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LIVING ABROAD: Driving Rules in Different Countries

Not all countries’ public transportation systems are robust enough – or even particularly safe — to get us where we want to go, so traveling by car is often the best choice.

29 June 2016

We may take for granted the driving rules in our home countries, but what happens when you’re an assignee in another country and you take to the road?

Here are a few items to consider before venturing out:

  • Will I need a local license?
  • Do I understand the driving rules of the country?
  • Do I have the proper documentation and safety items in the car?
  • How will I learn to drive on the “opposite” side of the road and understand the road signs?

Many countries require foreign drivers to carry an International Driver’s Permit (IDP) in addition to a valid domestic license. Obtain the IDP in your home country before departure. The IDP is a valid form of identification in 150 countries and your information is translated into 10 languages.

Regulations vary by country, but you may need to apply for a local license to drive in your host country if you intend to stay longer than six months. Requirements often include passing a local driver’s test – practical, theoretical, or both — to get the local license, and testing may be administered only in the local language.

The best resource for understanding the driving rules and conventions in your host country is the local driver’s license authority. Even if you possess a local license and have already learned the rules of the road, there are other considerations. These include road conditions, night driving, parking, alcohol tolerance and driving, traffic tickets and cell phone restrictions. The Association for Safe International Road Travel offers comprehensive reports on road travel for 130 countries.

Organize the proper documents and safety items in the car. Carry your IDP, local license and your passport when traveling. Many countries require that a warning triangle, first aid kit, fire extinguisher, tool kit and flashlight be carried in the trunk of the car. Check for a spare tire that’s in good condition, too.

If you will be in a country that drives on the opposite side from your home country, take a test drive locally to become accustomed to the road signs, roundabouts, and to practice merging from a different side before taking a longer trip. Also, review the road signs before you hit the road. For European road signs, click here. For U.S. road signs, click here.

Contact your insurance company before traveling to understand the proper steps to take in case of an accident. Each country has specific minimum insurance requirements, and you want to make sure you are fully covered.

Having the freedom to travel and explore by car while on assignment can be one of the biggest benefits of living abroad. Just make sure you’ve checked all the rules before you go. With a little preparation and knowledge, your road trip will be a success!


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