From dealing with different driving laws and customs, to making sure you have the right driving documents and insurance coverage, there’s a fair amount of planning that any responsible driver should do before hitting the streets in a different country. But never fear! In Part 4 of our “Driving in Unfamiliar Places” series, here are 6 tips for driving internationally.
1. Gather your documents
In most countries, you’ll need a valid drivers license and proof of insurance from your home country to legally get behind the wheel. But some countries also require an International Driving Permit (IDP). Double-check with their embassy to learn more about the specific driving requirements.
2. Investigate insurance coverage
In general, most auto insurance policies in the U.S. will not cover you while you’re driving abroad (though Esurance does extend coverage to its U.S. policyholders driving in Canada), so it’s worth checking on your policy to see if you’ll have coverage where you’re going. Make sure you also check in with your credit card company to see if they offer coverage for international driving (many do when you use their credit card to rent a car). Find out specifically what’s covered and what the coverage includes. Most car rental companies will also offer you the option to buy insurance coverage when you rent a car through them. If you can, research their rental policies in advance so you’ll have a better sense of what you’ll need when it’s time to sign on the dotted line.
3. Ask about automatic versus standard transmissions
If you’re one of the estimated 20 percent of all drivers who can drive a stick shift, then you’re in luck because renting a car with manual transmission outside of the U.S. is easier to do and is generally more affordable than their automatic counterparts. For the 80 percent of us who only drive cars with automatic transmissions, talk to rental agencies ahead of time to see if you can reserve an automatic and be prepared to pay a little extra for the privilege.
4. Know the rules of the road
If you’re driving near a hospital in Austria, know it’s illegal to honk your horn. In Cyprus, always drive on the left side of the road. And in the Czech Republic, there’s a zero-tolerance policy for driving under the influence of alcohol (meaning your blood alcohol level has to be zero). Traffic rules are different across the pond (and elsewhere), so be sure to review country-specific rules and road signs before setting out.
5. Be ready for tolls
If you do drive into a major city, be prepared for the possibility of tolls or “congestion fees” (also known as “congestion charges”). In some city centers, you may even find cars are banned altogether.
6. Obey traffic laws
It’s easy to think that just because you’re in a rental and from somewhere else, the rules of the road don’t apply to you. But in many countries, there are cameras checking your speed (or other violations) and you can be ticketed through the mail. In some places, you won’t be allowed to leave the country until your fines are paid in full. Check local speed limits and other common traffic laws before setting out.