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One question we often get from parents planning a family trip to Europe is what to do about car seats. Should they bring a travel car seat from home? Should they rent a car seat? Should they rely on public transportation?
There’s a lot to consider and some will depend on the ages of your kids and your detailed Europe itinerary. Read on for the important details you need to know as you make your decision!
Read more: Important info for traveling with car seats
What are car seat rules in Europe?
Like many regions, Europe maintains a unique set of standards and testing for car seats to be sold and used there. But it gets a little involved, as some countries layer their own rules on top of the minimum car seat rules set by the European Commission in ECE R129 (2013) and later augmented by UN R129. There are also still older ECE R44/04 seats around, which are subject to less stringent limits. In some cases, rules can even vary based on the specifics of your drive within a country!
Here are some basic Europe car seat rules you need to know before you start considering whether to bring your travel car seat or rent a car seat:
-Babies in newer European car seats must rear-face until 15 months. In Sweden and Norway it is a common for toddlers to rear-face until at least 3-4 years old. Older European car seats only require rear facing until as little as 22 lbs, even if a child hasn’t reached her first birthday.
-Toddlers are required to ride in a forward-facing car seat, but the specifics vary by country; many European countries allow children to use a booster seat beginning as young as 3 years old.
-Older kids must ride in a forward-facing car seat or booster seat in Europe until they are at least the following heights:
*135 cm (53″): UK, France, Spain, Netherlands, Belgium, Austraia, Portugal, Hungary, Sweden, Denmark
*150 cm (59″): Germany, Italy, Poland, Czech Republic, Switzerland
-Car seats are not usually required in taxis, but there are exceptions in places like Germany and Spain where they may be required at least for some trips.
In addition to those car seat regulations for Europe, there are a few more details you should keep in mind:
-In all cases, you have to use your car seat within the manufacturer’s specifications (for example, if a booster seat is rated for 4+ you can’t use it even if local law only requires 3+)
Car seat requirements in Europe prohibit chest clips
Newer R129 car seat specifications no longer prohibit chest clips
-Only high-back booster seats will be permitted going forward for children under 125 cm (49″) and 22 kg (48lbs)
-European car seats recently started using top tethers, so older cars may not have them (and at least one popular travel car seat requires a top tether at all times)
-Car seats can be installed with either a seatbelt or ISOFIX (compatible with LATCH), but not all cars have locking seatbelts and most don’t have LATCH in middle seats
Should you bring your car seat to Europe?
First up: your American car seat will physically work in Europe. You’ll be able to install it without issue (though you may need a seatbelt locking clip). We’ve done it for the last seven years without issue.
The bigger question is should you bring a car seat to Europe or rent one there (or rely on public transportation if staying in the big cities). There’s a lot to consider!
Under European Commission law you can only use an EU or UN certified car seat while in the region. There are no car seats that are certified world-wide, though this booster seat is pretty darn close and is certified for US, Canada and European markets.
Clear cut, right? Except that there are plenty of risks that come with renting a car seat. In Europe one big issue if you have a toddler is that rear-facing beyond 15-18 months isn’t common practice or required by EU car seat laws, even though it’s up to four times safer than forward-facing. If you rent a car seat for a 2 year old, you might be given one that only faces forward.
If you rent a car seat for a 3 year old, you could be given a booster seat! There’s no way our kids were physically developed or mature enough at 3 years old to sit in a booster seat. They’d need to stay fully upright even through jetlag-induced naps and resist the temptation to reach for a fallen toy. Even if you’re willing to look past their underdeveloped spines and hip bones, there aren’t many 3 year olds with that level of self-control.
Renting a car seat can also get extremely expensive. Even if a rental agency caps the cost at around $60 per rental, if you fly or take the train to different parts of Europe it can add up quickly.
If you’re staying in big cities like London, Paris, Barcelona or Rome you can definitely work with public transportation. However, we’ve generally found that we prefer taking a taxi or car service from far-flung airports when we’re coming off of a long flight with sleepy kids and al of our luggage. Remember that even if taxis are exempt from car seat laws (varies by country and some specific details), it’s extremely unsafe to take your child in a taxi unsecured or using an adult seatbelt before they’re big enough. If need be, book a car service that provides age-appropriate car seats for those airport rides.
There are also plenty of places like Tuscany, Switzerland and Croatia (and many, many more) that are best explored by car. What do you do if you arrive in an unfamiliar destination where you need a car and you’re told that, sorry, they ran out of all the car seats that fit your kids? That’s not a great start to any vacation!
While it’s technically illegal to use a non-EU car seat in Europe, we’ve never ever come across a family who has gotten in trouble for doing so. I suspect that local police are just happy to see families keeping their kids safe.
There’s also some discussion in various family travel groups on Facebook about potential issues with insurance if you’re in an accident and the police make note on the report that you’re illegally using an American car seat and thus breaking car seat laws in Europe. Theoretically, that could happen. But again we’ve never encountered a single family who has experienced that in reality.
Our Europe car seat solution
Everyone’s decision on the great Europe car seat debate will be different. The only non-negotiable for us has been keeping our kids safe.
We’ve visited nine European countries with kids over the last six years, with kids ranging from 3 months old to 7 years old. And we’ve brought our own American travel car seats every single time.
Was it the correct legal choice? No.
Was it the most convenient choice? Not always.
But we felt that it was the safest option for our family. We do make sure to abide by (or exceed) local laws regarding how long to keep kids in car seats at each stage, and fortunately we’ve yet to run into a problem.
Incidentally, we’ve also used those car seat seats on our flights every time. It’s the safest option for our kids and ensures that their car seats arrive undamaged (or arrive at all).
As you plan your trip to Europe, hopefully this information will help you make the choice that’s right for your family.
Read more: How to travel with car seats – all the info you need before you fly!
While European car seat laws technically require that everyone* use car seats that meet EU or UN car seat standards, your American car seat will physically work in a European car. I’ve never heard of anyone being stopped or ticketed for properly restraining their child in an American car seat.
*Everyone excludes Americans who are in Europe on official military or government orders. They are exempt from car seat laws in Europe and may legally use their US car seats.
While US car seat law technically requires that everyone use a car seat that meets America’s FMVSS 213 standards, you’d be unlikely to face scrutiny if properly restraining your child in a European car seat. That means continuing to rear face to 1 or 2 years old (depending on the state), using a forward-facing harness until at least 4 or 5 years old, and a booster seat beyond that.
However, some car seats in Europe aren’t as universally compatible as American ones. Rigid ISOFIX connectors are not common in the US, and some lower anchors are deeply recessed or have ever-so-slightly non-standard spacing that may make ISOFIX seats incompatible in some cars.
Load legs are also very uncommon in the US, while they’re a critical part of European car seat standards. They won’t work well in some rental cars, including minivans that have “stow and go” options in the floor boards. US car seats use a top tether anchor in lieu of a load leg.
If you have a European car seat that can be installed with a seatbelt and doesn’t require a load leg, you won’t have any issues.
Newer EU car seat regulations only allow the Ride Safer travel vest car seat when used along with the Delighter booster. That’s still a great, lightweight option for 3-5 year olds. You can read more about the Ride Safer travel vest here.
16 thoughts on “Should you bring your car seat to Europe?”
Hi, just stumbled upon this side when searching for airport travel with seats. I need to correct some things. I live in Europe and are member of the rearfacing society in Germany.
There are two regulations – unr129 like you said but the old ece r44/04 is still in place. Only a seat with the unr129 regulation has the mandatory 15 month rearfacing rule. Using a seat with the r44/04 regulation it’s legal to forward face a child (no matter the age) from 9 kilos. Is it safe? No, absolutely not but it’s an older regulation.
High back boosters (and the older backless boosters) start at 15 Kilo with ece regulation. Now they start at 100cm (backless boosters start at 125cm) with unr129 regulation.
Sweden (and Norway) has the same laws as the rest of Europe. But they do inform their citizens much better regarding extended rearfacing, so many people rearface until at least 3/4 years old, if not longer. And they have practiced rearfacing since the 70’s.
Depending on your seat category, your seat can face either way. 9-18 (or 0-18) kilo is the most common for turntable seats. But there are also seats that go from 9-36 kilo. There are some extended rearfacing seats up to 25 kilo but not many, and you’re right – you won’t find them in rental. Germany is an exception. They have stores like zwergperten and kindersitzprofis and Familie Bär where you can rent extended rearfacing car seats. But the stores that do rent are not many and they’re spread out across the country.
Tje lw says that children need a car seat until they’re at least 12 years old or 150cm – countries can get permission to lower the height down to 135cm and drop the age restriction. Many countries do (I really don’t know why).
If the handbook of the car allows it, you can turn off the airbag and put your child in the passenger seat.
One thing that I like about European car seats though – the crash testing from adac/öamtc. They’ll choose new seats twice a year to be independently tested and they’ll always find seats that are bad. That way you’ll have a standardized test for car seats with higher (and more real) requirements. My axkid minikid or besafe compared to the graco extend2fit we have for US travels feels made of much higher quality.
Thanks so much for your detailed comment!
I am aware of ECE R44/04, but most visitors are unlikely to encounter them now that iSize has been commonly accepted by manufacturers for several years. As it’s technically against European law to use an American car seat, I would encourage parents to abide by the more stringent R129 standards to keep their children safer and avoid unwanted attention. Thanks for clarifying the new regulation on booster seats and cushions, I’ve amended the article to reflect that.
As to the relative safety of European seats, I hope that the US updates its testing standards to include side impact as well. It’s been a discussion here for almost 20 years and nothing is in place yet! Car seats here are all independently tested to Federal standards in a set of approved laboratories before they can be sold, and additionally the relevant government agency purchases seats from retailers at random to test as well. Some car seats definitely feel sturdier than others, but at least in the US they’re all required to pass the same testing. More important than which car seat you choose is that you use your car seat correctly 100% of the time and that children are kept rear facing until at least 3-4, then kept in a harness until they are old enough to sit properly in a booster seat, and don’t transition to the adult seatbelt until they’re able to achieve a safe fit.
Thanks again for your comment!
Thank you for this information! Are there no car seats that are certified to meet both US and EU requirements? Does that mean that the only way to follow the letter of the law when travelling with a newborn would be to obtain an entirely new car seat in the respective foreign country you are travelling into?
Unfortunately with respect to US-EU that is correct. There are some countries that legally permit US seats for visitors (examples include Canada if you’re driving your car across the border and New Zealand) while other countries don’t have their own standards and always allow US seats (like Mexico and Israel). The EU does not have such an exemption.
The good news is that if you’re very concerned with following the letter of the law, traveling with a fairly young infant is the simplest in terms of renting a car seat locally. Even older R44 infant car seats will fit a rear facing child until 9kg (Group 0) or 13kg (Group 0+). Obviously availability, care/maintenance standards and expiration are all concerns when you’re renting a car seat, but if your child is under 9kg you probably won’t run into the issue of age-appropriateness.
I hope this helps, and please let me know if you have any further questions!
Thanks Melissa for the additional information.
In Italy they actually often find a reason to get some money and US car seats are one of them. More importantly, one thing everyone forgets about is that if (knock on wood) you get into an accident the insurance doesn’t have to cover you at all when you had an American car seat installed in Europe.
Thanks for stopping by. Yes, it is theoretically possible for either of those situations to occur – which is why I already addressed them both in this article. My aim is to educate parents as to the pros and cons so that they can make an informed decision.
Ages 5; 6, and 7. Going to Italy for two weeks.
Do we bring our own or rent in Italy.
I’ve read that many times car rental services run out of car seats.
What if rental car seats are dirty and filled with germs, especially now with COVID.
Thank you in advance for answering
Thanks for stopping by! I would definitely bring your own. For any of the kids who are at least 40lbs and are mature enough to sit properly for the entire ride, I’d bring a travel booster seat. If one of your kids isn’t quite ready for a booster seat, you can consider the Ride Safer Travel Vest – when used with the top tether, it passes testing as a harness (and keeps sleepy kiddos from falling over, which is a really challenge when you’re traveling far and crossing time zones).
If you need more guidance on selecting the right booster seats for travel, feel free to share your kids’ heights and weights.
Thank you so much for all of the info! My family is traveling to Iceland soon with our 2 children. Our 9 year old is at least 50 inches tall and 60 lbs. I purchased the Bubble Gum inflatable booster for her. Could we use her Graco booster instead, or should we go with the inflatable?
Also our son is 6 and is tall at 46.5 inches and 50 lbs. We have an older RideSafe vest and I’m considering using that and purchasing the RideSafe booster as well. Alternately we bought a Bubble Gum for him too, although I worry that won’t be appropriate. He falls asleep in the car sometimes but not too often. I don’t think carrying his high-back booster is an option so we’d like to go with one of the 2 above options. Any thoughts? Thank you so so much for your help!
As long as they can sit in position properly, the Bubblebum would be fine. That said, there’s nothing wrong with bringing the Graco turbo or the Ride Safer Travel Vest. The booster shouldn’t really be necessary with it, unless you want it so that he can see out the window better.
I’ll be in Germany for 20 days and thinking of buying car seats. This option will be cheaper than hiring them. At the end of the trip I will probably just leave them in Germany and donate them. What are your thoughts on this? Any reason not to buy them?
Thanks for stopping by! If it’s within your budget to buy seats in Germany and you can find options that suit your children’s sizes, there’s no reason not to. Just try to pinpoint and reserve your desired seats before you go AND download the manuals to familiarize yourself the required adjustments and installation in advance. One word of caution is that the harness limits of European seats are typically lower than in the US – it’s rare to see harnessed seats go beyond 18kg. You sometimes have to dig really deep into the specs to understand the rear facing and forward facing weight limits.
Hi there- we are a family who travels/lives in Europe usually for 5-6 months a year, and the US for the other 6. Since my LO was an infant she’s always had her own seat on planes and we used the Doona until she maxed out. The past 2 years I have lugged our Graco E2F around. Besides being large and heavy to schlep everywhere, we have been so limited with taking taxi’s/ubers because I refuse to have her ride in a car without a carseat. I’m also a big proponent of rear facing until she’s 18 (kidding, but not really). When we get to our final destination where we have a car I just install and leave her E2F in there. However, I ran in to quite a bit of issues last year taking the carseat on flights within the EU (as she was over 36 months). I was forced to check it multiple times, which makes me anxious for many reasons. So now we’re about to head back to EU and I don’t know what to do. She is almost 4, around 33-34# and 39/40″ tall. I do have a CARES harness for flights. But my question is, do I buy a lighter weight travel carseat here (in the US) and take it with us – with the potential of having it checked in? Do I buy a seat once we’re there (which could also run the risk of being checked for plane travel)? Or should I buy a Ride Safe travel vest or Way B Pico? And are either of those technically legal in EU? I am making myself sick with all of the scenarios. I hate the idea of having her forward facing, but it seems that is my only reasonable option. Any advice or insight would be much appreciated. Thank you!!!
That’s a tough situation, but at almost 4 you’ve done a GREAT job keeping her rear facing. You’ve made a great choice! At her age, forward facing is very, very, very safe. She’s quite slim, so I don’t think the Ride Safer is ideal just yet.
Personally I would get a WAYB Pico for a few reasons. First, it’s obviously incredibly easy to take with you even when you anticipate riding in a taxi. Second, if a particular airline gives you a hard time about using it you can just fold it and stick it in the overhead bin. No worries about loss or damage! Third, while it’s not legal in Europe it *is* a safe choice.
There are two similar European folding car seats now, the Urban Kanga and Maxi-Cosi Nomad. They are legal in Europe but not the US and they have lower limits than the Pico. Unfortunately they aren’t approved for aircraft use either, so I believe the Pico is the better choice.
If you don’t get the Pico, I would use CARES for flights and leave a European there. If you go this route, look CAREFULLY at the limits of each seat. Many Group 1/2/3 seats advertise a 25kg or 36kg limit, but those are for the booster modes. Lots of European seats only harness to 18kg (ISOFIX limit, and often they don’t have a seatbelt installation option) and you may feel more comfortable harnessing to 25kg. If you’ll feel comfortable switching to booster mode right at 18kg, you’ll have more options.
Best of luck, I know it’s a tricky situation!