Do you have what it takes to drive in Europe? Sure, sometimes you have to have intestinal fortitude to drive in Europe! I, for one, hate the skinny passing lane in construction zones.
If I’m lucky enough to be the passenger, I just close my eyes. That way my hubby doesn’t have to endure my gasping and moving as far from the door as I can. Sometimes it takes more than just bravery. Back in the States, we could drive freely from state to state and not much changed. With the EU and Euro, sometimes it feels like we are driving state-to-state, instead of crossing international borders, but the rules can be a little more complex than that. First, let me say that I’m no international law expert. I researched these rules the best I could. But do your own research too. Also, if you find something in this article is different from what you know, please comment.
I have three valid drivers licenses right now. The first is my stateside license. Keep an eye on the expiration date, as having a valid US license is the basis for the others. Each state has different rules for how to renew your license if you are stationed overseas. The second is my USAREUR (United States Army Europe) license. You’ll need one of these to operate any USAREUR registered car. You can read all about getting one of those here. By the way, this is the license for all military and civilians regardless of branch of service. The third is my international drivers license (IDL or International Drivers Permit – IDP). It’s needed if you are going to drive outside of Germany while stationed here. There are a few ways to get one. The first is through AAA in the USA. You can get one through them even if you aren’t a member and it’s possible to get one through them even if you are already overseas. An IDL from them is good for one year. A second option is to get your IDL once you have arrived in Germany and have your USAREUR license. Once you have that, you will need a form from the same office on base. Take this form, a passport sized photo, a second form of picture ID, and €15.30 to your local county’s (Kreis) driver’s license office. They will be able to tell you where that is when to go when you pick up your form on base. The pictures need to be biometric, meaning you can’t smile in your picture. This option is a little cheaper and the expiration date is based off of your USAEUR license expiration date so it will last longer.
Each European country has a list of items that are required. Here is a checklist for some of the surrounding countries:
A few European countries require these stickers when driving on their roads. Depending on the country, they may only be required for driving on the Autobahn or other high-speed motorways. They can be bought at gas stations near the boarders. We have driven In Austria and it was no problem to purchase the sticker at the gas station closest to the border. It needs to be placed in the windshield, but it didn’t seem to matter which side. Just because you have purchased the vignette sticker, doesn’t mean that you still won’t have to pay the tolls in that country!
Approximate vignette costs
Austria: 10 days, €8; two months, €23.4; one year €77.8 Bulgaria: 7 days, €5; one month, €13; one year €34 Czech Republic: 10 days, CZK 310 (About €12); one month CZK 440; one year CZK 1500 Hungary: 7 days, HUF 2975(About €10); one month, HUF 4,780; one year HUF 42,890 Romania: 7 days, €3; one month, €7; one year €77.8 Slovakia: 10 days, €10; one month, €14; three months, €13, one year, €28. Slovenia: One week, €15; one month, €30; one year, €95. Switzerland: One year, CHF 40 (About €32)
Germany does not require vignettes, but there is a sticker that is needed to drive in certain areas. The zones are called Umwelt zones. Here is a map of the current areas that require the stickers. The stickers show that your car can perform to certain environmental standards. You can get the sticker for free when you register your car. Your license number is printed on the sticker and it is placed in the lower passenger side of your windshield. There are similar stickers for some areas in Austria and Denmark.
Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands do not have toll roads, but if you drive outside of those borders, expect to pay tolls. This includes the countries where you have already bought a vignette sticker for the privilege of driving on the roads. Bring extra Euros and be prepared.
Snow tires are required when the weather calls for it in Germany. There are no specific dates, but from October – April is a good rule of thumb. Also, antifreeze is required in your windshield wipers and “peephole” driving is prohibited. That means you have to fully clean your windshield, back and side windows from snow and ice.
Although you may see Esso stations outside of Germany, your Esso card is only good inside Germany. Also, you cannot fill up at a military installation outside of the country where you are stationed, so a stop at Aviano won’t help you if you are traveling through Italy.
The rules can get confusing and sometimes amusing! For instance in the Czech republic requires extra set of prescription glasses in glove box. While some countries require you to use your headlights in the daytime, Greece forbids it! There was a rule on the books in France that every car needed to carry a breathalyzer. That rule is no longer being enforced and has been put on hold indefinitely.
So what if you drive into an umwelt zone without a sticker? What if you don’t have a high-vis vest in Austria? Just like America, ignorance of the law is not the same as innocence. Some of the fines are pretty hefty (I’m talking 4 digit Euro fines). There are also rumors about which rules are overlooked and which ones are enforced, but most of these required items don’t cost too much and I’d rather be safe than sorry! The big, bad Autobahn (and other European roads) awaits you! Do you have what it takes?