Tips for Driving Abroad for the First Time

26 July 2022 Posted by: Lake Lawn B&B Travel Tips

Driving abroad for the first time can be a daunting experience.

From driving on opposite sides of the car or road to following different rules and regulations, you have a lot to contend with when driving abroad.

Coming from the Netherlands, where we drive on the right side of the road, I still remember my first time driving on the left side of the road.

It was on a small British island in the Caribbean named Anguilla… And those first moments of driving were probably about as nerve-racking as my first driving lessons!

But, you do get used to driving abroad.

Whether it’s driving on the other side of the road or just dealing with hectic traffic or slightly different laws, give it time and you will become familiar with it.

And because I have had many people asking me for tips for driving abroad, I thought I would create a list.

These are some practical tips for driving abroad, especially when it’s your first time driving in a foreign country.

10 Tips for Driving Abroad for the First Time

1. Get Used to the Car

Tips for driving in a foreign country for the first time

Before you start your first drive abroad, sit in the car for a bit and take your time to familiarize yourself with it.

Find out where all the controls are and make sure your mirrors and your seat are adjusted properly.

To become more confident, consider driving around a quiet parking lot, which is a great way to practice the auxiliary controls and further familiarize yourself with the car.

Especially if you are sitting on the other side of the car and/or driving on the other side of the road, take your time to get used to these new conditions!

2. Consider Taking Advanced Driving Courses

A driving course will help you to improve your position, control, and speed depending on the amount of traffic and road conditions. The course will turn you into a more confident driver.

Taking these classes before you embark on your international trip will help you to feel more prepared for driving in foreign countries.

3. Know the Laws and Speed Limits

Useful tips for driving abroad for the first time
Speed limits are different in different countries. And so are road signs.

Laws differ from one country to another, which makes it wise to do your research before you start driving abroad.

For example, in some countries, turning on red is permitted at many intersections, but in others, the practice is totally prohibited.

In some countries, traffic already on a roundabout has the right of way; in other countries, traffic entering the roundabout has it, while vehicles already on the roundabout must yield.

Start by checking the side of the road that you will be driving on and the essential documents that you need to carry.

But also read up on things such as traffic signs in the country you are traveling to, toll roads, restricted areas, etc. What are the child-seat regulations that you need to follow and what is the drink-drive limit?

Check If You Need an International Driving Permit

Some countries require an International Driving Permit (IDP) for any foreign driver’s license, others only for certain nationalities.

Embassy websites tend to have good information about what you need to drive abroad but a simple Google search will also tell you if you need an IDP or not.

In the USA you can get an IDP from AAA, in the UK most post offices have an IDP service.

But again, a simple Google search will tell you what you need in your specific situation.

4. Opt for an Automatic Car

Because you will be nervous about driving in a foreign place, opting for an automatic car, which is almost impossible to stall, might be a good choice.

With an automatic car, you will not have to worry about changing the clutch or gear which means you will be able to focus on the road better.

However, not every car rental agency in each country offers automatic cars. So if you do decide to rent an automatic car for your first time driving abroad, make sure you check beforehand if your chosen rental agency has any available.

5. Pay Attention to the Road

car on a country road

Depending on the country you’ll be driving in, you might find that the drivers are more aggressive than the ones back home.

However, you should not let them intimidate you and do not respond to any rude gestures no matter how tempting it is.

If you feel overwhelmed, pull over or move to the slow lane until you get back your composure.

Pay attention to the road ahead instead of focusing on what the other drivers are doing.

6. Stay in the Slow Lane

When driving abroad for the first time, it is quite natural to feel anxious.

If you want to feel relaxed when driving, you should drive at your own pace on the slow lane.

Once you feel ready to drive on the faster lanes, move over. If you feel nervous about switching lanes, just wait for a big gap in traffic before you do it.

7. Avoid Driving When Tired

When driving in unfamiliar territory, it is important that you remain alert. This means that you should not drive immediately after a long flight.

No matter how short your drive is, make sure that you take a break whenever you feel your concentration lapsing. A quick nap at a service station and a cup of coffee can do wonders and will help you feel more awake.

8. Don’t Be Over-Ambitious

Don't be over-ambitious when driving abroad for the first time

Try to avoid long drives when driving for the first time in a foreign country. Opt for shorter drives until you gain enough confidence to drive for longer periods.

I would also try to avoid city driving because busy locations require more focus, which can be overwhelming for first-timers.

And if possible, take your first drive abroad when the weather is good.

9. Choose a Small Car

If you are traveling alone and do not need a lot of space for your luggage, consider renting a small car.

Not only are these cars easy to maneuver and park, they are also cheaper to rent.

If you need more space than an economy car can give you, pick the smallest car for your needs. You do not want to be stuck maneuvering a large car in foreign traffic.

I often drive in Spain and I couldn’t imagine driving a big car through some of the narrow alleys in those historic town centers. So unless I am traveling with more than two other people I will always go for the smallest car available.

10. Request a GPS

Practical tips for driving abroad for the first time

When driving abroad, getting lost is one of the biggest concerns that people have.

If you are worried about losing your way, consider asking for a GPS from the rental company.

Not only will a GPS help you to avoid arguments over destinations, but it will also help you to find some must-see attractions on your own.

With a GPS, you will be able to enjoy your trip peacefully without the fear of getting lost in foreign territory.

Alternatively, if your mobile phone works in the country you are traveling to and you have enough data, Google Maps is normally what I use to find my way around.

Conclusion – Driving Abroad Safely and With Confidence

Driving abroad for the first time - tips

Understandably, most people are anxious about driving abroad. The above tips will help you to feel more confident as you drive in a foreign country.

And of course, the more often you drive abroad the easier it becomes.

But, even after more than 10 years of driving abroad it still always takes me some time to get used to the different circumstances (laws, quality of the roads, driving style, etc) in each country.

So just take your time, and your experience driving abroad for the first time will be just fine!

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Author: Sanne Wesselman
A traveler, wanderer, digital nomad, and entrepreneur. Owner of marketing company A to Z Marketing.

I spend most of my time living and working abroad and use this website to share “the good, the bad and the ugly” of traveling and living abroad. Visit the About Me page for more info.

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