Safe driving abroad
Safe driving abroad
Couple looking at map in car by sea — Image by © Henglein and Steets/cultura/Corbis

Some travelers prefer the control of driving themselves when they’re abroad rather than being constrained to public transportation schedules or paying for taxis. If you’re interested in driving yourself while abroad, you can’t just hop in a driver’s seat and go. First, you may not legally be allowed to drive there. Second, if you’re unfamiliar with the local driving laws and customs, you may be at a higher risk of causing or being involved in a car accident.

Here’s what you need to do if you want to take the wheel outside of the U.S.

Do research before traveling
If you plan to get behind the wheel, it’s important to understand and get familiar with the laws and driving customs in your destination before leaving for your trip. You can get this information from the U.S. Department of State, which has a road safety section for every country in the world. You can also get a copy of your destination’s driving laws from the country’s embassy here in the U.S., foreign government tourism offices or from a car rental company in your destination.

Even if you’re not driving, this research can benefit you – as a pedestrian, you can stay safe by being well-versed in the driving habits in your destination.

Obtain an International Driving Permit
It’s illegal to drive without a valid license in most countries. Plus, many countries don’t recognize U.S. driver’s licenses. However, most countries do accept International Driving Permits (IDP) – they’re valid in more than 150 countries. An IDP serves as an official translation of your U.S. driver’s license – it contains your name, photo and driver information translated into 10 languages. If you do get an IDP, you should still carry your U.S. state driver’s license with you due to many countries have different driving rules.

Consider auto insurance options
Generally, just like your health insurance, your United States auto insurance doesn’t cover you abroad. However, your policy may apply if you drive to countries neighboring the U.S. Check with your insurance provider before you leave to make sure your policy covers you in Canada, Mexico or anywhere else. Even if your policy is valid elsewhere, it may not meet your destination’s minimum requirements – if you’re under-insured, you can typically purchase additional auto insurance in the U.S. or in your destination.

Car rental companies abroad can usually provide you with auto insurance as well. In some cases, you may need to consider purchasing additional insurance coverage if the coverage they provide is not at least equivalent to what you carry at home.

Bring a GPS
If you’re not familiar with your destination and where things are located, a GPS can safely help you navigate without having to look down at a map or a smartphone app for directions. If you bring a GPS with you that you purchased in the U.S., it will work, but you may need to buy or download maps for your destination. If you rent a GPS from a car rental company abroad or the rental car comes equipped with one, make sure it speaks English before you leave the rental company.

Play by the local rules
Before you get into the driver’s seat, make sure you’re familiar with your destination’s rules of the road, especially since they can be quite different from those in the U.S. For instance, know which side of the road people drive on, if you can turn right at a red light, if you can use a cell phone while driving, what the local seatbelt law is, what the minimum and maximum driving age is, if you need to honk your horn before going around a sharp corner, if you need to flash your lights before passing another vehicle, and if you need special road permits instead of tolls to use divided highways.

If drivers in your destination drive on the left side of the road, it can be confusing and even scary the first time you follow suit. You may benefit from practicing driving on the other side of the road you’re used to in a less populated area before trying to drive in heavy traffic.

And, of course, use common sense when it comes to road safety – be aware of your surroundings when entering and exiting your car and don’t pick up hitchhikers or strangers.

Image from This is Money.


About The Author

Nicole Jenet is a writer at Scribewise. There's nothing she loves more than the feeling of warm sand beneath her feet and trying new, exotic cuisine. Visit


  1. This is perfect for my friends and I. Thanks for sharing this!

  2. This is an amazing and details blog post that I found really helpful on my driving! Thanks for sharing your blog.

  3. My husband and I are about to travel throughout Europe and will be renting several vehicles. We both have US drivers licenses, but how can we know which countries are the ones where they are invalid? I think that would be good to know so that we know whether or not we should obtain an IDP. Speaking of IDP, though, how do we go about getting that as well?

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