Booking a trip, especially to a foreign country, is always an exhilarating experience. The thrill of planning your itinerary, researching things to do, and imagining what lies ahead can fill you with anticipation. As you plan your adventure, you may also consider renting a car or motorbike to make getting around easier and more convenient.
For first-timers, the thought of driving abroad can sometimes trigger anxiety, and that’s perfectly normal.
You may find yourself wondering, “Will I have to drive on the other side of the road?”, “What if road signs are in another language?”, or “What else do I need to know?”. Once you’re actually there, additional concerns may arise, such as navigating tolls, international line markings, and parking.
But fear not! You don’t have to figure it all out on your own. Driving internationally may seem daunting, but here are 10 tips for driving abroad that will help make you more at ease with the idea. Along with these tips, we have also included valuable resources to answer any additional questions you may have.
With these tips, you’ll be able to embark on your journey with confidence, knowing that you’re well prepared and equipped for the road ahead. Bon voyage!
Table of Contents
10 Tips For Driving Abroad
Research and Preparation
Spend some time researching the driving rules and regulations of the destination you’ll be visiting.
Amongst your research you will probably find that in order to be able to drive internationally, you will need to apply for an international driving permit. There are many ways to go about this, but AAA is a quick and easy option.
International driving permits can be obtained within 6 months of your desired effective date. To apply in person, you will need to fill out an application form, bring two original passport pictures, your current driver’s license and be ready to pay a $20 fee.
Every country has different laws and regulations regarding being behind the wheel. It is important that you are aware of the differences if traveling to multiple locations.
In your home country, road signs are second nature and you often only need a quick glance to understand what they are signaling. However, when driving in a foreign country, these may look quite different than what you are used to!
Tripiamo provides international driving guides with information to drive around another country with confidence. It has helpful video tutorials that let you practice driving in many countries before you get there. It teaches everything from the top road signs and road rules to keep in mind and many other topics to drive like a local.
The guide even includes a PDF that you can have at your fingertips so there is no need to stress if you don’t have things such as all the road signs fully memorized. It was created by avid travelers and vetted by expats, fellow travelers and even some local driving instructors to make sure they discuss situations any traveler may experience while on the road.
Choosing Your Vehicle
Many times, when traveling domestically we may be inclined to rent larger cars for comfort and extra luggage space, but there are many reasons to rent smaller cars when abroad.
Smaller cars are great for city driving. If you are planning to explore some cities when traveling, a smaller car will be much easier to handle and park. Smaller cars also tend to be more cost-effective when it comes both to rental fees and fuel charges.
Make your rental car situation as comfortable and as easy as possible for you. This is not the time to practice a manual transmission if you’re not fully confident in your ability to drive one.
Though it is understandable that you may be tempted to rent a manual vehicle to save yourself some money, but if you are more comfortable with an automatic transmission, please be sure you elect to rent that for your own safety and peace of mind.
Since you won’t be familiar with the area, a GPS is highly recommended. Navigation systems allow you to keep your eyes on the road and will lessen the stress of driving in a foreign country. Many of them may also note street signs, speed limits and be able to help you find parking. Inquire with your rental car company to see if they offer vehicles with navigation or the ability to rent a navigation system.
If you choose to rely on Google Maps on your phone, remember to download the map so you can use it while you’re offline.
Insurance and Documentation
Your standard auto insurance may not cover you while driving internationally. Be sure to review your policy before you leave to make sure you’re fully aware of the scope of your coverage. If your insurance does not cover it, you can choose to pay for coverage through the rental car company.
Whenever you’re renting a vehicle, make sure to keep all of your important documentation with you, such as a copy of the rental car agreement. Your license, international driving permit and your passport should also be with you and easily accessible.
Safety should be your top priority when driving! Wearing a seatbelt is mandatory in all vehicles in many countries including those within the EU. Not only will this keep you safe, but it will keep you from accruing any expensive seat belt fines.
Plan to avoid driving at night or in inclement weather when at all possible. This added stress should be avoided whenever possible. It’s a great idea to limit the amount of hours you need to drive in a day, in order to accommodate any unexpected weather and to avoid driving at night.
Keep your vehicle safe even when you’re not in the car. Consider storing your valuables in the glove box or a covered trunk. Keeping them out of sight will minimize the risk of having your vehicle targeted by thieves.
Budgeting and Payment
Surprise costs should be expected when traveling. Plan ahead for these extra costs — such as tolls, parking fees, or insurance. Planning for these costs may include keeping your spare change readily available and having some extra cash on hand.
Tripiamo provides many helpful pointers on how to avoid many of these extra expenses in many countries, like parking tickets, traffic fines and more so you keep your money for that extra souvenir or meal out. It pays for itself in less than one parking ticket in many instances.
Before your trip, make sure to inquire with your credit card companies to ensure you have one or two that work internationally. Even if you know your card will work internationally, you should call your credit card company ahead of time to let them know you will be traveling outside of the country. If they are not updated, there is a possibility they may freeze your account and you don’t want to be stranded without a payment method.
If you have more than one card that works internationally, it is also helpful to be aware what foreign transaction fees may be associated with each card. This can help save you money by making sure you use the card with the lowest foreign transaction fee.
It’s okay if you’re not fluent in the language of the country you’re visiting, but it is helpful to learn important phrases in the local language that relate to driving.
Tripiamo also includes these helpful phrases with the translations in their on-the-go PDF. Keeping this on you at all times will be extremely helpful. Sometimes translation apps don’t have the perfect translation and being on the road is no place for miscommunications. Having a reliable resource readily available will make it much easier on you.
Before leaving for your trip, check with your cell phone provider to see if your phone will automatically connect in another country or if you need to change over to an international plan.
Having a phone that will work regardless of whether it is connected to Wi-Fi is a must when driving internationally. Not only will it provide you with a sense of security and peace of mind, but it is there in case of an emergency or if you need to quickly look up any information.
Make sure that your phone is fully charged and bring a portable charger or car charger with you as well.
Even though you may have a map or navigation system, it’s helpful to review and familiarize yourself with the route before you start your drive.
The most in-depth way to do this is with Tripiamo’s patent-pending 360 degree driving tours. Using actual footage from various parts of each country, you can pre-drive/watch what it’s like to go around another country as if you were driving the car yourself. It even provides instructor guidance along the way to point out the things that may confuse people like road markings, traffic patterns, street signs, etc.
You will be able to familiarize yourself with landmarks, what to expect on the road, the general flow of traffic and how to navigate specific areas. Using this tool can get you as familiar as possible without physically driving the route first!
For any long road trip, plan breaks accordingly to avoid fatigue. Staying alert while driving is vital to keep you safe. Smaller breaks to stretch your legs and hydrate are enough for shorter drives, but when planning for a long trek, consider a possible overnight stop, or switching drivers, if possible.
Finding a spot can be hard enough when you are familiar with an area, let alone when you’re in a new country!
When driving in the United States, we often assume our hotels will have parking, but that’s not always guaranteed when traveling internationally. Plan to research ahead of time for all of the places you intend to visit. Keep in mind that if you’re visiting a city and are skeptical of parking, it might be wise to use public transportation.
Keep in mind that each country has their own set of parking laws and regulations and these rules may not always be posted. I recommend doing a quick google search of the top parking laws in the destination you will be visiting and using Tripiamo’s parking guide section for each country.
Read more: How to Rent an RV for a Road Trip
Driving Through Multiple Countries
If your trip takes you to multiple locations, keep cross border fees in mind. These fees are mainly in place when driving between non-EU countries.
Keep in mind; there are also countries that rental car companies may not permit you to drive into. These rules are always changing and tend to differ based on each rental company, so be sure to research this before each trip.
In terms of rental cars, a green card refers to a cross border auto insurance card. This signifies that the car you have rented has at least the minimum level of insurance required.
This is important to keep in mind if you are traveling through multiple countries. This becomes more popular when driving through the Balkan peninsula. The green card can be provided to you by your rental car company. If you know you will be traveling to multiple countries, it is best to speak directly to your rental car company about any additional fees that may be charged.
Stay in the Slow Lane
I recommend staying in the slow lane for a while, maybe even for the whole trip. You may be fully confident in your driving ability, and may have done all your research, but people in other countries often have different driving habits that could be overwhelming.
If you get flustered, don’t be afraid to take a break. It is a completely new situation and it is only natural to feel a bit out of sorts when you’re still getting used to it.