Transport – guidance

The essentials of international road haulage

Security, environmental and legal regulations for road transport businesses involved in cross-border transport

There are many laws, regulations and agreements that you must follow if you operate heavy goods vehicles overseas. The main rules cover road transport safety, security and environmental protection.

This guide explains how these rules affect your road transport business and what you need to do to make sure you follow them.

The vehicle and driver documentation you’ll need when driving abroad

If you take a UK-registered lorry, coach or bus abroad you must have the following with you:

  • current vehicle tax disc
  • vehicle registration certificate (V5C) or plating / replating certificate as appropriate – or a photocopy if the vehicle is rented or leased
  • valid insurance certificate or cover note – check that your insurance is recognised and suitable for all the countries you’ll drive through
  • valid MOT, passenger service vehicle or goods vehicle test certificate if appropriate
  • valid reduced pollution certificate (RPC) – see Emissions section below

Note: Don’t laminate or make any changes to copies or documents.

See the guides on Driver documents for international road haulage and Vehicle documents for international road haulage for more information.

For information on each country on your journey, you can search for road travel, driver, vehicle and documentation requirements on the FCO website.

You should check local regulations for other items you need to carry, eg in some countries you must carry warning triangles, reflective jackets, fire extinguishers, first aid kits and/or snow chains for use in case of roadside incidents.

You can check local regulations by contacting the British embassies of the countries through which you are driving. 

Vehicle weight limits when driving abroad

The gross train weight (GTW), also known as the maximum plated weight, is the total weight of the tractor unit plus trailer plus load. The maximum GTW for UK-registered articulated tractor/trailer or rigid vehicles is 44,000 kilograms. This covers three-axle articulated tractors and rigid vehicles with three or more axles. In both cases, the vehicles must be fitted with Euro 2 engines as a minimum standard. Vehicles registered before 1 October 1997 may have engines that can be upgraded to Euro 2 standard.

Gross plated weights

The gross plated weight is the total permitted weight of a loaded vehicle. When operating at this capacity, the drive-axle weight must be no more than 10,500 kilograms. Road-friendly suspension is required if the rear-axle weights exceed 8,500 kilograms. Trailers must have at least three axles and must be fitted with road-friendly suspension. This must have a distance of at least 8 metres between the coupling centre and the centre of the rearmost axle.

Read about complying with vehicle weight regulations on the Roadsafe website.

Buy DfT’s Safety of Loads on Vehicles: Code of Practice

Green plate

Vehicles with Euro 2 (or better) engines (either as original equipment or upgraded and re-plated) have a ‘green plate’ which is usually found in the driver’s cab or on the trailer headboard. The centre column on the green plate shows the weights that vehicles can operate at within the EU. For vehicles that are re-plated to the latest and amended regulations, the maximum EU train weight is 40,000 kilograms.

Vehicles without Euro 2 engines have earlier gross train limits - 40,000 kilograms for two-axle vehicles and 41,000 kilograms for three-axle vehicles.

Vehicle emission levels and controls

Many European towns and cities are Low Emission Zones (LEZ). This means that vehicles are not allowed in (or charged a fee) if their emissions are above a certain level.

You may need to be able to prove that your vehicle emissions meet the limits by producing a Reduced Pollution Certificate (RPC).

Find out how to register your vehicle for an RPC.

Visit the European Low Emissions Zone website to find out which areas are LEZs and what you must do to enter them.

Road consignment notes

If you want to use a provider to transport goods internationally by road, there is a standard contract you should use. This is a road consignment note - known as the CMR note - which confirms that the haulage company has received the goods and has a contract from the supplier to carry them.

On all international journeys - ie other than between the UK and the Republic of Ireland - a haulier must have a CMR note if carrying goods on a commercial basis.

Completing a CMR note

The CMR note can be filled out by the company sending the goods abroad, the haulier or by a freight forwarder, but must contain certain information.

You will need three copies of a CMR note, including one:

  • for the supplier of the goods
  • for the eventual customer
  • to accompany the goods while they are being transported

You can buy pre-printed pads of CMR notes from Road Haulage Association (RHA) and the Freight Transport Association (FTA).

For more information on how to complete and carry the CMR, see the guide on moving goods by road.

Restrictions on driving commercial vehicles in Europe

Some European Union countries limit the times and days when heavy goods vehicles can be driven on public roads. There is a wide variation in what limits apply. For advice on whether restrictions will apply to your route, you should contact your trade association or the British Embassy.

Further information

You can find detailed information for the road transport industry on the RHA website.

Read about the freight transport industry on the FTA website.

Find British Embassy contact details.