Driving in Foreign Countries

Preparation Counts

My personal experience is that driving a car in foreign countries is great fun. However, it should be clear to everyone who indulges in this pleasure that there may be different traffic regulations in different countries, and of course different traffic signs. A fundamental requirement for a carefree road trip in unknown areas is therefore to inquire about the relevant current framework conditions before starting your journey. There are a wide variety of sources for this, for Europe there is, for example, an information page on the "Your Europe" portal of the European Union about driving abroad with further links: https://europa.eu/youreurope/citizens/travel/driving-abroad/, very detailed travel destination-related information is available for example at ÖAMTC: https://www.oeamtc.at/laenderinfo/, ÖAMTC members have access to the practical travel info set, consisting of travel maps, information about the most important sights and entry, toll and traffic regulations for many destinations.

Driving License

The main point is whether the national driving license is accepted by the authorities and also by the rental car company in the chosen destination. When driving outside of the European Union, maybe an “international driving license”, an additional document to the national driving license, is required. ATTENTION, the international driving license is only valid in combination with the national document! But even in countries that accept the national driver's license, a driver's license translation or the international driver's license as an additional document can be helpful when communicating with the local traffic authorities or the car rental company. You can get the international driving license in Austria from the automobile associations, in Germany from the driving license offices of the road traffic authorities.

Defensive Driving

A tip for everyone who gets into "exotic" traffic: drive defensively! Especially in seemingly chaotic traffic situations such as in Paris, Milan, Rome or Madrid, a foresighted, prudent driving style that is not based on one's own right is the ultimate survival strategy. Looking ahead, thinking ahead, keeping distance, direct communication with eyes, indicators and gestures - all of a sudden, even the wildest southern traffic becomes pure pleasure. Who once got the chance to exit the innumerable lanes of the roundabout at the Place Charles-de-Gaulle in Paris without one or the other "lap of honor" and without painful "enemy contact" knows what I'm talking about.

Driving on the Left

Around a third of the world's population in 58 countries is driving “the wrong side of the road”. In Europe there is left-hand traffic in Great Britain, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta. This may be a challenge for many who are used driving on the right. With a little empathy and a right-hand vehicle, it is not that difficult to adapt to this situation. Basically, the following applies to the vehicle driven on the right:
The steering wheel is on the right side.
The gear lever is in the middle, so it is operated with the left hand. With very few exceptions, the shift pattern is the same as in a left-hand drive vehicle, i.e. the first gear is in the top left of the shift gate.
The levers for the indicators and windshield wipers are reversed (indicator lever on the right!).
The arrangement of the pedals is identical to to a left hand drive.
The first time you start with the unfamiliar right-hand drive, start off slowly, especially calm and defensive driving helps to get used to the mirror-inverted situation quickly. Caution: Do not overact driving on the left, many drivers who are driving on the left for the first time instinctively drive too far to the left! Keep to the central line! The danger of getting into the wrong lane is particularly great when turning. Our daily driving practice leads to many automatisms, which have to be overcome in this new situation - concentration is the order of the day. After a few days, however, left-hand traffic quickly becomes a matter of course - be careful, at home you have to switch back to right-hand traffic!

Toll Roads

In many countries, a fee is charged for using certain roads. The toll is paid in different ways, e.g. as a flat rate by purchasing a badge or as a route-related toll. Depending on the country, the badge is available either in the form of a physical sticker for the windshield or as an "electronic badge" where the license plate is compared with a database during the toll control. In many countries, in addition to an annual badge, there are also available badges for shorter periods of time. In the case of route-related tolls, there are again different systems, such as the collection of the fee when driving in or out in cash or by credit card, in some countries (additional or mandatory) electronic payment systems are in use. The best thing to do is to obtain detailed, up-to-date information from the automobile associations or car rental companies. In countries with an electronic payment system, this form of billing can often be activated at the car rental company during the rental.

Special Cases

Not always the entire main road network is subject to tolls; sometimes there are special tolls for tunnels, bridges or mountain roads - at times in addition to a flat-rate toll. In some countries there are special rules for city centers, here it is advisable to research carefully (for example, registration by the hotel located in the city toll zone is sometimes necessary) so that there are no nasty surprises in retrospect. In general, it can be said that fare dodging is not worth the fines that are due if one gets caught as they are usually very high. A tip for applying the badge: Always pay attention to where the badge has to be attached, there are usually instructions in which area of the windshield the sticker must be affixed in order to be valid.

Chauffeur Driven Car

Wherever the traffic and road conditions appear too chaotic and relaxed self-driving is called into question, renting a car with a driver is worth considering as an alternative. In the Southeast Asian region, e.g. in Bali, for example, there is a wide range of services at reasonable costs available with which you can avoid the stress and dangers of the unfamiliar, often almost disorderly, road traffic.