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International Wheelman: A Beginner's Guide to Driving Abroad

International Wheelman: A Beginner's Guide to Driving Abroad image

Anton Andres / AutoIndustriya.com, Newspress, Wikimedia Commons-Benzoyl | December 21, 2017 10:56

Your guide to driving in a foreign land

Are you going abroad soon? Will your trip require you to drive on foreign roads? Will it be your first time doing so?

If you said yes to all three, then it's time to prepare everything you need when you hop in the driver's seat in a different country. Now, it isn't as simple as getting in the driver's seat and going places. This requires special planning before the flight, during the drive and even when calling it a night.

Now, it may sound daunting but don't be put off by the idea. Here is a handy beginner's guide to driving in other countries.

A beginner's guide to driving abroad

Prepare for your trip and paperwork

‚ÄčIt goes without saying that your license is one of the most important things you need if you plan to drive outside the country. Check status of your license and make sure that it is up to date.

In ASEAN member nations (i.e. Thailand, Malaysia, etc.) your Philippine passport and license will be honored for a certain period of time, but other countries may require an international driving permit. Make sure you ask your travel agent or do some research on your own to verify which case will apply for you. As for your passport, get it renewed six months before it expires. You will not be allowed to travel if it is within that said six month period.

If it's your first time traveling or visiting a specific country, it's best to prepare an itinerary. Remember, you are going to unfamiliar territory and the possibility of getting lost is very high. Set a schedule, print out maps if needed and download a navigation application if you're using mobile data abroad. A phrase book would be helpful too if you are headed to a country who's primary language isn't English.

A beginner's guide to driving abroad

Know the rules of the land

Since you are driving abroad, it is best to keep in mind the rules of their roads. This information can be found online, as well as some travel guide books. In certain counties, driving should be by the book and the smallest infraction can lead to big fines and penalties. Some countries will even require you to carry insurance and strictly enforce the 'no insurance, no driving' policy.

Other countries will need you to carry items when driving on their roads. France, for example, requires a breathalyzer in your car at all times. Parts of Europe also require you to bring a high-visibility reflective vest in the trunk. Some countries may also have a different take on the traffic lights. Some Japanese roads, for example, have two sets of lights; one for those who are turning and one for those going straight. Again, read up on the rules to for everyone's safety.

A beginner's guide to driving abroad

Renting a ride 

Once abroad, you will likely be renting a car to travel around. It isn't as simple as going into an Avis or Hertz, picking a car that fits your budget and driving off. In the US, it varies per state but the general gist of it means you have to present your international driving permit and your country's driver's license to the renting agency. It is best to find out the rental company's and the state's policies and requirements in advance.

Over in Europe, some countries need the renter to be at least 21 years of age with others even higher at least 25 years of age. That said, they generally do not ask how many years you have been driving in your home country. If other documents are needed, comply by showing it to them. Again, check the requirements for renting no matter what continent you are visiting. You will also need to bring your passport with you at all times.

A beginner's guide to driving abroad

Right-hand drive

Should you find the need to drive in countries with right hand drive such as Japan or Australia, the general rule is to stay left. Also, do note that some of the switches are on the opposite side; the lighting stalk (headlight/signal controls) will be on your right side while the wiper controls will be on your left, though there are some exceptions. That said, the pedal positions will always be the same no matter the country.

Before you head out on the road, adjust your driving position and mirrors accordingly. Practice in a parking lot if needed to get accustomed to the new steering wheel position. Once you're ready, drive cautiously and remember the rules of the road. Also remember that the passing lane (or 'fast lane') is on the right. When crossing intersections, look to the right first before the left.

Also, when taking roundabouts (rotundas/rotondas), take note that the direction of traffic is also coming from the right. When you enter, look to the right and merge carefully. Give way to vehicles already on the roundabout and the right of way is to those on the left side of your vehicle as they will be the ones merging, or exiting into their respective streets.

Other tips

There are countries that enforce rules stricter than others. It's always best to be attentive to the rules of the road, so review your basic road signs/markings and their definitions. 

It goes without saying that practicing road courtesy is a must. Always (and we do mean always) use your turn signals when doing lane changes and maneuvers. Do remember that there are several countries are very strict on drunk driving laws and for some, even a drop of alcohol in your system is enough for them to cut your trip short. If you're going out for a drink, it's best to leave the car behind and take a cab. Also, driving in a different land can be mentally straining so don't forget to take a break every once in a while.

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So there you have it, the basics you need to know for driving in a different country. Remember these tips for a worry-free drive abroad. While it may be out of the comfort zone for some, it is definitely a bucket-list worthy thing to do as a car enthusiast or a well-heeled traveler. You could even pick up a thing or two and apply it to your driving back here in the Philippines.