How to Drive in a Different Country

Welcome! You’ve landed in a new place, and they didn’t lose your luggage. Now, where to from here?

If you’ve got some experience abroad, you know getting around in a place where you don’t speak the language — or even many places you do — can be very different from home.

Sometimes you can use public transportation or take advantage of ridesharing services, but if you’re in a pinch and need to drive, there are a few things you should know. Read on to learn about how you can travel safely when driving outside the country.

Get an International Driving Permit

Your U.S. driver’s license is not necessarily valid all over the world. However, there are many countries that will allow you to drive for a short period if you have an international driver’s permit.

This document translates your U.S. license, and you’ll need it to rent a car abroad. It also comes in handy if you’re in an accident and must go through the painful procedure of filing an insurance claim. Always check your country’s embassy website to learn more about driving regulations in foreign nations before you visit.

You should also check to make sure your insurance covers you while traveling. If not, you may need to take out an extra policy. Never trust a rental company that says they will cover you — it’s always best to follow the advice you get from your embassy.

Study Driving Culture in Your Destination

Cultural biases vary when it comes to rules of the road. Not everyone drives like we do in the United States. For starters, figure out which side of the road you’ll be driving on and memorize any unfamiliar road signs for your destination.

Understand certain parts of the globe will react differently to women behind the wheel. You might even be harassed or robbed if people see you driving. Animals don’t always demand the same respect in foreign countries as they do in the U.S. In places where it’s more common to run over a small animal, swerving to avoid a squirrel or chicken could surprise someone and cause an accident.

Learn to Drive a Stick Shift

In the United States, most cars come with automatic transmissions. However, in parts of the world that import secondhand cars, it’s likely you’ll receive an older model with a stick. Make sure you can get around safely — trying to learn on the spot can get you into an accident.

Keep your Head on a Swivel

Americans are relatively safe drivers. Some places do have better on-road etiquette, but in crowded or less developed parts of the world, you can’t expect everyone to play by the rules. You might be traveling on congested dirt roads, or face frequent cross-traffic from pedestrians.

Above all else, it’s important to stay calm and focused. Pay attention to your surroundings and drive defensively. It’s not a race, and ultimately, you’ll have a better trip by choosing to be safe than you will if you gamble to reach your destination a little quicker.

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