Driving outside Canada? Acquaint yourself with foreign laws

The rules of the road depend on where you go. Finding out about local laws, customs and quirks will help ensure your travels are safer and more enjoyable. For example:

- In England, it’s illegal to talk on a cell phone while driving.

- In Mexico, you cannot drive without car insurance issued by a Mexican insurer.

- In France, some parking meters can only be activated with a swipe card that you buy at the tobacconist’s.

If you’re planning a driving holiday, here are some questions to be answered before you go.

Will your license be recognized?
Your Canadian driver’s license is accepted in the US and Mexico. But it might not be accepted elsewhere. If you’re driving outside of North America, it’s a good idea to get an International Driver’s Permit (IDP). Recognized in more than 160 countries, an IDP provides the local authorities with proof that you have a valid driver’s license. In Canada, IDPs are issued by the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA).
Does your insurance cover you?
Does your insurance cover you?

Do you have adequate insurance?
If you plan on driving while in the US or abroad, you should contact your insurance provider beforehand to make sure you have the proper coverage. Once you determine whether your coverage is sufficient, ensure that you have all the necessary numbers ready when traveling. However, since there are different laws governing the amounts and types of insurance required, you may want to investigate the possibility of increasing your coverage before you leave home. To drive your own car in Mexico, you must have additional insurance from a Mexican insurance provider. You can usually purchase this at or near border crossings.

Can you get a rental?
You may be required to show an International Driver’s Permit in order to rent a car, even if that country does not require it for driving. As well, if you plan to take a rental car into several different countries (across Europe, for example), find out what paperwork you’ll need before you attempt to cross any borders.

Do you have your papers?
Always carry your driver’s license, registration, and a copy of your insurance policy. This applies whether you’re driving your own vehicle or a rental. If you are driving a car not registered in your name, protect yourself from any possible hassles by getting written permission from the car’s owner.

In certain countries it is illegal to talk on a cell phone without a hands-free headset

Can you reach your insurer?
Make sure you have easy access to your insurance company’s toll-free international phone number in case of any emergencies.

Are you taking an extended stay?
Do you winter down south, or in Portugal, or anywhere else for that matter? You might need additional auto insurance and/or an IDP if you spend more than a few weeks a year outside Canada.

Do you know the conditions?
Prepare to adjust your driving habits to suit local conditions. For instance, sharing the road with bikes, scooters and motorbikes is very common in some countries. Be prepared to share narrow winding roads with them.

Belt up abroad!
Regardless of what other laws may dictate, always wear your seat belt and drive with your headlights on.
For more specifics, speak with your travel agent, CAA office, or your host country’s consular office.

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