europe border crossing

Europe Border Crossing By Car: The Ultimate Preparation Guide

In this guide, I am going to explain everything you need to know about a Europe border crossing by car.

In fact, this is everything I learned whilst driving over 20,000 km around Europe in a KIA Sportage SUV.

Europe is an exciting place to enjoy a road trip. There is huge diversity in the landscapes and cultures your will encounter. Driving is an excellent way to experience it.

Read on to learn about all the documentation, preparation, and costs associated with driving across borders in Europe.

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Preparation For Driving Across Borders In Europe

Europe border crossing by car

The key to successful border crossings in Europe by car is research and preparation.

You will face a hard border crossing when entering/leaving Schengen or crossing the border between non-Schengen countries.

Read on to find out exactly what you need to when driving across borders in Europe. Something that is for sure is that you want to make sure you know what the best route is. I would suggest checking out our article explaining our view on the best route planner app out there..

Documents you need for a Europe border crossing by car

Firstly, let’s confirm all the documentation you should carry with you when driving across borders in Europe.

  • Passport
  • Driving license
  • Vehicle ownership documents
  • Proof of insurance
  • Green card (Request from insurance provider)

You may also be required to buy a vignette at the border.

This covers the cost of using toll roads and is a substitute for pay as you go toll roads.

documents europe border crossing
Passport inspections are mandatory when leaving or entering the EU

Equipment required for a European road trip with border crossings

Certain countries in Europe have rules about items you need to have inside your car in case of an emergency.

These may be checked during a Europe border crossing.

Items include

  • High visibility jackets
  • Hazard triangle
  • Breathalyzer (Required in France)
  • First aid kit
  • Headlamp deflectors

You can purchase a European Road Kit on Amazon which covers everything you need.

Whilst we were on our massive road trip around Europe we also carried a road map just in case we had a problem with our satellite navigation.

Insurance required for a European road trip

First, check with your insurance provider to establish which European countries you are insured in.

When you complete a Europe border crossing by car your insurance will be checked.

I’ve written an entire article on how to find the cheapest car insurance including European cover.

There is a section in this article about what to do if your insurance policy does not cover you for a country you plan to enter.

Green card

This is a document that proves which foreign countries your insurance policy applies in.

You need to request a green card from your insurance provider to carry with you at all times.

Buying insurance at the border

If you are entering a country that you do not have insurance for then you will be required to buy insurance at the border.

This is nothing to worry about…

After you pass through passport control you will be asked to exit your vehicle and go to an office to purchase insurance.

Once you have insurance you will present it with the rest of your documents then proceed through customs across the border.

The cost of temporary insurance ranged from around $15 in Moldova to $70 in Turkey

Cash is king

cash

As discussed above we always had to pay in cash for the temporary insurance.

Make sure you have cash with you for all border crossings!

Types of Border Crossing in Europe

Schengen Area

The first thing to understand is that in the Schengen Area you can cross borders with no restriction or hard border.

This area includes 26 European countries that allow the free unrestricted movement of people.

All of the EU countries except the UK and Ireland are in Schengen. Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are also in Schengen but not the EU.

schengen area
Schengen Area
Schengen Area Key

Borders within the EU by car

As stated above, many EU countries are in Schengen, meaning you will not cross a hard border and be engaged in border checks.

You can drive over the border with no problem at all!

However, the UK and Ireland are not and so you will cross a border entering there.

Entering or Leaving the EU by Car

Moving from EU to non-EU countries and vice versa, or entering/leaving the Schengen zone will require crossing a hard border.

eu flag europe border

Toll Roads and Vignettes in Europe

Vignettes

A vignette is essentially a type of road tax which you pay in advance to use the toll roads of the country you are entering.

Countries that require a vignette

  • Austria
  • Bulgaria
  • Czech Republic
  • Hungary
  • Romania
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Switzerland
  • Portugal

You can purchase them at the following locations

  • An office at the border
  • gas stations
  • car rental offices
  • online (sometimes)

Toll Roads

Some countries have toll roads which are pay as you go.

Usually, you can use credit or debit card but I would always carry cash as a backup.

Always check what the situation is with toll roads or vignettes when you enter a country as the fines can be steep.

Things to Remember for a Europe Border Crossing

Generally speaking, you want to make life as easy as possible for the people at the border.

It’s a good idea to have a nice tidy car and ensure you have the following documents ready

Documents

  • passports
  • ownership documents
  • Proof of insurance and green card
  • Driving license

Make sure you drive slowly and follow commands at all times.

It’s really important to smile, especially if there is a language barrier and you have no idea what each other are saying!

Vehicle searches

During almost all border crossings we were required to open the boot of our car to allow a customs officer to view the contents.

In some circumstances, they would also ask a few questions regarding the contents of our luggage and complete a quick search of our bags and vehicle.

Corruption

police europe border crossing

Unfortunately, I did encounter some corruption at certain border crossings in Europe.

It is nothing to be overly concerned about but there were some instances of officials charging us to enter or overcharging us for things like Visas and Insurance.

Sometimes we would pay in cash for something and then receive a receipt for a far lower amount.

Generally speaking, my advice is to carry small cash away from your main cash.
If you need to hand over a bit of spare cash the last thing you want to do is take out your wallet with hundreds of euros in it!

Extra Tips and Advice for a Europe Border Crossing by Car

Here are some final things to consider regarding European border crossings by car.

Fuel costs

cheap fuel europe border crossing by car

There can be drastic changes in fuel prices across borders.

Always plan around this and if you are leaving a cheap country make sure you fill up the tank with fuel before crossing the border.

New road signs

Take your time when entering a new country to familiarise yourself with the new road signs.

Speed limit changes

speed camera europe border crossing

When you cross over the border into a new country there is almost always a large sign which outlines the speed limits on each type of road.

An excellent app is Waze for driving around Europe because it has a built-in function that tells you if you are speeding.

This is very helpful if you are crossing borders and the limit is constantly changing.

Europe Border Crossing by Car Summary

The main items required for a border crossing are passports, vehicle registration documents, proof of insurance and green card.

Always take cash, it is often needed to purchase vignettes or insurance at the border in case your policy does not cover the country you are entering.

There are free border movements in Schengen but all other borders will have checks.

Smile, drive slowly and follow commands regarding vehicle searches and document presentation.

More from the Road Trip Expert

Crossing the border by car in Europe requires planning and preparation.

You should factor it in when you are planning a road trip around Europe.

Whilst planning its also great to consider road trip entertainment as well as saving money on parking.

Have you had a different experience during a European border crossing by car?

Let us know in the comments so I can add it to this article.