Driving in Europe


International driving permits, hiring a car, EU child seat laws and more.


Europe has some of the best public transport in the world, but having your own car is a great way to get off the beaten track and travel on your own schedule.

Car hire

You'll find most of the major international car hire companies in Europe, as well as some local ones. If you're planning on picking up and dropping off in different locations, you're probably best off renting through one of the larger companies. International companies can also be easier to deal with if there's a dispute.

Can I drive a rental car across country borders?

If you're planning to drive a hire car between countries, explain your itinerary when you make your booking enquiry. Most companies allow their cars to be taken across borders, but some will refuse for insurance reasons and many will charge an additional fee. Some companies don't allow their cars on ferries, and some companies have restrictions on driving cars from Western Europe into Eastern Europe.

See our car hire guide for more tips.

Driving in Europe

Which side of the road?

In the UK, Ireland, Cyprus, Malta and Armenia, vehicles drive on the left-hand side of the road. In all other European countries, vehicles drive on the right.

Do I need an international driving permit?

An International Driving Permit is a United Nations-sanctioned translation of your Australian licence into nine different languages.

Many European countries recognise Australian licences, but you'll need an international driving permit for Austria, Greece, France, Italy, Belgium, Spain, Turkey, Armenia, Bulgaria, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Poland and Romania.

In some other countries it's recommended you carry an international permit, as it may be a requirement to rent a car. 

Where to apply for an international driving permit

  • New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory - NRMA
  • Queensland - RACQ
  • Victoria - RACV
  • South Australia - RAA
  • Western Australia - RAC
  • Tasmania - RACT
  • Northern Territory - AANT

Apply for your IDP well in advance, as it may take a while to process your application and receive your IDP by mail. If you're in a hurry, applying in person could speed up the process.

Important: You'll still need to take your Australian drivers licence with you overseas. An IDP alone doesn't count as a licence to drive.

An IDP is valid for a year. If you stay in Europe longer than that, you may need a local licence. Some countries require that you get a local translation of your licence sooner than that.

Have you bought insurance yet? Check out our free, comprehensive and independent travel insurance reviews to find out which policy is best for you.

Road rules

Laws vary throughout Europe. The British AA has a list of country-specific road rules.
  • Drink-driving is illegal in all of Europe but the blood alcohol limit varies from 0% to .08%, depending on which country you're in.
  • Almost all European countries prohibit the use of mobile phones, unless hands-free.
  • Under EU law, a seat belt must be worn in any seat fitted with one.
  • Rules about child seats vary, but the law is consistent across EU countries: Children under 135cm tall must use the appropriate restraint (taxis are exempt from this rule).
  • In France, all vehicles must carry a breathalyser. If you rent your car in France, it should be included. If you rent your car in a different country and drive into France, don't worry too much, the French government doesn't enforce fines for non-compliance.
  • Some countries insist that cars carry a safety kit with a high-viz vest and reflective triangle for use at accident sites. Again, this should be included with your rental car.

Tolls and charges

There are plenty of toll roads across Europe so consider an e-tag for your hire car. Some European cities, such as London, Stockholm, Oslo and Bergen, impose a congestion charge to discourage driving in city centres.

Parking

Many European cities have pedestrianised city centres and discourage, or even ban, car traffic. The more central the area, the more expensive and hard to come by the parking will be. It's best to leave your car on the outskirts and see the city by foot, bicycle or public transport.

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