Tips for Safe Driving while Abroad3 min read
Some travelers prefer the control of driving themselves when they’re abroad rather than being constrained to public transportation schedules or paying for taxis. But if you’re interested in driving yourself while abroad, you won’t necessarily be able to just hop in a driver’s seat and go. From driving age restrictions to differing road etiquette, here’s what you need to know before taking the wheel outside of the U.S.
Do research before traveling
If you plan to drive abroad, it’s important to understand your destination’s transportation laws and driving customs 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. Some countries don’t recognize U.S. driver’s licenses, but more than 150 countries do accept International Driving Permits (IDPs). 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. driver’s license (and your passport) with you at all times.
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 neighboring countries, like Canada or Mexico. Check with your insurance provider before you leave to make sure your policy covers you in these countries. 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.
Use 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 worry about adequate cell service 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 ahead of time. 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.
Follow local etiquette and customs
Before you get into the driver’s seat, make sure you’re familiar with your destination’s rules of the road and etiquette guidelines. Here are some questions to ask about customs before you go:
- Which side of the road should you drive on?
- Can you turn right at a red light?
- What’s the local seatbelt law?
- What’s the minimum and/or maximum driving age?
- Should you honk your horn before turning a sharp corner as a warning?
- Do you need to flash your lights before passing another vehicle?
- Do you need special road permits in lieu of tolls?
- Will you encounter a lot of traffic circles?
- How should you park in the destinations you’ll be visiting?
- Which lane should you use for passing on a multi-lane highway?
If drivers in your destination drive on the left side of the road, it can be confusing and even scary the first time you do so. You may benefit from practicing in a less populated area when you reach your destination 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.