Driving in a foreign country is exciting - but adapting to driving in such an unfamiliar place can be difficult. So before making the move overseas, do the proper research and learn the local driving laws and norms of the country you are moving to. Here are some things you need to consider when driving internationally.
Get an international driving permit
Your driver's license may not be valid in all other foreign countries, so if you plan on driving in your new home you may need to obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP). An IDP is a document that translates your license into 10 languages. It is recognized by 150 countries worldwide and is used to prove that you have a valid driver's license in your origin country.
In some countries, an IDP may be required to rent a vehicle or to file an insurance claim if you are involved in an accident. Make sure to check the country's requirements before you move there. Also, when driving in a new country, make sure to carry the following documents with you:
- Driver's license
- Auto insurance documents
- Contact information
- Passport and other travel documents
Remember that your ability to drive in another country may depend on the laws there. It's also important to note that IDPs may be valid only for a specific period of time. If you plan to reside in another country for permanently, you may need to apply for a new driver's license. Here's how to get a driver's license or permit in your new country:
- Visit your local AAA branch office to apply for your IDP
- Before moving, check with the country's embassy or consulate in your home country for more information about license requirements, road permits (instead of tolls), necessary paperwork, required tests, possible restrictions, and other important factors.
Make sure you find out how much time it will take to apply for and obtain your new license upon establishing residence in your new country.
Look for insurance providers
Much like the U.S., most countries require auto insurance coverage to drive on their roads.
- If you are renting a car in your new country, your current auto insurance provider or credit card may not offer you coverage overseas. You may have to purchase a rental car policy through your rental company or major credit card.
- If you are buying a car or shipping your vehicle for your move, you will need to purchase permanent auto insurance in your new country.
Make sure to find out the insurance laws in your country - not every country requires the same minimum coverage. For example, Italy and Slovakia both require theft insurance for any vehicles operating within their borders while other countries may not. Be sure to shop around for affordable rates and thoroughly research the extent of coverage you are required to have.
Research the driving laws
Driving laws often differ from country to country. For example, in some places, honking your horn is for emergencies only and you can be slapped with a high fine for using it too liberally. In other countries, driving at any time of the day without the headlights on is considered illegal. To avoid ruining your trip with a traffic ticket, it is important to learn some of the basic driving laws before you plan a move to another country. Here are some specific driving laws you need to know when driving internationally:
- The driving lane. In some countries, most famously the U.K. and many former British colonies, you drive on the left side of the road rather than the right. This can take some getting used to, so it's a good idea to practice in sparsely populated areas until you become comfortable. Also, to get more information on the driving laws and practices in your new country, make sure to research them online or contact your new country's DMV or equivalent agency to prepare you for driving.
- Road signs. Learn the road signs in your new country - what they look like and what they mean.
- Drinking and driving laws. While drinking and driving is against the law nearly everywhere, laws and limits vary by country. The most common blood-alcohol limits for drivers are .05 and .08. However, countries like Japan and the Czech Republic, have zero-tolerance laws for driving under the influence.
- Verify safety considerations, including seat belts. While it's always smart and safe to buckle up, knowing the driving laws in a foreign country is important to avoid a costly fine. For example, in Italy and France, police can demand a fine on the spot if you aren't wearing a safety belt.
- Road permits. In some countries, road permits are required to drive on certain roads, such as divided highways. This is done as an alternative to tolls. Driving on these roads without a permit can result in fines.
Plan your route
Unless you are moving to a new country with which you are very familiar and have visited often, chances are you won't know much about getting around. It's a good idea to have paper maps of the areas you will be frequently traveling and be sure study them when you aren't behind the wheel. Always plan your routes before you leave the house to prevent yourself from getting lost. Also, research your route beforehand - this will allow you to plan for comfort stops and food breaks.
Consider the local driving environment
When driving in a foreign country, one aspect that travelers may fail to take into consideration is the driving environment. Make sure to be aware of the following:
- Weather (dangerous road conditions due to weather)
- Road infrastructure
- Local driving culture
- Local roads or areas to avoid
Weather conditions and driving habits have a great impact on your driving experience. If you're not familiar with such things, take the time to learn about them beforehand to keep yourself safe.
Importing your vehicle
If you are moving to another country, you may be planning to bring your current vehicle with you to your new home. However, shipping a car overseas and importing it through customs can be extremely complicated and expensive. Many nations charge very high taxes and duties to clear your car through customs and require numerous documents to qualify. Often, your vehicle will need to meet many requirements and pass an inspection to be considered for importation.
Before deciding to import your vehicle, contact your destination country's embassy or consulate for more information on the customs regulations. You may be unable to import your vehicle - or doing so may be costlier than your vehicle's value.
Remember to enjoy yourself
When you're driving in a new country, try to enjoy the journey, even if you find driving on the other side of the road stressful or difficult. Driving offers one of the best ways of seeing a new place. Have confidence in your driving abilities and make sure to have a great trip wherever you go.