International driving tips for road warriors heading overseas

Planning a meandering trip through Europe or an extensive sojourn overseas? Overseas driving caveats to know before you go. Photo:

LOS ANGELES, CA — If you are the kind of traveler that likes to explore new places using your own set of wheels, be warned: driving can be its own set of “adventures” and misadventures when traveling to a foreign country.

Traveling along many of the world’s gorgeous, scenic, hairpin turn roadways can be as deadly as diving into the tides from some cliff in Acapulco. It turns out that motor vehicle crashes — not terrorism, crime, infectious disease nor plane travel — count as the number one killer of healthy Americans abroad, according to the U.S. State Department.

In Thailand,  – a country roughly comparable in population to Britain – there were 9,205 motor vehicle deaths recorded in 2011 as reported in Travel-Intel. That is more than four times the amount occurring on British roads. More than 90% of the world’s overall road crash stats happen in low- to middle-income countries, such as Kenya and Mexico, according to figures from the World Health Organization. Infrastructures in these places may not keep pace with development and the proliferation of cars on the road. Roads and vehicles — which often do not have seatbelts — often suffer from poor maintenance. Then there is the sporadic law enforcement and substandard driver training to consider.

Whether driving or walking in these foreign locales, tourists are particularly vulnerable because they are on vacation and often more carefree, less defended, and somewhat on autopilot even though they are completely out of their familiar environments. Habits in such instances, such as wearing helmets and seatbelts, can become compromised.

Americans who plan to drive abroad need to carry a current International Driving Permit as well as a legal U.S. driver’s license.

Although often in countries where English is the primary spoken language an IDP is not required, though it is recommended. And in places where English is not widely spoken an IDP is necessary. In more than 40 countries around the world, one cannot obtain a rental car at all unless in possession of an IDP.

According to the U.S. Department of State, only two offices are authorized to issue IDPs in the United States: the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the American Automobile Touring Club, which offers IDPs through the National Automobile Club. AAA’s Canadian counterpart, the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA), is the only authorized distributor of IDPs in Canada.

Tips on Driving Overseas

  • Obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP).
  • Carry both your IDP and your U.S. state driver’s license with you at all times, as many countries have different driving rules. If possible, obtain a copy of the foreign country’s driving laws before you begin driving in that country.
  • Check to see if the country of destination has a minimum and maximum driving age.
  • Be aware that certain countries require special road permits, instead of tolls, to use their divided highways, and they will fine those found driving without a permit.
  • Always “buckle up.” Some countries have penalties for people who violate this law.
  • Many countries require you to honk your horn before going around a sharp corner or to flash your lights before passing.
  • If you rent a car, make sure you have liability insurance. If you do not, this could lead to financial hardship.
  • If the drivers in the country you are visiting drive on the left side of the road, it may be prudent to practice driving in a less populated area before attempting to drive in heavy traffic.
  • Always know the route you will be traveling. Have a good road map, and chart your course before beginning.
  • Do not pick up hitchhikers or strangers.
  • When entering or exiting your vehicle, be aware of your surroundings.

Driving in a Strange Land: Weird Rules of the Road

  • France – all drivers are required to carry a breathalyser
  • Scandinavia – it is illegal to drive without headlights, even in daylight
  • Spain – if you need to wear glasses, you are required to carry an additional pair when driving
  • Germany – it is illegal to drive without winter tyres at certain times of the year
  • Belarus – it is illegal to drive a dirty car
  • Spain – in some cities, cars must be parked on different sides of the road according to the day of the week
  • Serbia – compulsory equipment to be held by driver includes a tow bar and 3-ft rope
  • Russia – it is forbidden to pick up hitchhikers

More information about Driving Overseas


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Lark Gould


Lark Ellen Gould is an award-winning journalist who has spent the last few decades reporting on news, trends and nuances in the travel industry for top travel publications with a focus on Las Vegas, California, Africa, Asia, Pacific and the Middle East.
As a veteran news reporter covering hot spots (and cool spots) around the world, Lark knows where to go – and where not to go. Follow her findings in the Communities Digital News, LLC at The Washington Times where she is an associate editor for Food & Travel; also Larkslist and Travel-Intel, a weekly news publication that goes out to the travel industry.

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