If you plan on driving on major highways around Europe be prepared for the added cost that often comes with it. Many countries charge a toll for their use and this is either paid at a toll booth or with a vignette/sticker which you stick on your windscreen.
Toll booths are surprisingly quick to pass through, provided you aren’t driving during peak time like when the August summer holidays are on. There are a few options when it comes to which lane to choose:
- Manual – Paying the booth attendant directly is usually the slowest alternative but if you want to pay by cash or if you’re worried about using your foreign credit card this is the way to go. These lanes are usually marked with the image of a man leaning out of the toll booth.
- Self-Service – This is quicker than paying the attendant as all you need to do is insert your ticket followed by your credit card and then the boom gate will open. Not all foreign cards work with these (though most do) so if you don’t have a European card you might want to choose a different lane. For the self-service booths follow the signs with an image of a credit card or where it says cartes.
- Electronic – If you live and travel often in Europe you might want to consider purchasing a pre-paid electronic device but these are mostly for people who use the highways regularly for work. These lanes are usually marked with a ‘T’ for Telepass although it depends on the country. Do not drive through these without the device or you’ll receive a fine. There are a few highways which are electronic only but this is quite rare.
Countries which use toll booths include:
- Norway – Norway has an automatic system where you sign up online in advance and they charge your credit card each time you pass through the toll booths. If you don’t sign up you can pay at designated petrol stations within 3 days or they send you a bill at no extra charge.
- United Kingdom
Vignettes (stickers) are an easy way to pay tolls as you generally pay once for the time period you require and then you’re on your way. These can be paid at border crossings or at major petrol stations. I usually stop at the first petrol station after entering the highway to buy the vignette although it’s probably more prudent (but less convenient) to buy one before entering.
Note that Switzerland only offers a yearly vignette (which costs around €40) and by yearly I mean for one calendar year so you might want to avoid the highways in Switzerland if you’re just passing through or if it’s nearing the end of the year. Other countries offer weekly and monthly vignettes.
Countries where you need to purchase a vignette:
- Austria – 10 day, 2 month and annual
- Bulgaria – weekly, monthly and annual
- Czech Republic – weekly, monthly and annual
- Hungary – 10 day, monthly and annual
- Montenegro – Update: When travelling through Montenegro in 2012 there was no charge at the border so it’s possibly toll free now.
- Romania – weekly, monthly and annual
- Slovakia – weekly, monthly and annual
- Slovenia – weekly, monthly and annual
- Switzerland – annual
Free Highway Travel
There are some countries in Europe where you can drive on the highways for free. Yay! These include the following countries:
Bridges & Tunnels
Some bridges and tunnels require a toll to cross. Refer to the AA website for information on these tolls per country. The tunnel through Mont Blanc is particularly expensive.
I was once pulled over by the police in the Czech Republic for not having a vignette on my car which resulted in a €50 fine plus the cost of the vignette. On other occasions I have driven through countries without paying but that was mostly due to ignorance. It’s not usually worth the risk!1