Whether travelling by road, air, rail or water this section provides practical information on driving licences, motor insurance, road safety, tolls, air passenger rights, airport security and rail passenger rights.
A valid driving licence issued in an EU country is valid throughout the EU. In some countries, in addition to carrying a valid driving licence, you will need to have your vehicle registration document with you.
Remember that in most countries the minimum age for driving a car is 18. Minimum age limits for hiring a car are not fixed at EU level and generally vary between 20 and 23.
Wherever you are travelling in the EU your car insurance policy will automatically provide the minimum cover (third party liability) required by law. This also applies to Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. If you have comprehensive insurance at home, check that the cover extends to travelling in other countries.
Your insurer can give you a European accident statement form, a standard document that makes it easier to make a declaration on the spot if you have an accident in another country.
A green card is not obligatory when travelling in the EU but it serves as internationally recognised proof of insurance and it makes it easier to settle claims arising from an accident. If you do not take a green card with you, you should carry your certificate of insurance. The green card system currently covers 45 countries and is managed by an association of insurers. Their website gives further details about the green card system and its objectives.
In all EU countries seat belts must now be worn in all vehicles, including tourist coaches and minibuses. Children must also have appropriate child restraints in cars and lorries and, where possible, in other vehicles as well.
Using a mobile phone while driving greatly increases the risk of an accident and it is either explicitly or implicitly forbidden in all EU countries.
Although in the majority of EU countries the maximum permitted blood alcohol level is 0.5mg/ml, in others it varies between 0.2 mg/ml and 0.8 mg/ml and some countries do not allow any alcohol in the blood while driving. The European Commission has recommended that all countries adopt a standard authorised level not exceeding 0.5mg/ml.
Remember to drive on the left side of the road in Cyprus, Ireland, Malta and the United Kingdom and that in some countries, such as Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Portugal, you normally have to give way to traffic coming from your right. The speed limit on motorways is generally 110, 120 or 130 km/h and the limit in built-up areas is generally 50 km/h. Make sure of the exact limits and any special conditions that apply.
Further information on road safety rules in each EU country including speed limits, limits for drinking and driving, mandatory use of daytime running lights and of winter tyres, safety equipment required in cars and safety equipment for cyclists.
There are toll roads in many countries including Austria, the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and the United Kingdom. Payment of tolls in some countries (Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia) is by 'vignette' or toll label which has to be affixed to the windscreen.
Bus and coach passengers will enjoy new rights wherever they travel in the EU from 1 March 2013. All passengers will have the right to receive adequate information. Passengers travelling 250 km or more will have additional rights such as assistance, reimbursement or rerouting in case of delay and cancellation. Passengers with a disability or reduced mobility will get free assistance at terminals and on board buses or coaches.
Creating a single European market in air transport has meant lower fares and a wider choice of routes and services for passengers. The number of passengers has increased by about 35% since 2000 and so the need to provide a minimum set of rights for air passengers has become even more important.
As an air passenger you have certain rights if your flight is delayed, cancelled or if you are denied boarding. These rights apply to all scheduled and chartered flights, both domestic and international, when departing from an EU airport (or from Iceland, Norway and Switzerland). When arriving at an EU airport from a non-EU country, they apply only to flights operated by an airline licensed in the EU (or Iceland, Norway and Switzerland).
Air carriers are liable in the event of accidents or for lost, damaged or mishandled luggage. Travellers also have certain rights in relation to package holidays. Passengers with a disability or reduced mobility are now entitled to free assistance on the aircraft and in the airport so that they can travel as easily as anyone else. Give the airline at least 48 hours advance notice of your requirements.
The EU maintains a list of airlines banned from operating in the EU and using EU airports. EU rules allow travellers to compare prices of air travel. Airline companies must indicate their prices including the fare, all taxes, fees and surcharges.
If you have a complaint, first contact the airline or organiser of the package holiday. If they fail to fulfil their obligations then you should complain:
In order to ensure a high level of security throughout the EU, common rules and standards have been laid down on such things as security controls of passengers, hand luggage and checked luggage, when departing from EU airports.
Certain items may not be carried by passengers onto aircraft. There is an agreed EU list of items that are not allowed into the cabin of an aircraft and a list of items that are not allowed in checked baggage for carriage in the hold of an aircraft.
The restrictions on carrying liquids, aerosols and gels, as hand luggage, into the cabin of an aircraft remain for the time being. However, those restrictions are to be gradually lifted once they can be replaced by screening for liquid explosives. All airports must have the capacity to screen liquids, aerosols and gels by April 2013. Liquids can still be taken as hand luggage provided that they are presented separately at the security checkpoint and are packed in individual containers with a maximum capacity of 100ml which must be packed into one transparent, re-sealable plastic bag of not more than one litre capacity. Exceptions are made for medicines and baby food needed during a trip. Passengers may also carry liquids in their checked baggage for carriage in the hold of an aircraft.
Limits on the size of cabin baggage are set by the airlines so check with your airline before you travel.
The EU has over 212 000 km of railways with extensive international passenger services. There are over 6 000 km of high-speed lines in several countries with trains reaching speeds of up to 350 km/h and the network is being extended with new links in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom. Huge financial support is going into trans-European projects such as enhancing the rail links from Rotterdam to Genoa, Lyon to Hungary’s border with the Ukraine, from Stockholm to Palermo, from Dresden to Bucharest and from Warsaw to Tallinn.
International rail passenger services are becoming more competitive and this means better quality services and prices for passengers. Any licensed, certified rail company established in the EU is now able to offer international services with the right to pick up and set down passengers at any station along the international route.
Rail passengers’ rights have been reinforced and improved by EU legislation with better information and rights in the event of delay, missed connections and cancellations. Disabled passengers and those with reduced mobility are entitled to free assistance at stations and on trains. Advance notice of the need for assistance should be given. If you have a complaint about your rights, first contact the railway company or station manager. If you are not satisfied with their response, you can lodge a complaint with a National Enforcement Body. Some member states have national exemptions for domestic, regional, suburban and urban services. Call the Europe Direct freephone number 00 800 6 7 8 9 10 11 for more information.
One way to explore Europe by rail is to get an international rail pass and set off to discover the places and countries that attract you. Seven European high-speed rail operators have joined forces under the name Railteam to make travel across the European rail network by high-speed train as seamless as possible.
There are many key sea routes between EU countries offering regular, high-quality services as an alternative to, or in combination with, road, air or rail. There are also 41 000km of navigable inland waterways in 20 of the 27 EU countries. Enjoy a sea or river cruise or use the water as a practical and pleasant way of getting around.
The EU has been at the forefront of improving maritime safety and promoting high-quality standards with rules to protect passengers and crew sailing on ferries to and from European ports as well as on passenger ships sailing within the EU. Passengers travelling by sea or inland waterway will also enjoy new rights from 18 December 2012. These will include reimbursement, rerouting, compensation, and assistance if faced with cancellations or delays, and the right to receive information. Passengers with a disability or reduced mobility will also have the right to free assistance both at port terminals and on board ships. These rights apply, with some exceptions, to those travelling on passenger services either departing from or arriving in a port within the EU and on cruises where the port of embarkation is in the EU.
If you plan to use the metro, familiarise yourself with maps of European city metros.
Take advantage of the burgeoning number of self-service bike rental schemes running in cities including Paris, Brussels, Barcelona, Copenhagen, London and smaller towns and cities across Europe, some of which, such as Aalborg in Denmark, Krakow in Poland and Burgos in Spain, have been co-financed by the EU.
For biking enthusiasts the European Cyclists’ Federation is developing EuroVelo, a network of 14 long-distance cycle routes across Europe covering over 70 000km. The European Cycling Lexicon, an illustrated passport-sized booklet, contains key terms for cycling in 27 languages including all 23 official EU languages and could be very useful for anyone cycling in Europe. Contact email@example.com for a free copy. If you prefer walking, the European Ramblers’ Association has information on walking in Europe and on 12 long-distance paths extending across Europe.