Driving in Europe: Is an American Driver's License Valid?

Are you planning to travel by car in a European country? If so, brace yourself before driving in Europe, and in Iceland specifically with this helpful guide!

Driving in Europe

blog authorBy Samuel Hogarth shield verificationVerified Expert

    Traveling abroad is indeed an adventure; heading to a place outside of your homeland means you will discover new cultures, food, landscapes, and of course, rules. And driving abroad levels up the experience even more.

    So, besides packing ideas, vaccines, and documents, it’s time to learn a bit more about what it's like to drive in the old continent. For international readers, let’s look at driving in Europe, specifically in the Land of Fire and Ice.

    Can Tourists Drive in Iceland? Valid licenses in Europe

    The answer to this question is yes, they can, but a valid license depends on two factors: where it was issued and the driver’s age. A US license is valid for driving in Europe and Iceland, as well as those from the UK, Canada and the European Economic Area.

    However, if your license was issued anywhere else, it must meet the following requirements:

    • A license number.
    • The license holder's photograph.
    • A valid date.
    • Printed in Latin characters.

    If your license does not meet these requirements, you’ll have to obtain an international driving license to drive while in Iceland. Additionally, you must be at least 20 years old and have held your license for at least 12 months.

    The roads in the Capital Region are easy to navigate, but once you leave this area, driving can be tricky. Take your time and keep in mind that people from all over the world are sharing the roads with you. The further you venture from Reykjavík, the fewer cars you’ll run into, but it’s still vital to follow safety rules.

    Driving in Europe License

    What do I Need for Driving in Europe?

    Firstly, note that in Iceland, as is the case in most European countries, driving is done on the right-hand side of the road. If you’re familiar with this, you have nothing to worry about. If you’re used to the left-hand side, just be particularly attentive when first starting.

    Additionally, most cars in Iceland have a manual gear shift. Reykjavík Cars does offer automatic cars, like our automatic Jeep Renegade 4x4, if you’re more comfortable with this type of vehicle.

    On the other hand, it’s recommended to only hire a manual if you are experienced with manual vehicles. Some of these vehicles are particularly fun to drive, like our 4x4 Suzuki Jimny, but the fun can turn into stress if you are not comfortable changing gears.

    Finally, if you want to rent a car in Reykjavik, or anywhere else in Europe, you’ll need to bring your license, passport and a valid credit card.

    How is driving in Europe? 

    In many ways, driving in Europe is very similar to driving in America, but with differently styled roads and traffic laws. Iceland’s main highway, Route 1, is only two lanes wide for most of its length around the country.

    Be aware of this when overtaking and steady yourself to be faced with unpaved gravel roads. In many cases, these are the only option to reach the lesser-populated areas. Icelandic traffic laws only allow driving on these roads with a 4WD, so make sure you get a reliable off-road vehicle. Our customers gave us great feedback about their experiences with hiring the Subaru Forester and the Land Rover Defender, but you can always reach out to our customer service agents for any recommendations about the best model for you.

    The driving distances in Europe are also different to that of America. It’s possible to drive across or around many European nations in just a day or two, and Iceland is no exception.

    The Ring Road, which circles the country, is 1322 km (821 miles) long, so it’s a comparatively short drive from what most Americans are used to. In a scale competition of the countries of Europe versus America, everything is bigger across the pond.

    Driving in Europe Guide

    Iceland’s Road Laws and Keeping Safe 

    Here are some of the essential driving directions for Iceland’s roads:

    •  It’s mandatory to always have your headlights on when driving in Iceland, no matter the time of day or weather conditions.
    • In urban areas, the speed limit is 50 km (31 miles) per hour or 30 km (18 miles) in certain places. On rural gravel roads, the limit is 80 km (50 miles) per hour and 90 km (56 miles) on paved rural highways. So, Route 1—the ring road—will have a 90 km/h limit in most places, except through towns and across bridges.
    • There are many single-lane bridges along the Ring Road, particularly on the south coast. Approach these slowly and give way if the cars coming towards you are closer.
    • In many areas, the Ring Road passes over or around mountains, causing it to become steep and/or winding. Pay attention to signs which warn you of steep inclines or declines and road bends, and slow down.
    • Seatbelts must be worn when driving in Iceland, and the country has very strict drunk driving laws. Note that the alcohol limits you may be used to in the States are probably much higher in Iceland.

    Iceland road peculiarities

    •  Since there are around 800,000 sheep in Iceland, you’re bound to run into some that have strayed onto the road. If you do, approach slowly and the sheep will move out of the way when you come close.
    • If you want to venture into the highlands—Iceland’s interior—there are a few things you need to know. First, all of the highlands’ F roads are gravel and not regularly maintained. If you plan to visit the island's remote areas, it's important for you to know that F-roads only open from June to September and that you will be legally obliged to rent a 4x4 in Iceland to access these roads if you don't have your own 4WD vehicle. In the winter they become impassable due to snow, and this applies to other parts of the country too.
    •  While Iceland has an excellent team of plows to clear the roads, expect icy conditions from October to April. Before starting your trip, check updated information for any road closures.
    Driving in Iceland peculiarities

    The Rental Process

    When driving in Europe, and in Iceland in particular, remember that it is mandatory to have a valid license. In Europe, a full type B license is one that has been held at least 12 months. This allows you to drive passenger cars up to 3,500 kg.

    Know that most car rentals in Iceland require an original full type B driving license, and paper copy or pictures are not accepted. In addition, make sure your license contains a readable issue and expiration date, so the staff can easily check that your license is indeed valid.

    Using The Road in Europe 

    Renting a car and driving in Europe will significantly enhance your holiday; not only does it give you the freedom to explore so much more, but eliminating the need for public transport will save loads of time. For those coming from America or anywhere outside of Europe, you need only familiarize yourselves with a few things.

    Keep an eye on weather forecasts and road closures, stick to speed limits and watch out for wandering animals. Then it’s just a case of curating a jammin’ road trip playlist, fastening your seat belt, and hitting the open road.

    Reserve a rental car in Iceland instantly!

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