I travel a lot for work and pleasure, and as an American I like to drive everywhere, even when driving is not appropriate. I present this driving guide so that you may avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made in twenty years of driving abroad. Please send any corrections or updates via the website contact form (not to my agents!).

Basically, the guide is presented alphabetically, country by country, with a few topical articles thrown in. Each country has a foreign driver rating. I also have some general tips on driving abroad.

Belgium

Foreign Driver Rating: !! not too bad but very nearly ! easy-peasy What is there to say about Belgium? The country is constantly on the verge of civil war, or more accurately voting to divide itself. But don’t let that put you off driving there. It’s an EU-standard driving...

Canada

Foreign Driver Rating: ! easy-peasy In general, Canada is like the United States, but better. That rule applies to driving as well. The roads are open; the lanes are wide; and unlike the US there are not huge potholes everywhere (I’m talking to you, New York City). There are...

Car travel bag

I suggest keeping a car travel bag packed that includes the items you need when hiring a car overseas. Some of these items may duplicate things you use in your car at home; I advise getting duplicates and keeping them in the bag because otherwise you will forget to...

Chile

Foreign Driver Rating: ! easy-peasy; except in Patagonia which is !! not too bad There wasn’t much development in Chile before the automobile, which, the point of view of drivers, is a good thing; outside of a few towns (like Valparaiso), it’s a country made for the motorcar. Chile...

Driving in rain

The main hazard from driving in rain, aside from reduced visibility, is hydroplaning. If your tire pressure is wrong (and you haven’t checked using the gauge in your car bag), you will be at higher risk of hydroplaning. If you start to hydroplane on a wet road, you will...

Driving on sand

Driving on sand is easier than you would expect, although the car will feel a bit floaty (note that I am talking about driving on sand to get from point A to point B, not dune bashing), and it requires logistical preparation. The key is you must deflate your...

Foreign driver rating

Here’s the rating scheme. Simple, right? ! easy-peasy. A country made for the automobile !! not too bad. There may be some pre-car roads or bad urban planning to contend with !!! clearly you enjoy a driving challenge. Use a road obstruction canary to avoid trouble !!!! this rating...

France

Foreign Driver Rating: !! not too bad; nearly ! easy-peasy In general, France is driver-friendly: well-maintained roads, generally polite drivers, good signage, and – thanks to a change in the law – even the roundabouts work the same way as everywhere else (yield to traffic in the roundabout). The...

General tips on overseas driving

A few lessons I have learned over the years, mostly the hard way: In developing countries take a tire pressure gauge. The car rental agencies cannot be relied upon to fill the tires properly, and hydroplaning on a mountain road is no fun. Usually a quick Google is all...

Greece

Foreign Driver Rating: !! not too bad; except Athens which is !!! clearly you enjoy a driving challenge Most of Greece has come up to EU standards, as far as driving is concerned, with good signs and roads and vehicles. The exception is Athens, where a combination of aggressive...

Insurance coverage when renting a car overseas

So, what about insurance when driving a car in a foreign country? <begin disclaimer> I have noticed that most travel sites will admit that car rental agencies are ripping you off on insurance fees, but tell you to buy the insurance anyway. My advice is a little different —...

International Driver’s License

As a rule of thumb, you need an international driver’s license when you are driving in countries that use a non-Latin alphabet – for instance countries that use Chinese characters, or Cyrillic, or Arabic script. But there are exceptions; in Dubai, for instance, you don’t need one. A quick...

Italy

Foreign Driver Rating: !! not too bad Italy has a bad reputation for driving, which is only partly deserved. Italian drivers are almost comically aggressive – they will come up behind you and tailgate while flashing their lights just in case you didn’t notice them. Inevitably, there is one...

Japan

Foreign Driver Rating: !! not too bad (although of course they drive on the wrong side) Unless you are doing some serious countryside touring, there is not much reason to rent a car in Japan. Public transportation is excellent, even in small towns. The tolls on Japanese expressways are...

Jordan

Foreign Driver Rating: !!! clearly you enjoy a driving challenge There is no single factor that makes Jordan a driving challenge, but it’s not quite mellow enough for a “!! not too bad” rating. The road quality is acceptable, although there are some poorly-maintained sections. In the suburbs of...

Malaysia

Malaysia, rich and developed as it is today, was mostly jungle until the 20th century, aside from a couple colonial towns on the coasts. That means: aside from those colonial towns (Georgetown and Penang), Malaysia is made for the automobile. The capital, Kuala Lumpur, a tiny mining settlement until...

Mexico

Foreign Driver Rating: !!! clearly you enjoy a driving challenge; sometimes bordering on !!!! this rating exists only to frighten people Driving in Mexico is surprisingly challenging. A main source of the challenge is the topes, speed bumps, which are often unsigned and so enormous they double as launch...

Navigating while driving overseas

At one time, it was really hard to drive in any foreign country unless you were a genius with both memorizing maps and reading foreign alphabets. Google Maps has changed all that, with turn-by-turn directions and live traffic everywhere from Bangkok to Mumbai. Plus there is the entertainment value...

Netherlands

Foreign Driver Rating: !! not too bad; nearly ! easy-peasy Roads in the Netherlands are everything an EU-standard roadway was meant to be. The lanes are perhaps a little narrow, but the roads are clean, well-signed, and well-maintained. Also usually straight and flat, backed by clever urban planning. How...

Oman

Foreign Driver Rating: !! not too bad Oman is really a driving paradise. The condition of the roads is generally excellent. If you enjoy driving off-road, Oman has some famous off-road driving trails, mostly in the mountains. One can also take a trip through the desert and do some...

Poland

Foreign Driver Rating: !! not too bad I have a soft spot for Poland, as it was the first foreign country I tried driving in, after the US and UK. Poland has come rapidly up to the EU standard, even the poorer parts of the country, and most of...

Poor urban planning

Many countries that got rich in the postwar era (from Italy to Thailand to Chile) developed extremely rapidly. In many cases economic development ran ahead of good governance. In those places, you get poor urban planning: pavements that suddenly end, ejecting pedestrians into the street to mingle with traffic;...

Pre-car roads

Outside the Americas, much of the world urbanized before the automobile was popular, and hence roads are not really car-friendly. This causes a couple of problems. First, if you are coming from the US, you will generally expect the speed limit to be correlated with the condition of the...

Road obstruction canary

There are many countries where the streets are full of car-destroying obstacles such as stray dogs, roads that end randomly, unsigned giant speed bumps (often built up by friendly locals hoping to sell you things as you slow down), or construction workers wandering in the road with no barriers....

Spain

Foreign Driver Rating: !! not too bad Warning! As in many European countries, when you drive in Spain, it is illegal to talk on a cell phone with a hands-free headset. Speakerphone is the only legal option, as the two Spanish motorcycle cops who pulled me over in a...

Thailand

Foreign Driver Rating: !!! clearly you enjoy a driving challenge; also drives on the wrong side Thailand has a reputation as a difficult place to drive. That reputation is overstated. In general, the road conditions are good (aside from in the impoverished east of the country) and people generally...

Third world vehicles

In general, there isn’t a Third World anymore, now that mobile phones and Chinese investment are catapulting countries from everywhere into a higher stage of development. Want to see the world’s most modern airport? Visit Doha. Want to see a Third World airport? There aren’t many left. Well, maybe...

United Arab Emirates/Dubai

Foreign Driver Rating: !! not too bad The Emirates is, in general, a great place to drive, and it has the traffic (and high car rental fees) to prove it. Roads are usually wide and well-maintained, although watch out for speed cameras on the expressways, which are unsigned and...

United Kingdom

Foreign Driver Rating: !! not too bad but they drive on the wrong side If it’s your first time driving on the wrong side, the UK is a good place to try it (although Australia is probably even easier). The maintenance condition of the roads is generally excellent, hazards...

United States

Foreign Driver Rating: ! easy-peasy The United States was built for the automobile: expressways run through the middle of every major city; the lanes are wide enough for your Ford Excessive sport-utility vehicle; and the cities have car-friendly grid layouts (except Boston). That said there are a few annoyances....

Uruguay

Foreign Driver Rating: !! not too bad Uruguay is basically Argentina but well-governed. Instead of Argentine-style mass executions of leftists, Uruguay let the leftists win elections and form a government, where they turned out to be not as bad as everyone feared and mostly interested in things like infrastructure...

Wrong-side driving

It takes a little while to get used to driving on the opposite side of the road. For the first day or two, it will feel odd, but most people do not have much trouble adapting. In most cases, you just have to follow what traffic is doing. Places...