Below you will find information on many (if not all) of the requirements for driving in continental Europe. There are lots of other guides online, but hopefully this will explain things in more understandable detail!
Safe and Legal European driving is all down to good preparation. It is not rocket science, but you can get on the spot fines if you do not carry out certain tasks. These include:
- Car Insurance
- Breakdown cover
- Dartford Crossing
- Air Quality Certificate / Low Emission Zones
- European Driving Kit for the car
Car Insurance. All UK drivers have to have car insurance to legally drive on the roads here. It is the same there. Check your policy to see if it does cover driving abroad. My Insurance certificate stated that I was covered, but a quick call to the insurance company proved that this was not true, and they had to amend the policy. DO NOT be complacent – call your insurance company.
Breakdown Cover. As I drive an older car, breakdown cover is a necessity. Many new cars, some insurance policies and some bank accounts provide complimentary breakdown cover. Once again, check your cover to see if it includes Europe. I am with the AA, and they give you two free days cover in Europe with a Gold membership. Once again, a quick call to the AA gave me the actual details and not all is as it seems. Once of the biggest problems is ‘Repatriation’ of your vehicle should it totally die on the road. The AA cover (free or otherwise) will not bring your car home if the cost to bring it home is more than the current market value of the car. For example, if your car is only worth £1000 and the cost of getting it home is £1500, then the AA will not help you. I was not happy with this so shopped around. I ended up going with the RAC. It cost me £50 for the 4 days in France, but also gave you 7 days in the UK before the trip. The devil is in the detail with this, so please read the policies carefully. As a footnote to this – French motorways are privately owned, and it costs a fortune to be towed. Most Breakdown policies will reimburse you for this cost so it is worth having one regardless of your vehicle age.
Dartford Crossing. Not everyone will have to use the Bridge/Tunnel at Dartford. If you do use it, there are now NO toll booths. Everything is done ONLINE only. You only have 24 hours to get online and pay otherwise you get fined. This could be an issue for some, so set up an account before you go. You have to deposit £10 when you set the account up, and it keeps the balance at £10 all the time, so the first time you use the crossing it will take another £10 out of your account. Still cheaper than the fine…. All details can be found here on their website.
Air Quality Certificate. To drive in certain French cities (Those currently being: Paris, Lyon and Grenoble) you will need an Air Quality Certificate. This comes in the form of a small round sticker, and is issued by the French Government. They are simple to apply for. Simply scan your V5 Registration certificate (the first page, front and back) and attach it to the form you fill out on their website. Only use the official website (click here to see it) as there are other sites claiming t0 offer the service at a much higher charge. It currently costs 4.80 Euro’s.
There are 6 bands, from 0 to 5. 0 is the cleanest vehicle, with 5 being the dirtiest. You need a 4 or above to drive in Paris at the moment, but this may change, so keep an eye on the website. Once you have paid for your certificate they email you a PDF which is the actual certificate. A sticker follows later in the post so be sure to give it enough time to get to you. It took a couple of weeks for ours to arrive. Once you have the sticker it must be placed in you windscreen. From inside the car it goes bottom right hand corner (as you look at the car from the outside, that is the bottom left hand corner) as you can see here:
Many other European cities have similar Low Emission Zones. Check out this very useful website for details on each of them.
European Driving Kit. There is a legal requirement in several European countries for you to carry a certain amount of equipment. This includes:
- Spare Bulb kit (best to get one specific to your vehicle)
- Warning Triangle
- NF Approved Breathalyser kit (2 pack)
- Hi Viz Vests
- First Aid Kit
- Fire Extinguisher
You also need a GB sticker and a set of Headlight Deflectors. Kits are available from many places. We have one made by a company called ‘Ring’. This is something you definitely need, do not skimp. They cost between £20 and £40 or so. Click on the links below to browse a few:
Placing your Headlamp Beam Deflectors is straightforward, especially if you use the ones made by Ring. There is a leaflet included which has every new make of car and how to position the sticker. For older, generic headlamps such as mine, the instructions are a little more hazy. Below are a couple of photo’;s of where we put them. It seemed to be correct, but if not, I am hopeful someone out there will email us with any corrections!
Documents. Ensure you take all of the following vehicle documents with you:
- V5 Registrations Certificate
- MOT Certificate
- Car Insurance Certificate
Social Media. It is worth noting that some House Insurance policies can be null and void if you advertise the fact you are away on any Social Media. Better to be safe than sorry – post your holiday stuff when you get back home!
Other Useful Info. Many European roads require you to pay a toll. Make sure you have enough cash to cover these tolls, as it could get tricky! I would also advise you to get some good, up-to-date maps of where ever you are travelling to. Sat Nav’s are great, but its good to have a Plan B. We had also noticed that the French do not seem to label their roads in the same way as us, which makes navigation a little harder than you would wish.
Travel Insurance is useful in case of delays, hotel thefts and so on. I personally use the Post Office. Their policies are good, so long as you have no medical conditions. Its also good to get your EHIC card when travelling in Europe. This is a free card that gives you reciprocal healthcare in European hospitals. You can order yours for free from here. DO NOT PAY for this card ever, it comes courtesy of the NHS.
A few final travel tips for any that need it:
- Ensure your phone will work abroad, and check the call & data charges (if any)
- Phone your bank & credit card companies and let them know where you are going
- Update your Sat Nav Maps
- Give your friends and relatives itineraries and phone numbers of where you are going/staying
- Ensure your passports are valid for at least 6 months or more
- Get foreign currency
I have made a quick PDF Checklist. Please feel free to download it here: European Driving Checklist