Driving or riding is a great way to explore your destination overseas. Whether your in a car, riding a motorbike or buzzing around town on a scooter, know the risks and take steps to stay safe on the roads.
Explore this page to learn about:
- road rules, etiquette and laws overseas
- international driving permits (IDPs)
- road-based crime, including carjacking
- travel insurance for driving or riding
- where to get help overseas
This page is for Australians preparing to travel overseas. If you're already overseas and need help, see what to do when things go wrong.
Local road rules, etiquette and laws
Understand that driving and riding overseas can be very different from back home. Even in countries considered quite similar to Australia.
If you do the wrong thing, you could end up in trouble. You could cause an accident, injuring yourself or others. Another driver may assault you (road rage), or authorities may arrest and jail you.
It's your responsibility to find out the local ways, and comply.
- Learn the laws. Keep left or right, who to give way to and other road rule.
- Follow the etiquette. Find out about considerate merging, lane splitting and flashing.
- Honk? Honking is polite, and expected, in some places. Especially to let pedestrians know you're there. In others, it's illegal in most non-urgent scenarios.
- Check what licence you need. International Driving Permit, Australian driver's licence or motorbike. If long term, you may need a local licence.
Learn more about staying within the law.
International driving permits
You may need an international driving permit (IDP), as well as you're Australian licence. If you drive without the correct license, you could be arrested or jailed.
An IDP is a document sanctioned by the United Nations. It lets you drive or ride a motorbike when travelling overseas. An IDP:
- works in more than 150 countries
- is printed in nine languages, so that local authorities can read it
- is valid for 12 months from the date they're issued
- includes photo ID and key personal information about the driver.
Many rental companies won’t let you hire a vehicle without a valid IDP. Some insurance policies won’t cover you for an accident if you're driving a vehicle without an authorised licence.
We strongly recommend you get a valid IDP before leaving Australia. You can apply for an IDP online (Australian Automobile Association, AAA). Or, through your state or territory motoring club.
Learn more about International Driving Permits and how to get one (Australian Automobile Association, AAA).
Road based crime
Before you go, find out what road based crimes are common in your destination. Find out if there are any particular areas or situations where the risk is higher.
- Carjacking / Robbery. Where the robber takes your vehicle or you could be forced to give up your valubles from the vehicle, this could be at gun point.
- Scams. Australians have been harassed and threatened by transport operators for returning allegedly damaged hire vehicles.
See more general advice on staying safe and avoiding danger.
Insurance for driving and riding
Don't drive a car or ride a bike without the right insurance. Get travel insurance for you, and separate insurance for the vehicle.
If you have an accident, things get very costly, very quickly. If you're injured, medical assistance overseas is expensive. If a vehicle is damaged, the cost of repairs (or the car hire excess) can cost a small fortune.
Insurance on rental cars and motorbikes
Reputable car hire companies already have comprehensive insurance on their cars. Don’t drive any car overseas unless you can confirm the car company has comprehensive insurance on it.
- Find out about the excess. Rental companies call it the 'collision excess'. This isn't like your regular car insurance back home, it's a lot more expensive. Don't be surprised if the excess is 1000s of dollars.
- Ask about excess buyout. You can usually pay the rental company more to reduce, or remove, the collision excess.
- Read the fineprint. Subtle exclusions in the policy can catch you off guard. If an exclusion doesn't suit you, or seem right, shop around. Find another rental company with a more reasonable policy.
- Check your travel insurance. Some travel insurers automatically include excess buyout cover. Others offer it as an extra. Compare and choose the best deal for you. Not just financially, compare the conditions in the fineprint.
- Stay within the law. Break the law, void your policy.
Don't skimp on insurance cover in an attempt to save money. If you have an accident without appropriate insurance, you could be up for the full cost to replace your vehicle, and any others that were involved.
Read more about car hire insurance and excess (CHOICE).
Travel insurance if you're injured in an accident
Before you go, get travel insurance. If you're injured and need medical assistance, you may want to claim on it. You need insurance whether you're driving, riding or a passenger. Otherwise, all your costs are on you.
- Medical assistance. The insurer may cover medical costs associated with a road accident. You may need to pay extra to ensure you're covered for what you're planning to do, for example riding a motorcycle. Check the fine print and ensure your covered.
- Cancellation costs. Your insurer may cover you for cancellation or other costs if you need to change your plans because of the accident.
- Exclusions. Most policies are void if you were breaking the law when the accident occured. Even if the accident isn't your fault. This is any road law like giving way, or keeping to the right, as well as serious crimes like drink driving, or doing drugs.
- Legal costs. If someone tries to sue you for the accident, you could be in trouble. Whether or not it's a legitimate claim. Some travel insurance policies may cover your legal costs. Ask your insurer.
Common insurance exclusions
- Laws. If you’re breaking local traffic laws in any way when you have the accident. Stay within the law.
- Drugs and alcohol. If you’re under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Sometimes even prescription medication is a problem.
- Listed driver. If the driver at the time isn’t listed as the driver with the car hire company. Always list all drivers.
- Conditions. If you’re breaching any conditions of the rental agreement. A common one is how many kilometres you can travel per day. Check the conditions.
- Licence. If you’re driving without the correct licence, including driving under your Australian licence if the country says you need an International Driving Permit.
Learn more about common insurance exclusions, and how to read the small print.
Where to get help overseas
If you need urgent help overseas, contact local authorities first. We publish local emergency numbers in the travel advice for each destination.
- Local authorities. If there's a road-based crime or an accident, report it to the local police. You may need the police report to support your travel insurance claim.
- Hospital. If you're injured, get local medical assistance.
- Rental company. If there are problems with your vehicle, speak to the hire company.
- Friends and family. Especially if you're not properly insured and need money.
- Travel insurer. Contact your travel insurer. Most have 24 hour contact numbers.
Also see our general advice on what to do if you're overseas and something's gone wrong.
- Know the laws and safety issues where you're driving or riding. Before you go, read the travel advice for your destination.
- Don't break the law on the roads. Read our general advice about staying within the law.
- Be careful while you're away. See our general advice about staying safe and avoiding danger.
- Make sure you're correctly covered in case you have an accident. See our general advice about travel insurance.
- We're limited how and when we can help. Before you go, read the Consular Services Charter.
- Learn more about International Driving Permits and how to get one (Australian Automobile Association, AAA).
- Read the travel insurance buying guide, and learn about car hire insurance and excess (CHOICE).
We advise all Australians to not travel overseas at this time, including on international cruises. Disruptions to cruise ship itineraries due to COVID-19 can have significant consequences for travellers. The situation is fluid and you can expect further disruptions.
Whether you're getting around town by bus, ferry or train, it's important to be prepared. Know the risks so you can take steps to reduce them and stay safe.