Two red warning triangles
  • Reflective jacket for each occupant – you won’t be fined for not carrying one, but you could be for not wearing one on the road should you break down
  • Headlamp beam deflectors
  • A spare wheel and tools to change one

Emission rules

Madrid and Barcelona both have permanent low emission zones (LEZ), with many other cities in Spain having temporary LEZ.

Driving in Switzerland

Compulsory items

  • UK sticker
  • Warning triangle which must be kept within reaching distance
  • Headlamp beam deflectors
  • Snow chains to be used where signs indicate
  • Motorway tax sticker – if you drive on the motorway you’ll need to display a colourful vignette sticker to show you’ve paid tax. You can buy these in advance online from the official Switzerland Travel Centre or get them from customs offices at the Swiss border

Emission rules

Geneva is the only city in Switzerland to have a low emission zone (LEZ). The entire metropolitan area of Geneva is included, as well as Carogue, Cologny, Lancy and Vernier.

European car insurance and breakdown cover

Whichever country you plan on driving to, you will need to ensure you have the right car insurance to give you peace of mind should the worst happen.

No matter the vehicle, make sure to take our breakdown insurance with you. It costs from as little as £46.80 a year. Read this blog to discover the true cost of not having breakdown cover.

Sterling also has a range of car insurance policies for every sort of car, van and campervan, with prices starting from £125 a year and EU cover available. Call us on 0344 381 9990 for a quote or request a callback at a time better suited to you. 

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