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Driving a rental car in England

Could not find any info about this in Rick's book...
I'm traveling to England with a two friends and we are renting a car for most of our time there. One friend has driven in England before and will do the driving. He is planning on getting some kind of tourist license and I thought, if its required, I should get one too just in case. But I can't find anywhere that its actually required. He does everything through a travel agent and I thought, well, I'll just look it up on my own for me. Does anyone know if a special license is necessary? Also, any tips on driving on the wrong side of the road and the wrong side of the car appreciated as well. LOL!

Posted by
8889 posts

I have never heard of a "tourist licence".
Where are you from and which country issued your Driving Licence? Depending on which country issued your licence, you may or may not need an International Driving Permit. This is a document which certifies your licence is valid, and translates it. If asked for your licence, for example by the police, you need to show the IDP as well as your licence.

You need to get this IDP in your home country before you leave. Whether you need it, and how you get it, depends on which country you are from.

If you wish to drive a rented car, you need to be added as an "authorised driver" when you rent the car. There will be an extra charge for each authorised driver.

Posted by
2576 posts

The IDP is available in the US at any AAA. You need passport sized photos and $15 and they do it on the spot. Tips on driving on the left? Don't do it if you don't have to and really don't in busy urban areas. People are moving and you continually trying to figure out what lane you should be in makes you a hazard to them and you. I've done it and found it pretty easy in the country, but a gut check in the cities.

Posted by
1220 posts

The IDP is a translation of your driver's license in your home country. It's required in some countries lie Austria, and you should alway get one if you're going from a Latin alphabet to Cyrillic or other alphabet, but generally not necessary when you go from one majority English-speaking country to another.

Many UK driving schools put out highly useful 'how to drive in the UK' videos on You Tube. Definitely watch the ones on how to do roundabouts (traffic circles). We found it a lot easier to follow than trying to read something about UK traffic laws and then visualize it.

Like others here, we find it best to have one person drive and the other one navigate. Even if you're using a GPS (aka 'Sat Nav') or getting maps from your phone, it still really helps for the person riding shotgun to be doing things like looking for the speed camera enforcement zone signs, parking restriction areas, or calling off the correct exit at roundabouts.

Have change for parking lot pay kiosks. (and don't forget the 'display' part of 'pay and display') The only place parking is generally free is at a grocery store or shopping center.

Roads there are narrow and parking spots are tight; rent the smallest car class you'll be able to fit yourselves and your luggage into.

Sometimes the park and ride lot just outside of town is a far superior option compared to tryig to park in town.

Posted by
28147 posts

If you are the holder of a valid US state drivers license an IDP is not required in England, Wales, Scotland nor Northern Ireland.

Posted by
631 posts

Make sure anyone who might be driving is declared at the time of renting the car, they may name insured drivers on the documents.

Read and learn the Highway Code (link given above). If anything on any other website seems to contradict it then ignore the others! Special things to note, lane discipline on motorways, roundabouts, parking rules, zebra crossings, dipped headlights in heavy rain.

The excuse "my satnav (GPS) told me to do it" is not a defence from prosecution.

And we have a rule in Britain that most Americans will find really wierd - at a railway crossing you are on railway property and YOU are responsible for anything that goes wrong - if the train hits you and you survive you could be facing jail time! Just stopping on a crossing in a traffic jam will get you a ticket, even if there are no trains around.

Don't forget, 95% cars in Europe have manual gearboxes - if the booking doesn't say Automatic the car isn't.

If you plan on driving in central London (REALLY bad idea), the Dartford crossings over/under the Thames east of London or the Runcorn bridges near Liverpool Airport (from next month) make sure you understand how to pay the tolls. The fines for non-payment will be huge when they catch you up, which they will because the rental company will charge your card!

And I think you'll find that we drive on the correct side of the road, it goes back many hundreds of years and is to do with how you wore a sword on your belt when riding horses! All of europe used to do it and why they changed isn't clear.

Posted by
631 posts

PS - most cars are hatchback, if a car seems big enough for 3 but doesn't have enough luggage space, check if there is an estate (station wagen) version rather than the next size up. Estates are usually only slightly longer, they are the same width and may not be as dear as a bigger model. A Focus/Golf/Astra/Cee'd/Clio hatchback would be enough for 3 but who knows how many bags will appear!

Posted by
5630 posts

You will not need an international drivers license in Britain. A few years ago, I rented a car and drove for three days in southern England.

My advice is the stay away from London and the M25 Orbital parking lot.

I do recommend renting an automatic transmission car with a navigation system. I can drive a manual transmission, but having to shift with my left hand it might be distracting. Also, British people are generally polite drivers, not as aggressive as Italians or Germans. Still, you do have to focus on driving on the left. It is not that hard, but you can't relax too much.

Posted by
3376 posts

Also, any tips on driving on the wrong side of the road and the wrong
side of the car appreciated as well. LOL!

Um, when in the UK, the Left side is NOT the wrong side of the road. If you alter your mindset, you'll be much better off.
Having a designated navigator is an excellent idea. This allows the driver to concentrate on the road and the traffic. That is my job. (As well as reminding him occasionally to KEEP TO THE LEFT). Roundabouts move clockwise instead of counterclockwise. And you need to get into the habit of looking right, left, right (instead of the reverse) when entering a street from a driveway or when making a turn at an intersection.

Avoid city driving for the first couple of days, until your driver has gotten used to it. And if possible, don't drive at all on your first day. Jet lag can be as impairing as drinking.

ETA: learn what double yellow lines on the side of the street mean. BEFORE you decide to park .

Posted by
631 posts

any yellow lines at the side of the street!

and the right-left-right rule also applies to pedestrians crossing the road.

Posted by
28147 posts

and single yellow lines mean something quite different to double yellow lines. Same with zig-zags.

Posted by
6 posts

Thanks all for the responses and the links to tips for driving in England! I knew I was coming to the right place to ask.

I was hoping my sarcastic nature would come across when referring to the 'wrong side of the road' but unfortunately, text doesn't always convey tone. ;)

Most likely I will not be driving but I want to prepare in case of necessity or emergency. We have no intention of driving in London luckily but are picking up a rental car in Dover after taking a train down from the city. After seeing Dover and Cantebury, we're skirting around the east side of London to just north of the city where my father was born in Baldock. Then its up to York and meandering our back down to eventually return our car near Heathrow. We're there for two weeks. Its my first international trip outside of the US. I'm excited and nervous all at the same time.

Thanks for all the great advice.


Posted by
28147 posts

And be aware of pegasus, toucan, zebra, pelican, and puffin crossings.

Posted by
259 posts

Having driven rental cars in England many times, here are my suggestions:
1. Even if you know how to drive a manual transmission in the US, due to the gear shift being on the left hand side, I would definitely rent an automatic, even though it costs a fair amount more.
2. Due to narrow lanes and parking spaces, rent as small a sized car as will carry your passengers and luggage. Often when I rent a car at London Heathrow, the car rental agency tries to give me a larger car than I want (sometimes with an "upgrade), and I insist on the compact size I ordered.
3. Be very, very careful with narrow parking spaces. Having once "scraped" an adjacent car trying very slowly to fit into a parking space, in parking lots I now try if at all possible to park where are there are 2 adjacent empty spaces.
4. Do not speed, especially in areas with speed cameras. Speed limits are much more strictly enforced than in the US.
5. Don't underestimate travel time. What may be a reasonable day trip on interstates in the US may take longer in England. A good website for gauging driving times is (then click on Route Planner). This is the equivalent organization to AAA in the US.

Have a great time!

Posted by
631 posts

You will be using the Dartford Crossing as I warned about ("skirting around the east side of London"), it's the best link from Kent to Baldock. Paying single fees is simple but you have to know that you have to do it or you get an automatic fine, which the rental company will pass on with a handling charge. You have until midnight of the next day to pay.

you can pay by phone but the foreign use fees on some cards could be as high as the toll, £2.50 for a car. Payzone outlets are everywhere, usually convenience stores and you can pay with cash. The directory shows 9 in the immediate area of Baldock so do it when you arrive. You need the car number and make sure they enter it correctly. It will be listed under Transport as Dart Charge on their terminal.

Heading north you would normally use a tunnel, the newer bridge is normally southbound only.

Posted by
1063 posts

"And be aware of pegasus, toucan, zebra, pelican, and puffin crossings."

Nigel, I remember when they were first installed on our tiny island, they were Pelicon crossings (PE destrian LI ght CON trolled). They now seemed to have changed it to Pelican, the internet says so......It must be right. :-)

Posted by
28147 posts

the cartoon characters to show the kiddiewinks in school are much easier to create if they make it an animal. We wouldn't want them to have to get to grips with acronyms instead at their tender age, would we?