A Guide to Towing Abroad

Driving abroad can be daunting enough for those who have not previously attempted to navigate their way through unfamiliar road signs, a different language and roundabouts that are “the wrong way around”! When it comes to towing a caravan abroad, the anxiety levels can be taken to a whole new level.
At BCH Camping, many of our valued customers are caravanners and we regularly hear stories of towing caravans across the European mainland, with its fabulous landscapes, impressive highway infrastructures and wonderful campsites. On occasion, however, we also hear about brushes with authorities due to minor contraventions often brought about due to ignorance and lack of preparation.
To help our customers have a carefree holiday towing their caravan abroad, we’ve put together a guide to help you be more prepared than the most diligent boy scout, and to encourage you to live by the mantra “have caravan, will travel” without limitations!
Are you licensed to tow?
The first thing you need to establish, before you dust off your map of Europe, is whether your driving license is sufficient to allow you to tow abroad.
This is an occasion where it pays to be older – refreshing! If you got your full license before 1st January, 1997, you can drive a caravan or trailer abroad up to 8,250kg, a motorhome or minibus up to 7,500kg and a motorhome with trailer up to 8,250kg.
The weight that can be towed by drivers who received their full licence after 1st January 1997 is a caravan, trailer or motorhome up to 3,500kg, or a motorhome and trailer up to 4,250kg, but the trailer mustn’t exceed 750kg. These drivers need to pass a Category B+E test to tow above these limits.
Your driving license will tell you what you are able to tow so checking this must be the first thing you do before planning your towing trip abroad.
Is your towing vehicle up to the job?
can-my-car-tow-this-caravanYour towing vehicle must be adequate for towing your caravan:
  • The engine size needs to be large enough to tow the caravan and its load
  • The brakes need to be able to stop the vehicle and caravan safely
  • The total weight of the caravan and its load mustn’t exceed the towing capacity of the towing vehicle
Under European law, if your car was registered before 1st August 1998 you can use a towbar tested to BS AU 114b standard, but for cars registered after that date the towbar must meet the EU 94/20 Directive.
By law, your vehicle must provide a visual or audible warning that tells you if the caravan indicators have stopped working. Likewise, the caravan’s lighting must also be in full working order.
Know your speed limits, insurance and legal obligations
Because each country in Europe has its own speed limits you need to familiarise yourself with the limits of the countries you will be driving through.
The general speed limit for motorways in EU Member States is mostly 120 or 130 km/h. Germany does not have a general speed limit for motorways, but a recommended speed of 130 km/h. The general speed limit for rural roads in EU Member States is mostly 80 or 90 km/h and for urban roads 50 km/h. In most countries, the penalty for speeding is a high-on-the spot fine so it’s not worth the risk.
Some European countries require high-visibility waistcoats or jackets to be carried in the passenger area and used by every adult if there’s a breakdown, and you really should have relevant breakdown cover as recovery of a trailer or caravan is considerably more time consuming and therefore expensive!
In terms of documentation to appease the various European constabularies, you should carry your UK driving licence with you at all times. In EU countries you don’t need an International Driving Permit, but you do in non-EU countries.
Third party insurance is compulsory across Europe, and in many countries a green card is recommended, which proves that your insurance covers the minimum requirements for the country you’re visiting. For peace of mind it’s advisable to have full motor and touring caravan insurance as this covers a whole range of eventualities.
What equipment do you need when towing abroad?
From A-frames to bike racks, and warning triangles to first aid kits, the regulations for the required equipment vary from country to country.

  1. Towing other modes of transport
Some countries prohibit a motor vehicle towing another motor vehicle, so if you want to tow a car behind a motor caravan abroad it is advisable to use a trailer that carries all four wheels of the car off the ground, rather than using an A-frame.
As long as the height does not exceed 4 metres, bikes can be carried on the roof of your car if attached to an adequate roof-rack. Alternatively, with the exception of driving in Portugal, they can be carried on the back of your vehicle as long as they don’t cover the lights, indicators or number plates.

  1. do-I-need-a-GB-sticket-when-towing-abroadNumber plates
If you don’t have the European style number plates that contain 12 stars and GB, you need to attach GB stickers to the rear of your vehicle.

  1. Outfits exceeding 12 metres
In Spain, if your outfit exceeds 12 metres you must fit marker boards to the back of your vehicle. You have a choice of fitting either two small boards or one large board, but they must be placed between 50cm and 150cm off the ground.
The marker board must be plain yellow in the centre with a red outline, be made of aluminium, and manufactured to ECE70 standard. The boards can be purchased from most HGV suppliers.

  1. Fire extinguishers
Whilst fire extinguishers are not compulsory, it is recommended that you have one when visiting The Netherlands, Denmark, Norway and Sweden.
The following table gives a breakdown of the basic equipment required in each country:
Country First aid kit High visibility vest Warning triangle Daytime lights
Austria Yes Yes Yes No
Belgium No Yes Yes No
Croatia Yes Yes Yes (2 if towing) Yes (during winter months)
Czech Republic Yes Yes Yes Yes
Denmark Rec Rec Yes Yes
France No Yes Yes Rec
Germany No No No No
Hungary Yes Yes Yes Yes
Ireland No No No No
Italy No Yes Yes Yes
Luxembourg No Yes Yes Rec
Netherlands No No Rec No
Norway Rec Rec Yes Yes
Portugal No Rec Yes No
Slovenia Rec Yes Yes (2 if towing) Yes
Spain No Yes Yes (2 if towing) No
Sweden Rec No Rec Yes
Switzerland No No Yes Yes
We hope you enjoy your towing adventures abroad. At BCH Camping we have many caravan and towing products and accessories available to make sure you’re fully equipped with all the necessaries to make it a great holiday. If you would like any further advice, or you have any comments about our blog, please do get in touch. Happy travelling!