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Balkans Road Trip: A driving guide
Balkans Road Trip: A driving guide

So, you’re planning to drive from the UK to the Balkans as part of your Balkans road trip. It’s a long way to drive and you’ll be driving through several different countries. Obviously, you need to be fully prepared. Most of the Balkans are in the EU so start by reading this article on driving in Europe.

Driving in Europe

Information specific to the Balkans

Although most of the regulations for driving are the same across Europe, you will find small differences from country to country. You should also be aware that this itinerary drives into Montenegro which is not in the EU and so different rules apply.

Balkans road trip. Make sure you have adequate insurance.
Balkans road trip.
Make sure you have adequate insurance.

What do I need to know about driving on the Balkans itinerary?

There are a few essential things you need to know about driving in Europe. It is important to realise that although a lot of the regulations are the same as in the UK you can’t rely on that always being the case. Although the road signs will look familiar and so might the roads if you fall foul of a country’s traffic laws being a tourist is no excuse. With this in mind, I’m going to cover the basics for the countries you’ll be driving through on the Balkans itinerary. For ease of use, I’ve divided it into 3 sections.

Balkans Road Trip. Know the local driving laws before you go.
Balkans Road Trip.
Know the local driving laws before you go.

Driving in France, Germany and Austria

For the first part of your Balkan itinerary, you’ll be driving through France, Germany and Austria. Consequently, you should familiarise yourself with the general rules of the road for any country that you’re going to drive through. You should also check for any compulsory equipment that you may not be used to.

In addition, there are some things which are country specific. Here are a few things that are useful to know for this part of the trip.

Driving in France

When you drive across Europe you drive on the right. There will be signs at the ferry terminal to remind you and you’ll soon get used to it. Another key point to remember is that the speed limits are in km/hour, not miles/hour. Note that speed limits are reduced if it is raining.

Speed limits are as follows:

  • Built up areas 50 km/ph
  • Outside built up areas 80 km/ph
  • Urban motorways and dual carriageways 110 km/ph
  • Motorways 130 km/ph (A minimum of 40 km /ph)

If it is raining or if you have held your driving licence for less than 3 years then these lower limits apply:

  • Outside built up areas 70 km/ph
  • Urban motorways and dual carriage ways 100 km/ph
  • Motorways 110 km/ph

Extra things to know about driving in France

You must carry a portable breathalyser with you although there are technically no penalties if you don’t. You are recommended to use your headlights at all times but it is not compulsory. Also, children under the age of 10 should be in an approved car seat.

You must carry a warning triangle. Also, you must carry at least one high vis jacket in the passenger area of your car and put it on before you get out of the vehicle if you breakdown or have any form of an emergency situation. You must not use any form of headphones when driving.

Watch out for the occasional ‘Priorite en droite’ since this is different to the UK. They have mainly been phased out but you will still see them. To explain, anyone entering the carriageway from the right has priority over traffic on your road. It can take some getting used to.

Do you need an emissions sticker?

Now that pollution restrictions are in place in France, if you plan on driving into any French cities you should check if you need an emissions sticker for your car. They are not expensive and if there is any chance you will enter one of the places covered you should get one. Buy it from the official website by clicking on this link. They post them to the UK. We have one and it came very quickly but don’t leave it too late to apply.

Download a full guide to driving in France from the AA website.

Driving in Germany

Likewise, you drive on the right in Germany. You are recommended to use your dipped headlights at all times and it is compulsory in any low visibility situation such as fog, snow or rain.

Speed limits in German are as follows:

  • Built up areas 50 km/ph
  • Outside built up areas 100 km/ph
  • Dual carriageways 130 km/ph (recommended max)
  • Motorways 130 km/ph (recommended max)

You will notice that the speed limits on dual carriageways and motorways are recommended maximums but not an actual limit. So, yes it is true that you can drive as fast as you like on the Autobahn. From time to time, you will see stretches of these roads with a maximum sign though.

Germany also has a low emissions sticker which allows you to enter certain cities and other designated areas. So, you should apply for one before you go. Click here to go to the official website to purchase one.

For full details on driving requirements in Germany download this handy guide from the AA.

Driving in Austria

Similarly, in Austria, you drive on the right. You must use dipped headlights in poor visibility. Carry a warning triangle and a first-aid kit (in a strong dust-proof box).

You must carry a high vis jacket and moreover put it on if you exit the vehicle in an emergency or if you break down. Notably, you must wear it if you are putting out the warning triangle for any reason. Passengers do not have to wear one but it is recommended.

Buy a vignette to drive on the motorway in Austria

To drive on the Austrian motorway you must purchase and display a vignette. Buy them at petrol stations, motorway services etc near the border. You can buy them for various periods, for example, one year, one month or 10 days. Fines are steep and vignettes are monitored electronically so it makes sense to purchase one in good time as you approach Austria.

Speed limits in Austria are as follows:

  • Built up areas 50 km/ph
  • Outside built up areas 100 km/ph
  • Dual carriageways 130 km/ph
  • Motorways 130 km/ph

Download the complete guide to driving in Austria from the AA website.

Balkans Road Trip. Enjoy life on the open road.
Balkans Road Trip.
Enjoy life on the open road.

Driving in Slovenia and Croatia

Slovenia and Croatia are both EU countries so you can expect similar rules and regulations to the UK and other European countries. However, there are some local differences.

Slovenia

You must use dipped headlights at all times even during daylight. You must have high vis jackets for each person travelling in the car. Furthermore, anyone who exits the vehicle after a breakdown or accident must wear one. You must carry a warning triangle or two if you are towing a trailer.

You must purchase and display a vignette if you are driving on the motorway. Buy these at motorway service stations or petrol stations near the border. You can purchase a vignette which is valid for 7 days, 1 month or 1 year.

Speed limits in Slovenia are as follows:

  • Built up areas 50 km/ph
  • Outside built up areas 90 km/ph
  • Dual carriageways 110 km/ph
  • Motorways 130 km/ph

Visit the AA website and download their comprehensive guide to driving in Slovenia.

Croatia

Since Croatia joined the EU in 2013 it is much easier to drive there in a UK registered car. However, the AA recommends that you obtain a green card if travelling to Croatia and you need to be aware of the special circumstances created by the Neum corridor.

Navigating the Neum corridor

A note on the Neum corridor. When the Balkans were divided up into separate countries Bosnia was allocated a strip of land to the sea. This dissects Croatia into two so that if you are driving south from Northern Croatia to Dubrovnik you must cross a small strip of Bosnia.

In itself, this is not a problem. It’s not very long at only 9km and it’s a good road. The main issue is one of insurance. Before Croatia joined the EU the general advice was to just take a chance and drive through. You wouldn’t have any insurance but what could go wrong in 9km of main road? However, since Croatia joined the EU there are more checks at the border here and it isn’t possible to just take that chance anymore.

It’s easiest to avoid it

Your options are few. They don’t sell insurance at the Neum border. You can drive a long way out of your way and buy insurance at another Croatian/Bosnian border. That’s not very practical. You can try to get your insurance company to sell you an add-on for Bosnia. This is a huge problem. I couldn’t find anyone who would do it. Or you can avoid the Neum corridor completely by taking the ferry to the Peljisac Peninuslar instead. This is what we ended up doing. Actually, it was a great bonus as the peninsula is beautiful and well worth a visit.

There’s a long list of compulsory equipment to carry in Croatia. Spare bulbs, first-aid kit, warning triangle, reflective jacket for all passengers. Additionally, in winter you must carry snow chains, a shovel and fit winter tyres.

Speed limits in Croatia are as follows:

  • Built up areas 50 km/ph
  • Outside built up areas 90 km/ph (80 km/ph for drivers under 24)
  • Expressways 110 km/ph (100 km/ph for drivers under 24)
  • Motorways 130 km/ph (120 km/ph for drivers under 24)

You can download a free guide to driving in Croatia from the AA at this link.

Montenegro

Montenegro is not in the EU so your normal UK car insurance won’t cover you here. Fortunately, however, you can easily buy third-party cover at the border. When you drive from Croatia into Montenegro you will first pass through passport control out of Croatia. Then you’ll go through passport control into Montenegro. At this point, they will ask for your car insurance. I couldn’t get anyone to sell me this before we left the UK so we just told the border official that we wanted to buy insurance.

He told us where to park and pointed to an office to buy the insurance. Our passports were retained, presumably to stop us making a dash into Montenegro. Inside the office, we paid our money and were given an insurance certificate. We showed this to the border official and our passports were returned. We were in. You should note that you won’t have comprehensive cover in Montenegro so if you do damage your own car you are not covered. However, at least you are on the road legally.

Speed limits in Montenegro are as follows:

  • Built up areas 50 km/ph
  • Outside built up areas 80 km/ph
  • Fast roads 100 km/ph

You must use dipped headlights at all times. You should carry spare bulbs, a warning triangle and a first aid kit. In addition, you should carry a reflective jacket in the passenger compartment of the car.

Download the full guide to driving in Montenegro from the AA website.

Follow these tips and you are all set to drive safely in the Balkan countries. Now, check out all our other articles on putting together a Balkans road trip.