Heading overseas? That’s exciting! Planning on hiring a car? Even better. Touring the world on four wheels can be a magical way to travel. However, whether you’re a rip-roaring roadster or a slow poke sally, driving overseas can also pose its pitfalls. A road trip adventure can seem marvellous until you find yourself broken down on the motorway or busted for disobeying local road rules. Our overseas driving guide can get you geared up and ready to go. Below you’ll find tips on venturing into the unknown, a description of speeding limits by country, and a lesson on drink driving penalties around the world. You’ll also discover how to understand foreign road signs. Happy reading!

Tips on venturing into the unknown

Documented driver

Depending on where you’ll be driving, you may want to consider an International Driving Permit (IDP) for your trip. This handy piece of paper costs just $39 (AUD), is recognised as valid identification in over 150 countries and allows you to drive internationally without a hitch. It’s important to note that an IDP does not replace your Australian driver’s license. When behind the wheel overseas you should always have your regular driver’s license and passport with you. Note as well that some insurance policies actually require you to possess an IDP in order to drive overseas.  Be sure to check the country’s licensing requirements before you fly out (you can do so at the Australian Automotive Association) Top tip: IDPs are only available through state and territory motoring clubs. Take care that you don’t get swindled by counterfeit versions.

Check the rules

Driving rules can differ greatly around the globe which can have huge consequences on the way you get around. Even subtle differences, like turning right on a red light in the USA, are essential to understand before you step on the gas. On the other hand, major differences, like driving on the other side of the road are crucial to get your head around. Make sure to do some research before you head abroad and if you are going to be driving on the opposite side of the road, ease yourself in. Don’t hop in the driver’s seat straight after a long-haul flight and try to avoid high traffic areas initially. Hiring a small car can also assist when navigating foreign roads

Emergency kit

Much like driving rules abroad, different regions around the world may have varying requirements when it comes to emergency supplies on the road. For instance, in certain parts of Europe such as France and Austria, you must store a fluorescent jacket in your car in the event of a breakdown. In Belgium you must carry a fire extinguisher while German laws require you to carry a warning triangle and a first aid kit. Make sure you research these specific requirements as failure to comply could result in an on-the-spot fine.

Find your way

While we always encourage travellers to ‘lose themselves’ in their adventures, we recommend not doing so figuratively! Getting lost overseas can be incredibly frustrating, particularly when you’re under tight time constraints. Alleviate the stress of losing your way by requesting a GPS from your rental company or bring your own. You may want to bring old fashioned printed maps along with you as well just in case! When you want to get off the grid, it’s easy to get caught up planning on your destination. However, your journey can be so much more than just getting from A-B.

Culture crash course

Driving styles and etiquette can vary greatly from one country to the next. Whether it’s a more aggressive approach on the road or a general relaxation of rules and regulations, it can be hard to adjust to new driving cultures. Reading up on local standards and accepted norms may be helpful prior to your trip but be wary of overly exposing yourself to negative opinions and stories. While it’s ideal to arrive prepared you don’t want to be completely put off!

Stay in the slow lane

Cruising down the highway at soaring speed may give you a boost of holiday endorphins but a hefty fine might slow down that rush. It’s far more advisable to stick a safe, moderate pace when you’re getting the hang of new roads and behaviours. For those feeling apprehensive when tackling foreign terrain it’s important not to feel rushed or compelled to speed. If possible avoid fast motorways on your first day or two.

Speeding limits around the world

We all know that getting caught speeding will undoubtedly result in a hefty fine or penalty, but the cost can vastly differ around the world.

Over the years some humongous fines have been documented. The world’s largest speeding fine was from a Swedish motorist who was caught driving at 300km/h. He was charged $1million, due to the fact that under Swiss law the amount of fine is determined by not only the speed recorded by also the wealth of the driver!!!

If you’re not keen on giving all your holiday budget to the speed police. Our advice is to wise up and know how fast you can go before you get behind the wheel.

Obviously penalties may change over time and fines will vary according to the percentage or how many km/mph over the limit you are driving. If you’re caught speeding more than 50k over the limit could even see you locked behind bars!

Here’s a snapshot of the various speed limits on highways around the world and the likely penalties you could face.

 COUNTRY    MAX  SPEED (HWY)   PENALTIES (AUD) 
Abu Dhabi 140km  $1,000
Australia 110km $160 – $2,530
Belgium 120km  $200 – $3,500
Canada 75mph $40 – $227
Czech Republic 130km $25 – $102
Denmark 130km $275 – $800
Germany No Limit (Autobahn)  $35 – $680
Latvia 100km  $10 – $665
Hong Kong 110km $53 – $167
Spain 120km  $130 – $550
Sweden 120km  $160 – $430
Singapore 90km  $120 – $183
Taiwan 110km  $50 – $253
United States 80mph $35 – $2,500
United Kingdom 70mph $130 – $4,000

Drink driving penalties around the world

We all love a tipple or two, especially on holidays. But let’s face it, unlike a good gin and tonic, alcohol and driving are not a good mix. Penalties for drink driving can also have dire consequences around the world. Check out these hefty punishments before you start your engines!

Australia

In Oz, getting on the grog before you drive can
lead to fines, license suspensions, imprisonment
and a medical assessment. She ‘won’t’ be right mate!

Malaysia

Unless you want to lose your license and your
marriage, stay clear of the beer in Malaysia before
taking a spin. If you’re jailed for drink driving, your
spouse can expect the same punishment.

South Africa

We all want our vacations to last the distance, but a 10-year prison sentence (and the equivalent of a $10,000.00 fine for being smashed while steering) might be pushing it.

Turkey

The Turkish punishment for driving under the
influence is no walk in the park. In Turkey, drunk
drivers are taken 20 miles out of town by police and forced to walk back under escort.

Taiwan

You certainly don’t want to be caught tipsy while travelling in Taiwan. If you cause serious injury or death to another person while driving, you could
face the death penalty!

Saudi Arabia

Drunk-driving is strictly illegal in UAE. Corporal punishment from driving under influence can
lead to lashings.

Check age limits

Be aware that many countries have a minimum and maximum age for renters. Drivers under the age of 25 or over the age of 70 may face surcharges or not be permitted to rent at all.

Off-roading

Many hire car companies will not cover you if you have an accident on dirt tracks or unmarked roads. So make sure you know where you’re covered before you hit the road.

Don’t get fleeced

When you hire a car, the company will try and upsell you their collision damage insurance, this is a daily amount you pay which reduces the excess you in the event of accident of theft. All well and good, but these additional options are overpriced and only reduce your damage liability to around $300-$500.

Read the small print

Your car hire insurance is usually included in the price of hiring the car. Before your pick up date make sure you know what you’re covered for and what you’re not. To minimise the chance of being shocked at the shop, carefully read your entire reservation documentation to avoid and nasty surprises down the track.

Foreign Road signs

Luckily you don’t really have to speak the local lingo to understand the rules of the road. Currently over 50 countries have signed the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals that aims to simplify and standadise road signs all over the world. However, there are still plenty of differences about driving at home than in foreign lands. If you’re feeling wooly headed we help to claaaarify some of the most common road signs you’ll come across overseas.

Warning signs

Rules were meant to be broken, except when it comes to road safety. Warning signs are to advise caution of hazards or likely hazardous conditions. Although they may differ in colour, they are typically triangular or diamond in shape as and most commonly they will have a yellow background with black writing, or white background with a red border.

Regulatory signs

These are traffic signs telling road users on what they should or shouldn’t be doing. They may reinforce traffic laws, provide information about parking, or instruct which direction you are allowed to drive. Regulation signs vary around the globe but tend to be blue with white instructions.

Prohibitory signs

As the name suggest these signs explain the rules of the road. They are used to prohibit certain types of manoeuvres or types of traffic like no bicycles, no stopping, no parking, no entry etc.  They tend to be circular and red in colour in Australia, throughout Africa, the USA Canada and Asia.

Information signs

These signs do what they say on the tin. If there is a hospital ahead, a stop sign, parking ahead an information sign is the very noticeable placard that informs people of the purpose of an object, or gives them instruction on the use of something.

Indicative & direction signs

Turn right, no through road, one-way street, pedestrians only, pass on either side….if you’re looking for specific road guidlines these are the signs and symbols to look out for.  They tend to be circular and blue with white instructions throughout all of Europe. However as the Vienna Convention does not specify sizes, colours, symbols or positions of such signs you may find these vary considerably from country to country.

Speed signs

Speed limits signs globally are pretty self-explanatory, but don’t forget what measurement you’re reading them in! All European countries use the metric system (kilometres) with the exception of the United Kingdom, where distances and speeds are indicated in imperial measurements (miles) the same as the USA.

Freeway signs

Depending on where you are in the world you might refer to a freeway as a highway, motorway or expressway. It can be daunting to drive on fast moving roads in an unfamiliar car in foreign lands, so make sure you’re prepared first. Keep an eye out for signs that clearly say ‘freeway’ and avoid them if you are not confident.

Important Links

American Auto Club

Canadian Auto Club

Royal Automobile Club of Belgium 

Allgemeiner Deutscher Automobil-Club

Automobile Club de France

Automobile Club d’Italia 

Dutch-automobile-association

Automóvel Club de Portugal 

Royal Automobile Club of Spain

Automobile Association New Zealand 

Automobile Association UK

Royal Automobile Club Aus 

Smart traveller road safety information

FIA 

European road signs