Driving as a Tourist in Europe: What You Need to Know
The most important thing for incoming tourists to Europe is that the legal age for driving is 18 years old, with some exceptions, such as in Norway.
All European citizens are permitted to drive to another Member State as long as they have a valid driving licence, while non-EU citizens must obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP), which serves as a translation document of the holder’s national driving licence, SchengenVisaInfo.com reports.
In order to obtain such a document, it is highly recommended to apply before leaving the country, as the procedure can sometimes be lengthy. In general, the passport, visa, car documentation, and national driving licence are required, with the process potentially taking up to 15 days to be completed.
In many countries, IND can be optional, but it is an advantage to obtain one, as it enables visitors to rent cars, can serve as an additional identity proof, and secures one’s driving throughout their whole trip. However, IND doesn’t serve as the driving licence – drivers must have other documentation, such as their national driving licence, at all times with themselves.
Some of the main rules to keep in mind while driving across the EU are as follows:
- Dipped headlights are mandatory
- Seat Belt is mandatory for all drivers and passengers, and failing to follow such rules can result in high monetary fees
- Permitted speed limit depends on the type of road, with the lowest speed limit being 50 kilometres per hour in urban areas and 110 kilometers per hour in motorways and autobahns, such as in Germany.
- The legal age for driving is mainly 18 and 23 for renting cars
During their stay in the European Member States, visitors are highly encouraged to subscribe to insurance providers in order to have a safe and without inconveniences during their trip.
In addition, UK nationals should keep in mind that while visiting Europe, they must have a UK sticker on their car instead of GB, which was valid before Brexit. This rule entered force on September 28, 2021. Brits are mainly able to visit the EU without obtaining an IND, just like Americans; however, as seen below, different rules apply to nationals from third countries.
To drive the way to Austria, tourists must have a valid driving licence that doesn’t expire at least until the end of the visit, which also has to be issued by another EU Member State. Tourists that come outside the EU must exchange their non-EU licence for an EU licence from the country they are staying in, which is valid for also travelling elsewhere in the EU.
In general, visitors must be 18 years of age or older and be ready to present a valid driving licence when driving in Austria. Riders of motorcycles up to 125cc must be aged 16 or over, while for mopeds, 15-year-olds can drive them around the country.
While driving in Austria, motorists drive on the right and overtake on the left. Horns are profoundly forbidden unless there is a case of danger. Seat belts must be worn at all times by the driver and passenger; otherwise, a €35 fine on the spot charge can be applied. Lights have to be turned on while driving, regardless of the time of the day.
Belgium practices left-hand driving while they drive on the right-hand side of the road. No one under 18 years of age cannot drive in Belgium, regardless of the vehicle. However, those that want to drive the economy and compact cars have to be 21 to 24 years old and over 25 for other vehicles. Wearing a seatbelt is mandatory, and overtaking has to be on the left side of the road. A one-metre distance has to be maintained when passing a cyclist.
Visitors from countries outside the EU/EEA need an International Driving Permit, as it is considered essential by car rental companies. A driving licence issued in the United States of America is valid to use for driving in the country. Obtaining an IDP can take up to 20 minutes, and the applicant must be 18 or older. The only documents needed are a photo, a copy of their passport, and a valid native driver’s licence.
Tourists coming outside the EU must have an international driving permit. Either way, drivers in the county must have a valid driving licence, car registration, and proof of car insurance. One thing to keep in mind when visiting Sofia is that parking is classified in green and blue zones, with the latter being free of charge on Sundays and holidays.
Honking is not allowed in cities between 22:00 and 06:00, except in cases of danger, and 21 is the youngest age someone can rent a car in the country.
There is no need to obtain an international driver’s licence to drive around the country unless the document is written in other letters, such as Arabic, Chinese, or Cyrillic.
Just like in the rest of Europe, the permitted alcohol percentage for driving is 0.05 per cent. However, if the driver that has consumed that amount of alcohol gets involved in an accident, stipulates immediate zero alcohol tolerance.
The same rules apply in Cyprus, as they do in the United Kingdom, indicating that drivers have to stay on the left-hand side of the road and on the right side of the car.
Foreigners in the country must have an international driving licence if their stay is longer than six months. In other cases, tourists can drive in the country with no problem as long as they are over 18 years old and have a valid driving licence. In addition, a motor insurance certificate and the V5 registration document for the owner of the car or for a rental are required.
Dipped headlights must be used during the daytime, in all seasons, and on all roads. Seatbelts must also be worn at all times by everyone in the vehicle, while those driving a moped or motorcycle must wear a crash helmet.
Headlights can be used between half an hour after sunset and half an hour before sunrise while using horns is forbidden between 22:00 and 06:00 near the hospitals.
There aren’t many additional rules for tourists driving in the country; they must be over 18 years old and have a valid driving licence, while an international driving permit is required if the driver comes from another EU Member State.
Like the UK, the Czech Republic is a member of the Green Card System, a Europe-wide scheme that allows countries to recognise foreign vehicle insurance policies of visiting motorists.
An international driving licence isn’t necessarily required in Denmark, but having one wouldn’t be a deal breaker. In general, the driver must have his licence, passport, insurance certificate, and proof of the car’s registration. Driving is allowed for those that are 18 years of age, while renting is permitted for those that are 21 and over.
Using cell phones during driving, just like everywhere else, is strictly forbidden. In general, most of the traffic in Denmark consists of bicycles, which have their own lanes, and there are fewer roundabouts in the Scandinavian country compared to the rest of Europe.
Equipment for the winter season, indicating snow tires, isn’t required by law in Denmark, as there isn’t much snow, but it is recommended for winter road conditions, and most people change tires in the winter.
Foreigners visiting Estonia by car must have an International Driver’s Permit (IDP), except for those coming from EU/EEA countries.
“Estonian road authorities do not acknowledge a digital copy of an IDP, and for that reason, you can not use your digital copy. That is why, when you lose the physical copy of your IDP, you have to immediately apply for a replacement,” the International Drivers Association explains.
Renting a car is permitted for those over 21 years old, and the local driver’s licence should be valid for at least another year.
As of January 2018, visitors from countries that approved the Geneva Convention are allowed to drive on Finland’s mainland as long as the licence is valid. However, the driving licence must be written in Latin letters, while for visitors from other countries, an International Driving Permit (IDP) is mandatory.
“Speeding in Finland is expensive. Fines are calculated on how much income you generate every month. When you’re driving on the main roads, you can spot road cameras on the road’s side, operated by the Road Transport Authority. So it is imperative always to follow speed limits at all times or expect a ticket in the post,” the International Drivers Association points out.
All tourists from eligible countries that are over the age of 18 can apply for an IDP, provided they have a native driver’s licence. IDP is valid for one year from the date of issuance.
Visitors outside the EU, EEA countries, or the United Kingdom can drive in France by only bringing their driver’s licence, provided they have held this document for one year before driving in the country. However, visitors from other countries are recommended to obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP), which must be presented to the authorities altogether with their driving licence issued by authorities in their home country.
Like in other European countries, authorities in France strictly prohibit drinking and driving, as the maximum percentage of alcohol permitted is 0.05 per cent, as well as driving in bus lanes, overpassing solid white lines, taking over on a red light, and parking outside designated areas.
Driving in Germany doesn’t differ much from other countries in the EU, indicating that drivers must be over 18 years of age and hold a valid driving licence and other documentation necessary when driving, such as proof of insurance and registration documents.
Although IDP isn’t mandatory for tourists staying in the country for less than three months, many German car rental companies may require one. The procedure to get one is simple; the applicant goes to an AAA or AATA office, pays about $20, and waits for ten to 15 days for processing time and mailing; hence it is recommended to start an application about a month before your trip.
Germany has some of the best roads, known as Autobahn, for those that love speed, considering that many of them don’t have a speed limit.
If you are planning to rent a car during your stay in Greece, there is no need to have an International Driver’s Licence in order to be permitted to drive around the country. However, if you intend to bring your car, you will need the international permit in addition to registration and proof of valid insurance.
For US nationals whose stay will be longer than six months, it is recommended to convert the driving licence into a Greek one, as penalties might be imposed.
Except for countries included in the Vienna Convention, tourists from other countries must have their driving licence naturalised, meaning that an International Driving Permit is required since driving with their national licence is prohibited.
In addition, only documents written with the Latin alphabet are recognised in the country, regardless of the tourists’ country of residence in the Vienna Convention. An IDPs validity depends on the price, with the cheapest option being valid for one year. Similarly to other countries, the allowed driving age is 18, and the permitted age to rent a car is 21.
Like in the United Kingdom, Cyprus, and Australia, people drive on the left side of the road in Ireland, which means that tourists should keep in mind to always turn left. Moreover, tourists planning to rent a car in the country should be familiar with stick shift driving, as the majority of rentals are driven manually and not automatically.
In order to drive in the country, tourists must be over 18 years of age and have a valid driver’s licence, which is recognised for tourists coming from the European Union countries, the United States, and Canada.
Drivers from other countries have to present an International Driver’s Permit, while American nationals can drive for up to 12 months as a tourist without obtaining such a permit.
Drivers in Italy have to keep to the right side of the road when driving, and tourists from European Union countries are able to drive without obtaining an International Driver’s Licence.
The legal age for driving in Italy is 18 years old, while 14-year-olds are allowed to drive a moped or motorcycle of 50cc and under a maximum speed of 45km/h. However, Italian companies do not rent cars to drivers that are under 21 years of age.
According to Italian law, if a resident of a non-European Union country such as the US violates a traffic law, the violator must pay the fine at the time the ticket is issued. If you do not pay the fine, the police officer may confiscate the car. In addition, driving on Sundays is a good idea, as trucks are not allowed, which creates more congestion.
In Latvia, drivers should keep to the right side of the road and be over 18 years old, with a valid driver’s licence for a year before travelling to Latvia.
Tourists coming from countries other than those included in the Austria Convention, which is Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Uruguay, Senegal, Liberia, Gabon, Australia, United Kingdom, Belarus, Moldova, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Albania, and Palestine, as well as the European Union, must have an International Driver’s Permit to be able to drive in the Baltic country.
It is highly recommended not to park on tramlines in the capital city of Riga, as on-the-spot fines can occur, while a usual fine can be paid within 30 days of its issuance date.
Driving in Lithuania isn’t much different from other countries; the legal age for driving is 18 years old, non-EU nationals must have an international driving permit, and dipped headlights are mandatory, among many other rules.
However, the Baltic country has an even lower level of alcohol in blood compared to the other Member States. More specifically, the legal limit to drink and drive in Lithuania is 0.04 per cent or 40 milligrams. That is further reduced to just 0.02 per cent (20mg) for drivers with under two years of experience, including tourist and international drivers.
Luxembourgians ride on the right side of the road, and the blood content limit for drivers is 0.05 per cent. That’s lower than the 0.08 per cent in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland but the same as Scotland.
An International Driver’s Permit is required for all drivers coming from countries outside the EU, EEA, and the UK. The latter, however, must have a GB sticker on the back of their car as of September 28, 2021.
The legal age for driving in Malta is 18 years old, while for renting, the allowed age is 21 years old, with at least two years of having a driving licence. In addition, the maximum age for renting a car in Malta is 70 years old.
Unless a tourist comes from the EU, EEA, Switzerland, or Australia, an international driving licence, which will be valid for 12 months, must be. At all times, however, the tourist must have the IDP and their native licence themselves. After 12 months, the tourist must apply for a driving licence in Malta in order to continue driving.
Tourists outside the EU or EFTA countries must apply for an International Driving Permit (IDP) in order to be allowed to drive in the Netherlands, which also drives on the right side of the road.
Also, if you’re planning on staying in the Netherlands for the long term, you can still use a foreign driver’s licence, but for a limited time only. The rules are as follows:
EU/EFTA Member Countries
- Maximum of 15 years for AM, A1, A2, A, B, and BE vehicles
- Maximum of 5 years for C1, C, D1, D, C1E, CE, D1E, and DE vehicles
While the legal age for driving is 18 years old, only 21-year-olds can rent a car. The required documents for tourists from non-EU countries to be able to drive across the country are a photo ID of a native driving licence, a driver’s licence – issued one to two years before the trip, the IDP, and the visa.
“You must be at least 21 years old to rent a car in the Netherlands. However, if you are 21-25 years old, again, some car rental companies may charge you more. This is because drivers in this age range are known to be not yet well experienced in driving and thus have higher risks. Even if you already have your full driving licence for more than four years because you had it when you were 17, you’ll still have to pay the extra charge,” the International Drivers Association explains.
The Nordic country allows citizens from EU/EEA countries to drive freely, while nationals from third countries must obtain an International Driving Permit in order to have their driving licence recognised. Those with a UK driving licence can share the same privileges as EU citizens, at least until Brexit is fully implemented. After the UK left the EU, Norwegian authorities started looking to complete provisions for Britons driving in the country.
As per Americans, those also have a lax licence restriction. This means that visitors can definitely travel with their licence when driving in Norway for up to three months and are eligible to exchange it with a Norwegian licence within a year of staying in Norway.
Indian tourists can also use a valid driving licence issued back home for up to three months. It can be later exchanged for a Norwegian, as long as it is not expired.
As of 2018, the UAE driving licence is valid in Norway and 49 other countries. When driving in the Nordic country, visitors will not be required to present an international licence and will be allowed to rent a car or exchange the licence with a valid Norwegian licence.
The minimum age for driving in Norway is 19 years old, while companies can rent cars only to 21-year-olds, who, until the age of 25, will have to pay an additional fee of €12 to €15.
An International Driving Permit is a must for tourists outside the EU that want to get around Poland by car. In order to obtain such a document, visitors are advised to apply before leaving their home country. The main documents required for this permit are two original passport photos, an application form, and paying the fee for the permit.
IDP It is valid for up to six months after entering the country, although generally, its validity can be between one to three years.
Poles drive on the right side of the road and overtake on the left, and everyone above 18 years old, with valid documentation, is permitted to drive.
Like Lithuania, Poland has an ultimately low tolerance for those consuming alcohol while driving as the blood alcohol content limit for drivers of private vehicles is 0.02 per cent – lower than all nations in the UK.
Unlike Poland and Lithuania, blood alcohol is 0.5 grams for one litre of blood, considering the fact that alcoholic beverages are largely consumed in the country.
In Portugal, people drive on the right and overtake on the left, and it is forbidden to pass someone from the right side. Everyone older than 18 years of age can drive, while only those that are older than 21 years old can rent a car.
EU and American citizens can drive in Portugal with their driving licence with no restrictions for periods up to 185 days, while nationals of third countries should apply for an International Driving Permit. At all times, tourists must have with themselves a valid driving licence, passport, and car documents such as registration, ownership, and vehicle report, as well as proof of insurance.
Certain regions of Portugal have low-emission zones, meaning that only low-emission vehicles are allowed to drive there.
All 18-year-olds can drive in Romania, provided they hold a valid driving licence, while 16-year-olds can ride mopeds not exceeding 50cc.
Aside from the driving licence, tourists must have an international driver’s licence or IDP as a supporting document. While some rental companies in Romania require the visitor to be older than 21, the majority require a base of 23 years of age, while other rental places expect visitors to be 27 or 28 years old for more costly models.
Apart from having similar rules as the rest of the European Member States, such as compulsory seatbelts, the legal driving age in Slovakia is 21.
“One rule about overtaking in Slovakia is that you have to blow your car horn first so that other drivers know you intend to overtake them. If the road has only one carriageway, you should refrain from overtaking, especially if there are dangerous bends in the road. All drivers are obliged to overtake other vehicles only on the left side of the road,” the International Drivers Association reveals.
For rentals, there are age restrictions based on the type of vehicle people want to drive, with some rental cars charging extra drivers that are under 25 years old. For those that are 70 years old and above, the car rental might refuse to rent a car to them.
An IND, alongside other documents such as a native licence and passport, is mandatory to present in Slovenia if asked by authorities.
To legally drive a car in Slovenia, the driver must be 18 or over, unlike in the US, where it is only 16. A young driver fee may be imposed on drivers under 25 and may be limited to certain car models.
The IND can be used in 150 countries as long as it doesn’t expire. Prices for obtaining the permit start at €50, which is valid for one year.
The legal age for driving in Spain is 18, and drivers ride their cars on the right side of the road. There are about 38,000 roundabouts in Spain, falling right behind France and Portugal, with high density per capita of this type of intersection, which can be challenging for American tourists.
Visitors from EU countries can use their driver’s licence for at least one year to drive around Spain, in addition to keeping with themselves a passport. Non-EU citizens must obtain an international driver’s permit before travelling to the country.
Spanish laws dictate that an individual must be at least 21 years of age to rent a car, while several companies have an age restriction of 23. Any driver under 25 will incur extra young driver surcharges of around €20 per day. On average, car rental in Spain can cost around €29 per day or $€210 per week.
The International Driver’s Licence is necessary for tourists driving in Spain, particularly those from third countries, as EU citizens can drive with their local driving licence. The validity of the International Driver’s Permit can stretch between one to three years, with the price also depending on the permit’s validity. Prices start at €50 for a one-year validity of an IDP.
The driving age allowed in Sweden is 18 years old, while 20-year-olds are able to rent a car in the country, one year less than in other countries. US nationals can also drive with a US licence as long as they don’t exceed the period of time allowed to use the permit.
An International Driver’s Permit is necessary for those whose licence isn’t in English, German, French, Italian or Romansh. Americans can also drive in the country without obtaining an IND.
“The driving age requirement in Switzerland is at least 18 years old to drive motorbikes and cars. However, an adjustment in the law will permit young people to get a temporary permit at 17 years old starting January 1, 2021. You must be at least 21 years of age to drive a bus or other big vehicles in Switzerland,” The International Drivers Association points out.
Some 16 and 14-year-olds can be allowed to drive small mopeds and bikes, as well as operate farming vehicles. Switzerland is also very serious about its rules on consuming alcohol. Drivers caught with 0.4 or more milliliters of alcohol in their blood per litre, can lose their licence for up to three months.