How to drive in Europe with U.S. plates?

April 30, 2019
Dilyana Dobrinova
Germany automobile use
More Americans are traveling to Europe these days than a decade ago. In 2018, nearly 18 million people from the USA have visited Europe, which makes the Old Continent the most desired overseas destination.

It seems like traveling to Europe will be more difficult in the upcoming years, though. U.S. citizens will have to request online authorization and pay a fee from 2021 onward. So, if you’ve always dreamed of visiting the Old Continent, do it now!

Traveling by car while overseas is surely the most convenient way to visit the places you want. Unlike the USA, Europe lacks the vast plains, so it will be easier for you to see more in a shorter time. Yet, more people are taking longer times off work to take a deep dive and enjoy the continent fully.

Surprisingly (or not?), some Americans choose to take their car with them. In case you are one of them, there are things you should know about driving in Europe with your U.S. plates. Here are some things to keep in mind if you decide to take your car with you.

How to import your vehicle in Europe temporarily?

The regulations for temporary vehicle import allow a person to bring their car for their personal use only. You are not allowed to lease or lend it to outside parties during your stay in the EU. Driving with a U.S. plate is not prohibited in Europe. Yet, there are time restrictions you need to comply with.

How long can you stay in Europe?

Your car can remain in the EU under the temporary admission procedure for up to 6 months. The same goes for buggies and ATVs. If you are bringing a boat, however, you can keep it there for much longer – a total of 18 months.

Keep in mind that moving the boat around could be harder, so we recommend taking your car and renting a boat on location instead. Keep in mind that you cannot leave the vehicle on the EU territory without you by its side. If you decide to go for a short trip to a country that’s not in the EU, you will have to take your vehicle with you.

If you are a student you will be luckier since students or individuals from non-EU countries conducting professional duties in Europe can use their vehicle until the end of their stay without paying any duty or taxes. This is one of the exceptions to the 6-month period.

Do you need a Driver’s Permit to legally drive in Europe?

You’ll need to acquire an International Drivers Permit to drive legally in Europe. Some people erroneously call this document an International Driving License, but this is something else.

An International Drivers Permit (IDP) is basically a translation of your existing driver’s license into different languages. It provides some basic identifying information like your photo, address, and legal name and translates your license into ten different languages. In order for it to be valid, you need to use it in conjunction with your valid United States license.

You can obtain an IDP while you are still in the USA either at American Automobile Association (AAA) offices or from the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA).

What about Customs & Fees?

If you transport your vehicle to Europe by water you may not need to fill in a customs declaration. Keep in mind, however, that even though the European Union might look a lot like the U.S.A., it is not – there are numerous countries in it. Each country, and often each port, have specific requirements for customs clearance and import of vehicles with their own fees.

One thing you will know for sure is the country you will be first traveling to, right? So one option is to call the U.S. embassy of the European country you’re taking the car to. The embassy will provide you with the current tax rates for auto imports as well as the most recent changes to the laws on that topic.

One way to avoid uncertainty about customs and fees is to rely on a logistics partner for shipping your car to Europe. When you hire the help of a reputable car shipping company, they will take responsibility for familiarizing you with all relevant policies and restrictions.

To sum it up – you can keep your vehicle and its plates without paying and tax fees while you are in the EU as long as you:

  1. use it for your own private use
  2. are not registered as an EU resident
  3. do not sell, lend or hire it within the EU
  4. export it from the EU within 6 months

What is the difference between US & EU plates?

Throughout the world, the majority of governments require license plates on the front and back of automobiles. In the United States, the number of license plates required (either one or two) varies from state to state.

Moreover, individual states also have different laws regarding out-of-state plates after the relocation. For example, Florida residents moving to Rhode Island are permitted to keep their Florida license plates, despite their place of residence, but RI citizens must surrender their plates upon leaving the state.

Something very typical for American plates is the option for customization. We very often see fun plates that tell us not only the legal information we need about the car owner but also about their personality and interests.

Unfortunately, this level of freedom is not available in the European Union. Some countries will allow car owners to pay for a customized number but it will be restricted to certain rules. You will definitely not see plates like “IHeartHans” on the German autobahns. And even though there are tons of Star Wars fans, there is probably not a single legal “DRTHVDR” plate on the European streets.

There is a standard for vehicle plates in the European Union. It starts with a blue section on the extreme left with the EU circle of stars and the country code. Then follows the area code along with random numbers and letters. Different countries have further specifics regarding the license plates of army vehicles, diplomats’ cars, or other specialized vehicles.

Fun fact: License plates were invented much earlier than cars themselves. People used them on horse carriages and made them out of pressed porcelain. It was in Europe where they were first used – in France. The first state in the U.S.A. which introduced license plates was New York.

How to ship your car to Europe?

You can start preparing your vehicle for shipping a couple of months prior to your departure date. The time it will take to ship a car will vary based on numerous factors. Hence, to make it work for you, you should allow adequate time. Keep in mind that the earlier you start talking to a logistics partner, the more likely you are to get a better price on the transport service.

International auto transport is not a complicated process but it’s not as fun as sipping wine in Italy either. Moving a car overseas can be more complicated than a simple domestic move, thus, it’s important to be well prepared before settling on a service and a company.

There are little things that you need to know in order to feel calm during the process. This is why you need a partner you can rely on. Always check the background of the auto transport company you select and the partners they work with overseas. At Corsia Logistics, we work with high safety ranked international carriers to make the process easy and secure.

Once you select your logistics partner, pay special attention to preparing the documents you need. You will need two sets of documents – one related to the information about your vehicle, and another one you will receive from the shipping company. Learn more from our auto transport guide.


Review our International Car Shipping Guide now


What type of transport to choose and at what price?

Given the fast time frame and its undeniable safety, air freight is the most expensive international shipping method. This method is suitable for high-end automobiles or vehicles that must be delivered on or by a specific date. It is usually used for race cars and cars going to auctions or exhibitions.

Most customers prefer transporting their cars via 20 or 40 feet containers. A container can be either shared or full, which also contributes to the price you will get.

The least costly method to get your car to Europe is via Roll-on-roll-off (RORO) shipping. This, however, is the riskiest method too, because it exposes your car to weather conditions while on a vessel.  This is a good method for shipping heavy machinery, RVs, and oversized vehicles.

Be aware that the type of transport is not the only factor for getting a good price. Apart from that, the cost to ship a car internationally depends on the exact pick-up and delivery locations, the countries and ports with all their custom and import requirements, the vehicle’s make, model, and condition.

What if you want to move abroad?

What if you are among the 9 million Americans who will live abroad for a period longer than a vacation? Well, first of all – congratulations! This is a brave step for you and most definitely, the beginning of a new phase in your life. If you are not going on a trip, but rather arranging your move to Europe, preparation might be a little different for you. Moving times can be very stressful and the chances of mistakes are higher.

Financial planning
When you move, you need to look at your budget and needs and how the two overlap. Companies sending employees and their families overseas usually include a relocation budget. If this is not your case, create your own moving budget, and don’t forget to include the first couple of months in the new location.

Documents security
These are the times when identity theft could occur. So keep all your documents and devices secured when you plan and conduct your moving. All the financial planning might spin your head but don’t allow this to happen. Plan slowly and carefully.

Possession allocation
You can get quotes from international moving companies if you plan to take most of your current home possessions with you. The things you don’t need? Better donate them or give them to the church or a charity organization. If you are gone for more than a year, you won’t remember half of the things you had left behind. So you’d better save up on a storage unit and make someone else happy instead.

Vehicle insurance
Since you will be traveling overseas, you need to think about insurance – not only for yourself and your family but also for your vehicle. It is always recommended to insure the vehicle for its current value. The coverage will depend on the value of your car and any other cargo you might be shipping.


For more tips on moving abroad, check our blog posts on the topic. If you have any questions or would like to request a quote, do not hesitate to get in touch with us. Thank you!




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Hello, one thing that I can not find is car insurance,…where to buy car insurance for 6 or 12 months? Off course I m talking about usa ?? car and driving a car with usa dl and license plate, …
Can u provide more info on car insuranceb, thank you.

October 14, 2020

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