Understanding social and behavioural drivers and constraints of household adaptation is essential to effectively address increasing climate-induced risks. Factors shaping household adaptation are commonly treated as universal, despite an emerging understanding that adaptations are shaped by social, institutional and cultural contexts. Using original surveys in the United States, China, Indonesia and the Netherlands (N = 3,789), we explore variations in factors shaping households’ adaptations to flooding, the costliest hazard worldwide. We find that social influence, worry, climate change beliefs, self-efficacy and perceived costs exhibit universal effects on household adaptations, despite countries’ differences. Disparities occur in the effects of response efficacy, flood experience, beliefs in governmental actions, demographics and media, which we attribute to specific cultural or institutional characteristics. Climate adaptation policies can leverage the revealed similarities when extrapolating best practices across countries yet should exercise caution, as context-specific socio-behavioural drivers may discourage or even reverse household adaptation motivation.