Driving In Ireland With A US License And Staying Calm

One of the most exciting and terrifying adventures for an American to do when traveling in Ireland is to drive on the opposite side of the road. Oh yes, we are just thrilled by the idea (hear the sarcasm in my voice? Good). We want to wander those ancient back roads of Ireland. We want to see the undiscovered sights and witness sheep crossing the road. Then again, those teeny, tiny roads freak us out so much that panic starts in before we’ve taken off.

Oh, and if you really want a treat, rent a manual transmission vehicle. Try shifting on the left as well as driving. The rental car agents won’t just laugh at you when you try to get into the driver’s seat on the left. Oh no. They will take the car away from you when you rip out the clutch on the way out of the parking lot. Driving in Ireland with a US license and ingrained American rules of the road can be tricky at first, so staying calm is half the battle.

Have no fear though, my brave American (and any other right-side-of-the-road drivers) friends! You CAN do this. Your brain will adjust. You just need to pace yourself, avoid major cities when you land in a fog of jet lag, and take things slow. No Speed Racer reenactments in Ireland, please. There are enough tour buses trying to run everyone off the roads as it is.

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Can you drive with US license in Ireland?

Good news for U.S., Canadian and European Union residents! You don’t need to get an international driver’s license. You can drive with a US license in Ireland and Northern Ireland, as long as it is valid while you are traveling. You must also meet the usual car rental age requirements (check rental car agency for details). The same goes for Canadian and EU citizens. So, save yourself the $15 (or so + passport photo costs) on that international license when going on a trip to Ireland. Just don’t forget your home country driver’s license.

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Rules of the Road

  1. Drive on the left
  2. The left lane is the slow lane on the highway
  3. There are roundabouts on the highways
  4. In general, you can expect roads to be labeled as such
    1. N + a number = a highway.
    2. R + a number= larger roads.
    3. L + a number =smaller roads.
    4. If there is no number, you are basically on a tractor road
  5. Your GPS is messing with you.
  6. Tour buses get the right of way. Always. If it is bigger than you, figure out how to pull over safely and just stay put until you can pass.
  7. Drive during the day; it’s dark out there!

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Driving on the Left Side of the Road

The biggest hang up most people have is driving on the left side of the road. Now, granted, I think driving in Rome during rush hour is hilarious, so take what I say with a grain of salt. I also hit a sideview mirror and almost crushed a bicyclist while trying to parallel park in Dublin our first hour in Ireland. Driving on the left, if done in a smart way, is easier than you are giving yourself credit.

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Getting your feet wet driving on the opposite side of the road

First off, don’t drive directly into the city. If you plan on spending a few days in Dublin, grab your rental car when you are ready to leave the city. You won’t need a car while in town, so save the cash and the headache. Parking fees will just add to your budget, as will those added rental days.

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If you are flying into Shannon, head out of town immediately. Shannon is a very small airport and you can get onto the major roads within minutes. Driving on the highways is the fastest and easiest way to get comfortable on the left side of the road. Get used to where your body is positioned, where your mirrors are and where that left side of the car is in relation to the lines on the road. Once you get to those smaller roads that left line will be crucial.

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Slow lanes and fast lanes

Just like in the U.S., there are passing lanes on the highway, or as I like to call them “the slow lane” and the “fast/let’s get there already” lane. This is true in Ireland as well, but just as you drive on the opposite side of the road, so too are the lanes. The left lane is the “slow” lane, while the right lane is the passing lane.

Mind the Right Road Line… and the Left

One of the hardest things to get used to is watching that right line as you drive down the smaller roads. You will meander over into the middle of the road, scared to get too close to the left side. This is all well and good if no one is coming, but when another car comes and you whip over to the left and have only a stone wall to bounce off of things to not end well for you or the wall. Know where you are on that right line at all times. Keep an eye on the left line as well, so you know how much space you have if a larger truck or tour bus comes down that tiny lane as well.

Roundabouts in Ireland

Traffic circles or Roundabouts in the middle of the road are another big stress for people. Everyone thinks they will enter them on the wrong side. Really, there is no way for you to do that. There are arrows EVERYWHERE directing you into the roundabout. Other cars are also going through that same traffic circle with you. Just follow them. Do be mindful if you are in the inner or outer lane though.

LOCAL DRIVER TIP: The left lane on a roundabout is used to go to the first and second exits on a roundabout. The right lane in a round about is for the third exit only (or any other exits after 6 o’clock).

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Your GPS will be a devil and a saint

In the States, I rarely use my in-dash GPS. “She” is generally useless and has no idea where she is going. The Google maps app on my phone is better 9 out of 10 times. However, in Ireland, my GPS gal was my best friend. Here’s why:

  1. The screen was in a better position and larger, so I could more easily follow them.
  2. I didn’t have to use up all of my data.
  3. Directions were generally more accurate, or at least the GPS knew where I should be going.
  4. My GPS took me on some very tiny roads Google never would have taken me down, which led us on a few wild adventures. We saw more of the tractor roads in Ireland than most locals probably know about in their town.

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Drive in Ireland during the Day

Nervous drivers should drive during the day as much as possible. Ireland is very dark at night. Those tiny winding roads can be intimidating. For instance, my father wanted to see the moon shining on the Cliffs of Moher. His GPS got him to what he thought was the parking lot, but he couldn’t find the visitor’s center, which is built into a mountainside.

We are all very happy he did not attempt to walk out and find the Cliffs of Moher without one of us, least he fall over the Cliffs. Goats, sheep, birds and people are walking on those roads, and even on the highway it can be very dark out in the middle of the country. If you are not a confident driver, get to your destination by sundown for all of our sakes.

More Random Ireland Driving Rules to Remember

  • A tight white dashed line means it is a two way traffic street
  • Learn what a few of the signs mean before you go
  • Traffic cameras are everywhere. If your GPS tells you one is coming up. Do not ignore it.
  • Toll roads do exist. Have small change on hand whenever possible.

Read our guide to Renting a Car in Ireland now! 

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17 thoughts on “Driving In Ireland With A US License And Staying Calm”

  1. Jenn

    The thought of driving on the opposite side of the road sounds fun and scary but I’m going to the one wrestling the keys form my husband so I can do it! Only question is, are the pedals and clutch opposite too?

  2. Joanne | Travel Visa Australia

    What a beautiful post and lovely scenic road. You make me want to visit Ireland now. Thanks for sharing this!

  3. Eric

    I’ll never forget my first time driving in Ireland. Two things come to mind. 1. How narrow some roads seem to become especially in more rural areas. 2. Having to exert mental energy to remember which side of the road to turn into. Whenever I was entering a road way say from a gas station, I had to visualize which side of the road I need to turn into before turning.

    1. Ha! I had to do the exact same thing. AND then when we got back I had to do it again to make sure I wasn’t driving on the left!

  4. Poppy

    You need to correct an error in your article. The left lane on a roundabout is used to go to the first and second exits on a roundabout. The right lane is for the third exit only (or any other exits after 6 o’clock).

  5. Kelly Moore

    Very informative! The best tips I can share for first-time drivers (which I did with young friends from work who ignored them, scared themselves silly by banging up the rental car immediately and slogged around the country by way of public transport for the rest of the week) are:
    1) If you fly into Dublin, stay for a day and do a city tour bus or taxi ride to get used to driving (or being driven) on the left side of the road. Flying into Shannon is a bit different, but as the author mentioned, you can access a motorway quickly and get accustomed to the difference.
    2) Rent an automatic transmission; this is much less expensive than it used to be. Be aware that if you head out of Shannon toward Limerick, there’s a toll road/tunnel, so be careful, and get in the correct lane based on payment method. If you’ve rented a stick and are not used to it, it’s going to be even worse at toll gates.

    Ditch the GPS. Go old school with a map, or get an idea of your route from Ireland AA Routeplanner at
    theaa.ie. Do be aware that, as mentioned above, you may have nowhere to go on your left except bouncing off a stone wall or eating a hedgerow on a narrow road. Some roads will truly be one-way, and someone will have to back up until they can find a slight, usually muddy indentation to pull off into. Take it in stride.

    Watch for sheep and shepherds, and people walking their dogs, or just walkers. Most of the locals will wear bright green safety vests.

    Do be careful when you pull out onto a main road! Orient yourself, be safe. Have your passenger/navigator remind you, or if driving alone, say it out loud! “Stay left!”, etc.

    Love, love, love the roundabouts! But when I get back to Northern Virginia, I have to remind myself to go counterclockwise.

    Good advice given on driving while it’s light, until you’re used to it.

    Be safe, and enjoy!

  6. Bryan

    Is the shift on Triumphs and Royal Enfields the same in Ireland as the US? right side one down four up?

    1. Oh goodness. I’d ask the rental car agency before you pull away. Sadly, I’m horrible at driving a manual transmission, so always have to go with an automatic, which is set up very similarly to cars in the US… except you will sit on the right and the gears will be on the left.

  7. Gondo

    No ´slow´ or ´fast´ lane on Irish motorways. Do some research before posting.

    1. Thank you for the comment and clarification. While I appreciate it, this article was written for Americans. Many US drivers think in terms of “slow” and “fast” lanes being on the right or left, meaning, which lane to pass someone on. While you may not refer to it as such, US drivers will understand this term quite easily. The article is meant to help US drivers, whether it is the correct term used in Ireland, is not as important in this instance.


        Classy reply. Nicely done.
        I, for one, appreciate everything I learned here. I will attempt driving a stick in Ireland the end of April this year. 1st time there, so wish us well.

        1. Thanks! And best of luck driving a stick shift in Ireland. I’m horrible at manual so didn’t even attempt it, but you normally save a bundle when you can get a manual verse an automatic rental. Can’t wait to hear how it goes!!!

  8. Barb

    We are traveling to Ireland in May 2020. We will be renting a car. Lately we’ve heard that US citizens now need to get an International license for Ireland. Your post above states we don’t. Can you please comment?

    1. Hi Barb, It is always best to have an International Drivers license just in case. At the time of publication, you did not need one, but requirements are always changing. An international drivers license will cost you about $15 at AAA, plus the cost of a passport photo.

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