What Everyone Should Know About Touring Mainland Europe

In this latest installment we are going to look at taxes, laws, routing and driving information that will be useful for you in Europe. This should help you avoid the pitfalls of potential fines and wasting precious time and effort on your tour route. If you haven’t checked out our previous blog (5 Tips For Helping You Tour on a Budget), it’s definitely worth a read! It is chock full of handy information on touring viability, saving on fuel costs, accommodation options and working to a budget.

The Law is not a sexy topic, but knowing it will keep you and your fellow travellers out of any potential trouble in Europe from a travel perspective. Like a good cub scout make it your thing to “always be prepared”.

European Travel Law & Advice

Obviously when you are touring in Europe you will find that there are different stipulations within the law. You do drive on the opposite side of the road and go around the roundabouts in different ways. If you have not been before it may take a while to get used to it, but you will! It’s not that difficult (that is if you are driving of course).

In certain months of the year it is law in Austria, Germany, Finland, Denmark, Sweden etc to have winter tyres on your vehicle. If you get stopped without the correct tyres you could have a problem that will undoubtedly result in a fine. This is an actual law in certain regions and countries so it is important this is done, whether you are driving yourself or hiring a splitter from someone else. If you are hiring from a third party then they should be fitting winter tyres on that vehicle. Make sure you have told them your routing so that they know to do so before you pick up the vehicle! If someone is driving you, make sure they have winter tyres. Snow chains may also be required in some countries too, you can find more specific information on this on the AA website here.

Speed limits also vary from country to country. You can do around 80mph (130kph) in some places, where in the Netherlands for example your typical “A Roads” will likely all be 50mph (80kph) which seems massively unnecessary given the very straight nature of their construction. Still, driving with a British plate will likely get you more attention from local law enforcement, even if its the dead of night! Keep an eye on your speed as they do have a ‘0 tolerance’ attitude to speeding.

Do also be careful with the weight of your vehicle as they are quite strict. If you get stopped and are found to be over-weight you will likely be fined on the spot. Most splitter vans are allowed up to 3.5t. This includes the weight of the vehicle, all passengers and your backline! You ought to know the unladen weight of the vehicle (possibly on a plate somewhere on the vehicle, or in the owners handbook), approximate weight of passengers, belongings and backline, just so you can be sure you’re not too heavy. It is possible that you may get stopped several times in one day or you may not get stopped at all, but be prepared. It is also important to consider things like drugs and alcohol especially when crossing borders. They will be quite strict on this. If you are looking even slightly suspicious (lets face it you’re “in a band”) you risk having everything in the vehicle turfed out onto the road and rummaged through. My only recommendation when facing this situation is to have all necessary documents organised and at hand including: passports, insurance certificate (inc. green card), V5, drivers licence etc. Present all of this in one pack to the officer/s, and be polite! You might be able to avoid further action if you seem well prepared. If you are fumbling around for this stuff they will quickly lose patience, and we don’t want that. Remember drivers can be tested for drugs and drink at the side of the road in most instances too. This is common sense to many I’m sure, but it doesn’t hurt to reiterate it. Especially when all you want to do is get on to the next destination, with the least amount of hassle.

European law now states that all vehicles need to have florescent jackets, extra bulbs and breathalysers (France keeps changing its mind on those though) onboard. Appropriate headlamp deflector stickers should also be fitted to the vehicle so you don’t dazzle the oncoming traffic at night. You can usually buy these things on ferries but it is much cheaper to buy elsewhere if you can prior to your journey. I recommend Ebay for this. Whilst we are talking about buying things you may as well think about buying yourself some EU plug adaptors. Please note Switzerland has a different plug to everywhere else so make sure you get them before touring, or you could find it quite difficult when you try to plug in your equipment at soundcheck. I always make a point of carrying a handful of EU adaptors and 4 way extensions for the dressing room and production office in my production case.

You need a bolt on to your vehicle insurance for driving in Europe called the “Green Card”. Make sure this is covered on your insurance or on the vehicle you are hiring. If you are hiring from a splitter company you MUST inform them of the countries that you are visiting so they know to add it to the insurance. Without it technically you have no insurance and it only takes a quick phone call to the insurer to get it. If the vehicle is not yours make sure you have your hire documents with you as well!

In Switzerland and Austria you need to pay a kind of road tax known as the ‘vignette’. It’s not exactly a tax, it’s what the car owners of that country pay instead of paying tolls for motorway usage like in England and elsewhere. This can be bought in service stations and at the border of the respective countries for around 40 Swiss Francs (approx. 37 euros) for 1 year. More info on the vignette here!

Carnet for Switzerland

You may have heard the word Carnet in conversation, this is basically thought of as a “Passport for gear” travelling through Switzerland. In theory you must have one when transporting any goods through. It can be quite costly initially to get one, but if questioned and you do not have one, it can waste a lot of time and money at the border. Its time to consider the value of the show in Switzerland and whether its worth it, as it can cost around £400-500+.

Don’t get me wrong, I have known many shows happen without one. I personally have been over a dozen times in a splitter and never been asked. The usual concern is “Do you have any merch?” If so, the Swiss want to tax your sales. It is ideal on this occasion that you have a merchandise list of all stock entering the country to hand over. It can be counted on the way in and out and taxed on any sales you have. How truthful you are with this, is up to you. I have known people have 2 areas in the van pack of merch. On under seats and near bulkhead and a few boxes at the back near the doors, which is used for the count at the border. On many occasions I have known them not bother with only a handful of merch, or tell them you are the support band and not selling merch! You win some, you lose some, it’s in the lap of the gods. It’s here I’d like to reiterate about being nice, helpful and organised, usually the less hassle you are for them, the quicker you can get on your way, but there are no guarantees.

My advice is, if you are on a bus and have a “well paid” show, get a Carnet. If you are in a splitter, it is up to you. Ideally get one, as it will cover all shows for 1 year. It might be worth the risk, or even maybe not bother doing the show if they insist on one, and you know it’s not going to be financially worth it. The choice is yours, but do beware. Checkout all about the Carnet here!

Getting Paid & European Tax

As you know depending on the size of your fee there are certain taxes within Europe which could affect a lot of things. These are things to consider before you even go out there. The worst I have found for this is Italy, but this does also apply to Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Ireland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden. If you don’t fill out an A1 form (previously E101) before you leave the UK, you could be due to pay up to 63% tax (a social security tax (33% & withholding tax 30%) on anything you earn, which obviously is a significant amount of your hard earned cash.

If you are working with American bands, the tax brackets differ, and in some instances you can actually avoid paying tax in certain countries. The Italians believe it or not are easier on the Americans than the British in this respect, and generally they will pay less tax than us. As a side note if you are working in the UK with American artists, as long as they have an American business address they don’t pay any VAT at all! For more in-depth information on the A1 form visit this site.

Cash Advice

I personally like to pick up cash when touring in Europe. Every time you use your card or have money exchanged, you are losing money. So if you are making good amounts on merch sales use this for your fuel, road tax, PD’s and other expenses within that area of currency. If sales aren’t great, pick up some cash as all/part of your fee, all it takes is good money management, you will always save/making more money, by converting less. Every time you convert from one currency to another, you lose money. A great Tour Manager will calculate expenses to get rid of all that currency without having to exchange it to another. E.g. If you have 100 Swiss Francs left in the kitty and are just about to leave Switzerland, use it to top up your tank then you won’t have to convert it, as its an expense that needs to happen anyway.

If you have an agent, and you have enough cash, think about having any remainder or the entire fee transferred to the agent, or perhaps to your tour management company if they have a Euro account. Transferring money owed to your English account electronically will save you money on transfers or exchange rates.

All it takes is good money management and a little planning and you can literally save a fortune.


Look at your routing when you get a tour (this could be from your agent) and plan as much as you can beforehand. You need to consider driving times between shows; because Europe is huge. It’s not uncommon to spend hours driving on show days, so think about where you are going to stay, how much travelling you need to do before and after a show. Not everyone is lucky enough to be on a tour bus (so you wake up in the next town), so do plan ahead and don’t be afraid of telling an agent NO if the routing provided is not feasible. Safety is very important and obviously driving a long time before a show and rushing is not beneficial for anyone. Give yourself an extra 15/20% contingency on your driving times. Consider stops, accidents etc that may have happened in front of you. It is commonplace to close the whole road in Europe if an accident does happen, so everyone will be stopped.

* Here’s a little Gem for you* Look at your routing and consider everything. For example: If you are to travel through France from Italy on your return home, this may seem like a logical route for saving on fuel/time BUT if you have already paid your “vignette tax” it would be much cheaper to go through Switzerland & Belgium, because you can easily rack up a couple of hundred euros in France from tolls alone!

Certain places in Europe are absolutely beautiful so I would recommend spending a little bit of extra time going to visit these places. Lake Komo for example when coming out of Italy is a must.   The mountains around Switzerland are breathtaking. Why not visit the GIGER Museum. It’s probably one of the nicest views I’ve seen just up the steps from there. There are some great spots for band pics.

If you are on a bus you’ve got to consider your drivers hours. Drivers of larger sized vehicles can only drive for a set amount of hours before they have to take a break. This is the law. If it is a very long run then you may have to consider a second driver. See the info below regarding the law and allowed driving time taken from the European commission transport page, it’s quite an eye opener:

  • Daily driving period shall not exceed 9 hours, with an exemption of twice a week when it can be extended to 10 hours.
  • Total weekly driving time may not exceed 56 hours and the total fortnightly driving time may not exceed 90 hours.
  • Daily rest period shall be at least 11 hours, with an exception of going down to 9 hours maximum three times a week. Daily rest can be split into 3 hours rest followed by 9 hour rest to make a total of 12 hours daily rest
  • Weekly rest is 45 continuous hours, which can be reduced every second week to 24 hours. Compensation arrangements apply for reduced weekly rest period. Weekly rest is to be taken after six days of working, except for coach drivers engaged in a single occasional service of international transport of passengers who may postpone their weekly rest period after 12 days in order to facilitate coach holidays.
  • Breaks of at least 45 minutes (separable into 15 minutes followed by 30 minutes) should be taken after 4 ½ hours at the latest.

Please do be careful when driving through Europe as there are a lot of (dare I say it) idiots on the roads. Especially in Germany: they do like to drive very, very fast. Also you will find that lorry drivers are very impatient.

People in Europe.

Every place in every country is completely different within Europe. What you find audiences can vary from one country or city to another. I’ve played with very high energy bands headlining places in Luxembourg where everybody stands still and applauds the bands. On the other hand in Germany everybody is crowd surfing and going absolutely mental. Don’t feel bad if you are a performer and the reaction is not a mosh pit or a crowd surf or whatever you generally want to happen. I’ve found that the further north you go in mainland Europe, the more reserved they become. Of course this is a bit of a generalisation, but from my own observations I find this to hold true. You might see this effect merch sales as well. Some places I’ve been to like Utrecht and some parts of the Netherlands people don’t really buy much merchandise in certain genres. You might find that one place you will sell a lot and the next place you will sell next to nothing. Don’t be offended by it it’s just how they are. What you will find in Europe is that you will get great hospitality in comparison to England. Whether you have sold 20,000 tickets or 14 tickets you will generally get very well looked after. You might find some countries where people seem a little bit rude or abrasive (not going to mention it but you probably know where). It’s just how they are, their upbringing! They generally don’t mean any offence at all. The Dutch for example are quite upfront and outspoken at times (as are others). Its just their way: don’t take anything to heart.

In Conclusion

It may seem like there is a lot to take in here for some of you, and yes I have made a point of laying a few things on a bit thick so as to really make you think about travelling in the EU. I don’t wish to put anyone off at all, touring Europe is fantastic, I just want to make sure everyone is safe and makes the most of their trip. if you have enjoyed some of the topics you have read, let me know in the comments. Equally if you have some advice to give that could add to any of the above, please feel free to comment those also, any suggestions for future posts are also welcomed.

As always for anything tour related you can get in touch with me or the Complete Tours team via our website at www.completetours.co.uk.

All the best


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