Heading abroad and planning on buying, renting or borrowing a car? Find out how to get car insurance in place.
Driving overseas isn’t quite as simple as getting behind the wheel and hitting the open road. Depending on your destination, an Australian driver’s license might not qualify you to drive and your car insurance might not cover you. Also, if you plan on taking a car outside of Australia, you’ll need to know about customs duties.
You’ll also need to be aware of the differences you’ll encounter on the roads and what to do if you have an accident. This guide explains what you need to know before hitting the road in countries other than Australia.
Overseas car insurance options for Australians
The most important forms of cover you need are medical cover and personal liability cover. Travel insurance will generally be the most cost-effective way of finding these types of cover, but you should check the policy to make sure it includes cover while you’re driving.
International car insurance policies are available, but they can be difficult to find. Fortunately, it might not be necessary depending on your circumstances.
- If you’re renting a car: You can get car insurance through the rental company. If you plan on doing this, it may be a good idea to consider rental car excess insurance to reduce your excess charge in the event of an accident. You can purchase this as a standalone policy or included with travel insurance.
- If you’re borrowing a car: Check what kind of policy the car owner has. It might not cover you, or it might not have enough cover for your needs. Once again, travel insurance can provide liability and medical cover. The ideal option may be to contact the car insurer and see if you can adjust the cover or add yourself to the policy.
- If you’re travelling outside of Australia with your car: International car insurance will generally be required. You will also typically need a carnet and can get overseas car insurance through the same organisations.
International Driving Permits
Not all countries will recognise an Australian driver’s license. If you are pulled over in one of these countries and don’t have an International Driving Permit (IDP), you may be treated as if you were driving without a license. IDPs are universally recognised and will let you drive legally almost anywhere in the world.
IDPs are valid for 12 months and require you to have a full Australian driver’s license.
Which countries require an International Driving Permit?
- Check this registry for each country where you plan on driving. If any of them call for an international driver’s license, you will need to obtain one.
What you need for an IDP. IDPs are valid for 12 months and have the following requirements:
- You must be over 18 years of age.
- You must have a valid Australian driver’s license (not a probationary or learner license).
- You need a recent, valid passport photo to use for the license.
- You need to pay a $39 fee. This fee is the same regardless of where you apply.
Where to get an IDP. You can get an International Driving Permit through Australian Automobile Association affiliates. Nationwide, you can get an IDP from any of the following providers:
You can think of a Carnet de Passages en Douane, or carnet for short (pronounced car-nay), as a passport for your car. You will generally need one if you’re temporarily taking a car outside of Australia. Without it, you will need to pay customs duty, in the local currency, when bringing an Australian car across a border.
When you get a CPD carnet in Australia, the Australian Automobile Association will pay these custom duties on your behalf with the fee it charged for the carnet.
- A carnet is essential for taking vehicles through African, Asian, Middle Eastern, South American and Pacific countries.
- A carnet is not required for cars, campervans or motorcycles entering most countries in Europe or North America for holidaying purposes. For all other vehicles, and all other purposes, you will either need a carnet or you will need to pay the local import duty. If you’ll be driving through Europe or North American, you can contact the Australian Automobile Association for a complete list of countries that currently require a carnet.
Tips for driving overseas
Driving overseas carries significant risks and you should exercise great caution on unfamiliar roads. Worldwide, more than a million people die on the roads each year, and over 90% of these deaths occur in low and middle-income countries.
Statistically, you can expect more dangerous roads in almost any other country and should anticipate certain hazards. Depending on your destination, the following are some of the main hazards to watch out for:
- Poorly maintained roads
- Reckless drivers
- Poor lighting
- Other traffic, including pedestrians, cyclists and livestock moving at different speeds
- Transport crime
Consider your need to drive and whether it’s the right way to see each country. In addition, keep the following information in mind:
- Know how to contact your travel insurer. Keep your travel cover info with you while travelling, so you can easily get in touch with your insurer as needed. Take down their emergency contact number and keep it in your phone or somewhere safe just in case you lose the papers.
- Know how to use your insurance: Make sure you know how to use your overseas cover. This guide explains what to do after an accident overseas and has a handy list of some of the emergency contact numbers for many prominent travel insurance brands.
- Consider an International Driving Permit even if you don’t need one. It’s another form of internationally recognised identification in case your passport goes missing. It’s also the only type of formal identification that comes in nine languages, making it useful almost everywhere.
- Watch out for counterfeit IDPs. These are available online and are usually sold at inflated prices. If it costs more than $39, it might be fraudulent. If it’s being sold on eBay, it’s probably also a fake.
- Remember that most countries don’t drive on the left. Australia is something of an oddity in this way, and you should consciously avoid slipping into old habits, especially when there isn’t much other traffic to remind you.
- Pack travel insurance. The Australian Government recommends travel insurance for all overseas destinations, regardless of how safe or dangerous they might be. Unfamiliarity means things are more likely to go wrong for travellers, and personal liability and medical expenses can be potentially devastating no matter where in the world you are. For the cover it delivers, travel insurance can be exceptionally cost effective.