Road tripping by car
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Driving in a Foreign Country: What You Need to Know

While traveling abroad, knowing how to get from the hotel to the local café or to an excursion is often the number one priority. Not every city is walkable, meaning at some point you must rely on another form of transportation. For most travelers, this usually means hailing a taxi, signing up for a guided tour or navigating public transportation. However, if you’re the type of traveler that prefers solitude and freedom from other tourists, you may want to consider renting a car during your trip.

Driving in a foreign country can be fun, but it also presents certain risks. Other parts of the world rely on different driving laws and habits, and even use different vehicles than you may be used to. Therefore, it’s important to prepare beforehand so you can have a safe and memorable trip. Whether it’s researching the local traffic regulations or applying for a driving permit, there are many steps you can take to become a safe driver abroad. Learn more about becoming an international driving pro below.

Driving Laws

While there are similarities, driving laws are often different in every country. For example, in some places it is illegal to eat or drink while operating a vehicle. In others, driving at any time of day without the headlights on is considered unlawful. In order to avoid ruining your trip with a traffic ticket, it is important to learn some of the basic driving laws in the countries you plan to visit. It’s also a good idea to learn how traffic tickets are handled in each country, just in case you receive one from a law enforcement official. Otherwise, you may face additional fines or be unable to leave the country until the ticket is paid.

The most common difference in driving laws from country to country is which side of the road to drive on. A few countries require cars to drive on the left side of the road rather than the right. If you are traveling to more than one country, it is especially important to note which, if any, have this law. Often, neighboring countries, and even specific cities, do not follow the same practice. This means that if you plan to drive across the border, you may need to switch sides of the road.

Luckily, the DMV is a valuable resource for getting information on driving laws and practices. You can find out everything you need to know to become an internationally safe driver. Make sure to research online or contact the DMV to prepare for your trip.

Local Driving Environment

When driving somewhere new, one aspect that travelers may fail to take into consideration is the environment. This involves several features of the country you plan to visit, such as:

  • Weather.
  • Terrain.
  • Road infrastructure.
  • Driving habits among residents.

Depending on the time of year, you may face driving in the snow, heavy rain or other challenging driving conditions. It’s a good idea to check the weather conditions during your visit so you can prepare ahead of time. Even if the weather is fair, the country you visit may have mountains or hills, which can also affect your ease of driving. On top of that, poor road infrastructure can make certain areas harder to navigate and even unsafe if you are not a local. If you are not familiar with driving in such circumstances, you may have difficulties during your trip.

The driving culture among locals can also have a great impact on your driving experience during the trip. For example, there may be a greater number of drivers on the road than you are used to. If this is the case, a more aggressive driving style may be necessary in order to combat the heavy traffic. Alternatively, there may be fewer drivers if the city you visit emphasizes biking or public transportation. Be mindful of these differences in driving environments so that you can navigate safely.


Not only do some places require driving on the opposite side of the road, occasionally the local cars aren’t made the way you’re used to. Instead of the left side being the driver’s side, you may find the steering wheel situated on the right side of the vehicle. While this might seem like a minor difference, it can be very disorienting while driving.

In addition to this, many countries rely more heavily on manual transmission vehicles instead of those with automatic transmissions. In fact, you may find it difficult or even impossible to get your hands on an automatic rental car. This means that in some countries, you may end up sitting on the opposite side of the car, on the opposite side of the road and driving a stick shift.

If you’re used to automatic transmissions, you may want to reconsider that taxi or public bus. Driving a manual or stick shift vehicle requires more knowledge and practice than an automatic vehicle. With this in mind, there are ways you can prepare if you still want to drive while abroad. First, find out what kind of vehicles are offered at the rental company. Then if you have time, you may be able to take a few classes and learn to drive a stick shift before your trip.

Requirements for Tourist Drivers

Once you think you’re knowledgeable enough to get behind the wheel on your vacation, there are a few preparations you need to make. Though it is a main requirement, a valid driver’s license is not the only document you need. In order to drive in other countries you may also need an international driving permit (IDP). This type of permit is used to translate your domestic license into another language. IDPs may be necessary to rent a car, to file an insurance claim and to submit in the event you get pulled over while abroad. If you are from the US you can apply for an IDP at your local AAA.

Unfortunately, your domestic insurance coverage will likely not cover you while driving abroad. As a result, you will also need to purchase international auto insurance in order to comply with local laws. This is often in addition to any rental insurance you choose to purchase. While you’re operating a vehicle in a foreign country, always make sure to carry the following items with you:

  • International driving permit
  • Valid driver’s license
  • Rental and auto insurance documents
  • Local emergency contact info
  • Passport and travel visa (if you plan to cross any borders)

Keep in mind that your ability to drive in another country may depend on the status of your visa and the laws of the country. It’s also important to note that international driving permits may only be valid for a certain number of days. If you plan to stay in a particular country for an extended vacation, you may need to apply for a temporary local license. You can check with your embassy or the DMV for specifics on driving as a tourist in a foreign country.

The Author

The editorial staff at Road Affair is a team of professional travel writers dedicated to providing you with up to date information on destinations around the world.

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