12 Things You Need to Know Before Driving Abroad

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Driving internationally allows you to get off the beaten path on your own schedule and see so much more of your destination but it does require some preparation to ensure safety, legality, and enjoyment. 

Some of our favorite memories are from when we have rented a car and ventured to the small towns outside of London, through the Highlands of Scottland to St. Andrews, all over Ireland, on the Autobahn in Germany, in Costa Rica, Greece & Mexico.  

Here's a few of our memories & stories

In Greece we rented a white Fiat Panda on 3 different islands - there were no choices if you wanted a car to rent.  We took one of them on the car ferry to the Greek island of Antiparos from Paros.


In the Cotswalds, outside London, we took a joyride (as Rick Steves put it in the guidebook).


In Scotland, we argued over where to exit the roundabout because the GPS just isn’t fast enough and we miscounted the the exits (it always turns out okay though because you just keep driving around).


In Mexico, we got stopped by the police but thankfully our long time concierge Claudia had told us what to do (but you’ll have to listen to our Cancun podcast episode to find out).


In Bradford, UK, Scott got tickets for driving in the bus lane and in Germany on the Autobahn (we didn’t know that was even a thing).  They were all issued from camera inforced areas so he didn't realize until long after we had returned home. They forgave the UK ones and we never could figure out how to pay the Germany ones.


In Scotland, we witnessed the late Queen Elizabeth’s Cortege pass on the M90 on its way from Balmoral to Edinburgh and had our friends in the UK calling to ask how the bloody hell were we able to witness that. 

In Scotland, we visited Loch Ness and got to watch the Lochs in operation at Fort Augustus. 


In Ireland, we visited Joyce Country Sheepdogs for a Demonstration, the place from the movie Marley & Me where Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson took their honeymoon.


In England, we passed by a lavender field in full bloom in the Cotswolds and had to stop. 


Oh my goodness, as I write these out, I have thought about so many more like visiting Stonehenge and Avevury Stone Circles, Tulum, exploring all around Cabo San Lucas, and so much more!

You should do this, can do this, and you’ll be okay doing this too! 

Before I get to the 12 things, I want to tell you about Tripiamo. Tripiamo provides online driving guides for travelers considering driving in a foreign country. We recently took the Germany one, and let’s just say now we know what the speed limit signs look like on the Autobahn (hint: they don’t say speed limit, even in German). I'm going to reference Tripiamo for several of these recommendations below so I wanted to mention it here first.

Here's the 12 Things You Need to Know

  1. You May Want to Look into the International Driving Permit (IDP): Many countries require an International Driving Permit in addition to your national driving license. The IDP is a translation of your license and is recognized in over 150 countries. Check the requirements of the destination country. An International Driving Permit can be obtained at you local AAA office.  We've never gotten one though and haven't had any problems.  Get more details here. 

  2. Know the Local Driving Laws and Regulations: Familiarize yourself with the driving laws of the countries you plan to visit. This includes speed limits, traffic signs, and local driving customs, such as which side of the road to drive on. You can do that with Tripiamo.  You'll learn the Laws and Regulations in an interactive way for the country you'll be visiting while also getting to watch a car driving in that country in those situations.  Check out the guides here. 

  3. Insurance Coverage: Ensure your insurance covers international driving. You may need to purchase additional insurance for driving abroad or rental cars. Check with your insurance provider and the credit card you are renting the car with and then consider if you need additional coverage for theft, accidents, and liability.

  4. Rental Car Requirements: If renting a car, which you most likely will be, check the rental company's requirements regarding age, driving license validity, and credit card policies. Some countries have specific requirements for rental agreements.

  5. Road Safety and Conditions: Research the road conditions and safety standards in the countries you'll be driving in. Some countries may have less maintained roads or different safety standards than you're accustomed to.

  6. Emergency Procedures: Know the local emergency numbers and understand the procedure for dealing with accidents or breakdowns. Carry a basic first aid kit and safety equipment required by law in the country you're visiting. This will be covered in the Tripiamo guides but also ask the rental car company for more information.

  7. Navigation Tools: Ensure you have reliable navigation tools. GPS devices or smartphone apps can be invaluable, especially if they offer offline maps. However, always have a physical map as a backup. Be sure to download offline Google Maps ahead of time if you won't have data or if you won't have signal.

  8. Language and Communication: Learn basic phrases in the local language, especially those related to driving and emergencies. Carry a phrasebook or have a translation app ready. See our recommendation here.

  9. Cultural Considerations: Be aware of any cultural norms or practices related to driving. For example, in some countries, honking has a different meaning than you might be used to. This is also covered in the Tripiamo guides.

  10. Payment for Tolls and Fuel: Investigate how tolls are paid and the availability of fuel stations in the areas you plan to visit. Some countries have toll roads that require cash or a special card.

  11. Vehicle Readiness: If taking your vehicle, ensure it's in good condition and meets the environmental and technical requirements of the countries you're visiting. This includes emissions standards and equipment such as reflective vests, warning triangles, and headlamp converters.

  12. Legal Documentation: Carry all necessary documents, including your passport, driving license, IDP, vehicle registration, insurance documents, and any required visas or permits.

Preparing thoroughly can help mitigate risks and ensure a smooth and enjoyable international driving experience.

To learn more about driving Internationally and what you can do to prepare, listen to this episode of the podcast where we talk to the Founder & CEO of Tripiamo, John Cortese.

Where will you drive next? 




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Hi! We're Scott and Melissa

The Sunshine Travelers


We are a couple of travel obsessed explorers sharing our travel experiences and stories to inspire you to travel more and better. We are so happy to have you here.

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