16 February 2009 by Anna Staford
Maybe you're planning to hire a car to see the sights or taking a road trip on a Harley across the States. Either way if you're planning to drive abroad you'll need to check with the relevant country's embassy about the laws and driving licence requirements of the country you're visiting. These can vary greatly from the UK. Moreover, you'll need to get driving insurance.
Did you know? In the USA and Canada you must stop if you see a school bus offloading, no matter what side of the road it is on. Not stopping is a serious offence that may well result in your driving licence being suspended!
Check that your UK licence is up-to-date, and has the correct address on it. Any errors or changes in personal details must be notified to the DVLA in Swansea, or DVLNI in Coleraine for Northern Ireland licences.
Although most popular holiday resorts will let you hire a vehicle on a UK licence, an International Driving Permit (IDP) might be useful for more extensive travel. It also provides an extra form of photo identification, and is valid for a year. But, you'll need to get your IDP before you leave the UK: take a fee of £5.50, a recent passport-sized photo signed on the back, a full UK driving licence and a valid passport to a Post Office. Alternatively, you can get one through the AA or the RAC. Always take your full UK driving licence with you when driving abroad, even if you hold an IDP. You'll need it to hire a car and will be asked to show it to support the IDP if stopped by a police checkpoint. You risk a fine if you try driving on an IDP alone. If you have the new style UK driving licence, you should also take the paper portion of it, as well as the card with you.
Read also: The Secrets of Sickness-Free Car Trip
Driving in Europe In the European Economic Area (EEA) countries (EU member states plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway), you can use a UK licence but, if you are taking your own car, you will need to check with your insurance company that your driving insurance is valid. Your insurance company can provide an International Motor Insurance Certificate, should this be needed for Europe. Make sure you have a first-aid kit, fire extinguisher, warning triangle, headlamp beam reflectors and spare lamp bulbs with you. This is a legal requirement in many countries. If you hire a car in Europe, check that these items are in place: the police will hold you responsible, not the hire company, if they are not.
UK registered vehicles with the new Euro-plates (with a circle of twelve stars on a blue background) no longer need to show a GB sticker at the back in European Union countries. However, you'll still need one in non-EU countries. Wherever you drive in Europe, it is mandatory to carry the original Vehicle Registration Document. If you don't have this, you will need a letter of authority from the owner and a Vehicle on Hire Certificate (VE103B), available from the RAC and AA. If you're taking a car into another country, it should be for your own use and must not be lent or hired to anyone else. If you leave it behind, or sell it, you must tell the local customs. After six months, you'll usually have to license the vehicle locally and pay import duties. Although it is not always the cheapest option, it can be a good idea to arrange car rental as part of your package with your travel agent. This can help in any later disputes, where dealing with a small local company abroad could become a major headache.
Many people who never ride a scooter in the UK think nothing of renting one when abroad, where it is often possible to do so with a car licence. Whilst it's a lot of fun, it can end in trouble, with the most common causes being a combination of alcohol, inexperience, and sudden downpours that turn dusty roads into slick death traps. Given the number of tourists who suffer serious injury or even death on scooters, the best advice is to avoid them unless you are an experienced rider. In any case, be sure to wear a good quality helmet and check the bike carefully before hire.
Taking a Compulsory Basic Training (CBT) course in the UK is a sensible introduction to two-wheel vehicles. One of the first things you'll learn is the importance of the right clothing and that the beaten-up, plastic, open-face helmets you may be offered in some countries with your rented bike, are far from adequate. As a bare minimum, pack a proper helmet and a good pair of biker gloves - or be prepared to insist that the rental company provide these.
Read also: Buying Travel Insurance