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I will be travelling by car in Europe with my elderly parents and in-laws, probably their one and only chance to see Europe as they get on in years. In Canada, both sets of parents have valid and necessary disabled parking permits (one is issued in Quebec and one issued in Ontario). Are they considered valid in European countries (France, Spain and Portugal) when we are travelling in our rental cars? Or do we require something like the International Driving Permit that is more acceptable abroad and, if so, how do we obtain such a permit allowing us special parking privileges? – Derek in Etobicoke, Ont.

Our southern neighbours will typically accept a disabled parking permit issued in Canada, but countries in the European Union (EU) provide residents with their own standardized version of the permit. Some EU countries honour Canadian-issued permits, and others do not.

"What's called the European Conference of Ministers of Transport passed a resolution in 1997. A number of countries signed up to that, including Canada. Canada accepts the parking permits of all European countries," says Bert Morris, former motoring policy manager for the U.K. Automobile Association. "But all European countries do not accept the parking permits of Canadians. It's up to the individual country; it's only a voluntary agreement. For example, Canada will accept the French permit, and a French person may park in disabled bays in Canada and enjoy the free parking wherever that's available, but a Canadian in France cannot. So there's a degree of unfairness in the system."

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Visitors from outside the EU may not use their parking card in France, but a Canadian-issued disabled permit will be recognized in Spain. Those planning to visit Portugal can write to the government in Lisbon to request a temporary permit. Details for these and many other worldwide destinations, along with local government contacts, are available in the FIA Guide for the Disabled Traveller (fiadisabledtravellers.com). The guide was compiled by Bert Morris for the Federation Internationale de L'Automobile (FIA), which oversees auto clubs and events worldwide.

"If you turn to the reciprocity page in the guide, although the official word is your permit won't be accepted, some countries may accept it locally," says Morris. "For example, although a British permit can be used in Canada, a Canadian permit can't be used in Britain. However, it's up to the local authorities. Where I live, in Hampshire, they say if you want to use your permit, just write to us, and they provide an address online. So again, check the local authority. Each will have it's own website, wherever you're going to be, and see if you can negotiate something."

So far, we've covered parking on the street and in public lots and parkades. Private property is another matter.

"If you're staying at a hotel, for example, speak to the receptionist and they will almost certainly accept your Canadian permit in the French hotel car park," says Morris. "But always ask locally, that's the best advice I can give. Even in Spain, because although the national government may say it's accepted, at the end of the day the local policeman wielding his parking ticket book is the one that counts. Just ask locally. I always think if you're a disabled person, everyone is always very pleased to help."

Before embarking on your trip, you may also want to contact the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) to obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP). The IDP is proof that you possess a valid driver's licence in your country of residence, and allows licensed motorists to drive in more than 150 countries without the need to complete further applications or testing. According to the Government of Canada (travel.gc.ca), an IDP is recommended for travel to Portugal and France, and strongly recommended for Spain. At $25 plus a couple of passport photos, it's inexpensive peace of mind.

Send your automotive questions to globedrive@globeandmail.com

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