What It’s Like to Drive in Other Countries

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Happy young couple doing road trip in tropical city - Travel people having fun driving in trendy convertible car discovering new places - Relationship and youth vacation lifestyle concept
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Skoda Car Dealership - UK

You May Not Recognize the Brand

You may not be familiar with car brands such as Proton, Maxus, Tata, or Skoda, but they’re all national automobile brands of countries such as Malaysia, China, India, and the Czech Republic, and may be more available as part of a rental fleet. You may also see Troller, Holden, Dacia, Lancia, Citroen, Force, Mahindra, and Vauxhall models, depending where you travel.

Related: “Foreign” Cars That Are Made in America

6 speed gearstick of a car

Being Able to Drive Stick Is a Plus

There are fewer drivers than ever able to drive a stick shift car in the United States — because with only 2.4% of cars here having a manual transmission, we never need to learn. But overseas is a different story, For instance, more than 80% of cars sold in Europe are manual transmission, which could be a factor when reserving a rental: no automatics may be available, and an automatic will likely be more expensive. In Serbia, for instance, a manual-transmission rental car might cost $15 a day, and an automatic car will cost $32 a day.

Related: Simple Things Today's Teens Don't Know How to Do

Modern central London traffic

Driving Might Be On the ‘Wrong’ Side of the Road

Blame it on the British, but if you’re driving in the United Kingdom and ex-British colonies such as Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and South Africa you’ll have to get used to driving on the other side of the road. Even islands such as Ireland, Malta, and Cyprus are not exempt, catching many a Euro-tripper by surprise.

Related: How Driving Has Changed in the Past 50 Years

glasses for the driver in the car.

Packing an Extra Pair of Glasses May Be Required

The second-pair-of-spectacles rule is applied sporadically, but check ahead to see if a glasses-wearer is required to keep a backup pair in the car. For Europe, it's mandated in Spain, Serbia, and Switzerland. 

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Refueling the car at the gas station

Gas Prices Are Usually Way Higher …

America’s enduring love affair with the car and the open road keeps gas far cheaper than much of the world’s could imagine, even if drivers here complain often about prices at the pump. The U.S. gas tax was last increased in 1993, which isn’t the situation in places such as Italy, Portugal, and The Netherlands, where prices are much higher — often double. If you’re planning a long road trip, it can add up quite quickly. 

Related: The Cost of Gas the Year You Were Born

Pumping Gas

… But You May Have to Rent a Diesel Car

Only about 4% of vehicles in the United States take diesel gas, and three-quarters of those are trucks. But diesel autos are as much of two-thirds of the vehicles in Europe, and your rental could be one. That’s not a bad thing: It’s more economical to drive a diesel car that is more adept at tackling hills and gives you better fuel economy, considering the likely very high price of gas.

Related: Why I Drive An Electric Car

Signage of the car rental company Europcar

You May Need an International Driving Permit

While a U.S. driver's license is recognized globally, an International Driving Permit is accepted in more than 150 countries — including in Germany, Spain, Italy, and Austria, where it’s required. Some car agencies won’t rent to you unless you produce one.

Pro tip: Apply for an International Driving Permit through your local AAA or American Automobile Touring Alliance branch, allowing for plenty of time to get one even if applying online. 

Related: These Are the World's Most — and Least — Powerful Passports

Driver due to being subject to test for alcohol content with use of breathalyzer

Drunken Driving Laws Are Stricter

While drunken driving laws in the United States put blood alcohol concentration limits at 0.08%, many countries are stricter. Slovakia, Romania, Vietnam, Indonesia have zero tolerance, while a rundown of every country and their BAC levels shows that even wine-producing countries such as Spain, France, and Greece are at 0.05% BAC.   

Related: Weird and Crazy Alcohol Laws Around the World

Car video camera attached to the windshield to record driving and prevent danger from driving

Dashcams May Be Illegal

Depending on where you are in Europe, using a dashcam might be a crime. It boils down to local privacy laws: They can be used in Russia, but not in Portugal, Luxembourg, or Austria, where they can bring heavy fines, for instance. In France and Belgium, dashcam footage must not be uploaded publicly online (so no TikTok speed stunts), and in Germany identifying elements such as license plate faces and any other personal imagery have to be blurred.

Related: Cool Gifts for People Who Love Cars

Emergency warning triangle on the road, car accident

You’ll Be Prepared for an Emergency

Certain countries (especially in Europe) require that cars have a first aid kit and a breakdown kit, including essentials such as a spare tire, reflective jacket, and warning triangle. Check a list of regulations before your trip.

Related: Items You Should Always Keep in Your Car

Car with mounted snow chains
Brenner Highway, Austria

Austria: Motorway Toll Stickers Are Compulsory

If you’re going to use Austrian motorways and expressways, you need a motorway toll sticker, also known as a vignette. They’re available at gas stations, tobacconists, and the post office in denominations of one calendar year, two months, or 10 days. Failure to have one on display can result in a 120-euro fine — about $140.


Residential district with cars parked on the street, Brussels, Belgium

Belgium: You Need to Check Dates Before Parking

Arriving in a new city means getting used to a whole new parking scenario. In Belgium, while this is not strictly enforced, some cities require parking on the odd-numbered side of the road for the first half of the month and on the even-numbered side for the second half.

Female hand pressed horn button while driving car

Canada: Honks Are Required to Pass

If you’re driving on Prince Edward Island, you are expected to honk your horn just before passing another car. It’s actually stated in Section 154 of the Island's Highway Traffic Act: "Driver of a vehicle that is overtaking another vehicle … shall sound a clearly audible signal by horn.” The fine for improper passing is between $200 and $1,000.

Related: Things Americans Don't Know About Canada

Auto accident involving two cars

Costa Rica: You Mustn’t Move a Car After a Crash

If you’re involved in a car accident, it’s imperative to keep your car in the same spot and not move it until the police arrive to interview both drivers — even if it takes hours. Bear with the angry glares and honks; moving a car can result in jail time.

Related: Things You Must Do While Traveling Central America

Car rental
SeventyFour/ istockphoto

Costa Rica: Liability Insurance Is Mandatory

Research car rentals in Costa Rica and you may find a common question: Why is it so expensive? Expect to pay an extra $10 to $20 a day for liability insurance mandated by the Instituto Nacional de Seguros. Then there are the issues of a collision damage waiver and zero liability insurance, which your credit card company may not cover — but some car agencies just refuse to rent to you unless you buy these add-ons.

Police stop cars due to coronavirus restrictions
Goran Jakus Photography/istockphoto

Croatia: Your License Could Be Suspended

Traffic police in Croatia have the right to suspend your foreign driving license for up to eight days if you’re found driving under the influence. They can also invalidate your license temporarily if you’re found driving without prescription glasses, overly exhausted, or ill.

Pro Tip: If you’re under the age of 24, there is a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to drinking and driving.

Related: Countries Where You Can Travel if You’ve Been Vaccinated

Man eating hamburger in car.

Cyprus: Eating or Drinking While Driving Is a Risk

Eating or drinking while driving is illegal in Cyprus and subject to a fine of 85 euros, or around $100. 

Funny parking lot in Barcelona
Driver due to being subject to test for alcohol content with use of breathalyzer
Daniel Chetroni/istockphoto

France: It’s Safer to Have a Breathalyzer Handy

Depending whom you ask, motorists in France have to keep a breathalyzer handy in the car or face a fine of 11 euros, or around $13. While the law was officially scrapped last year, some car rental companies may still insist that you keep one in the vehicle. 

German highway, road sign - Ausfahrt/Exit

Germany: Running Out of Gas Is Illegal on the Autobahn

Before setting off to tackle the 8,000-mile Autobahn, make sure you have a full fuel tank — running out of fuel is illegal on it. Keep in mind that driving at high speeds increases fuel consumption, and plan your ausfahrts (exits) well in advance.

Related: Iconic German Cars That Changed the Game

Traffic jam on German highway

Germany: Stopping Is Illegal on the Autobahn

You might be accustomed to stopping on the shoulder or emergency lane to allow an ambulance or firetruck to pass. On the Autobahn stopping is illegal and subject to a fine. If traffic forces a stoppage, though, drivers must form a rettungsgasse, or rescue alley, such as by pulling to the side to keep the middle lane open.

no limits

Germany: There Are Stretches of Autobahn With No Speed Limit

There are parts of the Autobahn where you can just floor it. (Look for white, circular signs with three black diagonal lines.) But there are speed limits elsewhere, so look for square blue signs with white numbers or electronic signals and expect a top speed of 130 km/h (or 80 mph). Ignore them and risk racking up some hefty fines.

Related: Heart-Stopping Roads to Drive Around the World

Colors of Greece

Greece: Police Can Take Your License Plate

The Greeks don’t approve of illegal parking and are allowed to remove the license plates of illegally parked Greek-registered vehicles. 

Pro Tip: Take note of where farmer’s markets are being held, as vehicles are not allowed to park on roads where a market will be erected.

Related: Beautiful Island Vacations Worth Budgeting For

Traffic jam on the polluted streets of New Delhi, India.
Travel Wild/istockphoto

India: Driving Here Is ‘Genuinely Insane’

Tourists who drive in India usually come out shellshocked. It’s like “being in a bumper car surrounded by 3-year-olds in other bumper cars … You spend most of your time praying that you won’t hit anyone, although accidents are inevitable,” Ayan Basu writes on Medium, while Jalopnik described it as “genuinely insane” in a post with the telling headline “A Guide To Driving In India Without Dying.” Travel blogger Asher Fergusson says seat belts are often hard to find though he’s seen “countless accidents.” He advises tourists not to drive themselves.

air pollution crisis in city from diesel vehicle exhaust pipe on road

India: Driving a Noisy or Polluting Car May Cost You

If you’re brave enough to drive in India, know that noise pollution is a fineable offense. Driving a vehicle without a silencer attracts a fine of 500 to 1,500 rupees, which is particularly enforced in the bigger cities. (Perhaps fortunately, that’s just $7 to $20.) Cars also must have a pollution control certificate or face fines of 10,000 rupees, or around $133. 

Related: Famous and Unforgettable Festivals to See in India

Zona Traffico Limitato, ZTL limited traffic zone sign in little, small Italian town restricting cars to historical, historic center of Orvieto, Italy

Italy: You Must Beware the ZTL Zones

Nonlocal car travel is pretty much banned in busy urban centers in cities including Rome, Naples, and Florence. Crossing into a Zona Traffico Limitato without authorization results in hefty fines (from 65 euros, or $75) — and tourists are unlikely to be authorized. The tickets are triggered by cameras at the entrance of each ZTL, so do your research beforehand on the cities you visit and look out for the zones’ red, circular signs. 

Pro Tip: Auto Europe has a page and maps dedicated to explaining the zones.  

A sticker indicating a newly-licensed driver

Japan: Decals Tell a Story

While the colorful stickers on cars look decorative, they indicate driver statuses, identifying beginner and elderly drivers, the hearing impaired, and the physically challenged. But no matter who’s in the other car, the Japanese don’t forget their manners when driving. According to Live Japan, hazard lights are used to thank other drivers, or a head bow or wave. 

Crossing the Us - Mexico border to Tijuana

Mexico: They’re Going to Check the Paperwork

If you drive your own car into Mexico, make sure you have a permit displayed on the windshield. You can buy one at the border or online

Pro Tip: If your car breaks down, call the Green Angels (24-hour toll-free number 01-800-987-8224 or through 078) a government-funded fleet of mechanics and first aid technicians who will come to your aid.

Related: Why Medical Tourism to Mexico Is Rebounding

Tram 4 At The Damrak Street At Amsterdam The Netherlands
Robert vt Hoenderdaal/istockphoto

The Netherlands: Honk Your Horn, Get a Fine

U.S. drivers in Boston and other cities seem to honk their horn to communicate everything from “hello” to murderous rage, but there’s only one reason to honk in The Netherlands: to communicate danger. Any other kind of honk risks a fine of 390 euros – or around $450. Also, be aware of the rules protecting The Netherlands’ many cyclists and look out for lanes where they have priority over cars. 

Parking Electric Cars Only
Salt on the car

Romania and Russia: Driving a Dirty Car Is Risky

Romanian and Russian traffic police care if you’re driving a dirty car — usually because they want to make sure a license plate isn’t obscured. But avoid the risk of a problem by giving your vehicle a wipe down. Additionally, you can face an issue leaving Romania with a damaged car unless you have a police report specifically detailing the damage.

Handle fuel nozzle refueling vehicle at gas station
Driving in flip flops
undefined undefined/istockphoto

Spain: There’s a Driving Dress Code

While not set in stone, you can get into trouble with the police if not suitably attired while driving. Infractions include not wearing a shirt, driving barefoot or in unsuitable footwear such as flip-flops, or wearing a hat that covers the ears. And passengers shouldn't put their feet on the dashboard: That’s a 100 euro fine, or around $116. 

Distracted woman talking on her phone while driving.

Spain: Holding a Phone While Driving is Illegal

Don’t even touch your phone while driving, let alone make a call. Just being spotted holding a phone while driving will earn you a fine of a whopping 500 euros, or around $580. 


Sweden: Headlights Must Be On

Drivers need to keep their headlights on in Sweden.  It’s a legal requirement that doesn’t care if it’s clear weather at midday during the summer. In newer Swedish cars, headlights come on automatically, and switching them off must be done manually. There’s a similar law in Serbia.

Related: Strange Taxes Around the World That We Don’t Have

Merge Ahead Traffic Sign Post over Clear Blue Sky Background

Switzerland: The ‘Zipper Principle’ Is the Zipper Law

Trust the Swiss to be sticklers about highway etiquette. The ”zipper principle” is mandatory where two lanes merge on the highway, so don’t block a car trying to enter traffic if the car ahead of you did.

Sand Scooter

Thailand: It’s Smart to Keep Your Shirt On

In Thailand, you’re free to toot the horn for just about anything, but don’t get caught driving a car, bike, or tuk-tuk without a shirt. This rule doesn’t apply as strictly to certain beach provinces such as Phuket, but keeping your shirt on — and maybe unbuttoned? — will avoid a fine.

Related: 22 Travel Destinations You Can Visit on $20 a Day

Angry woman driver. Rushing to work. Traffic jam. Busy life. Teenager reckless driving.

United Arab Emirates: Flipping the Bird Is Dangerous

Road rage is never a good look, but in the UAE you can get in trouble with the police if you gesticulate angrily at another driver. This doesn’t apply just to extending a middle finger; there’s a risk to any hand gesture that’s open to interpretation.