Traveling abroad brings an abundance of excitement and an equal amount of preparation. We all know what sits at the top of the to-do list: book flight, reserve accommodations, pack bags, etc.
But one aspect that can easily be overlooked is how you’ll get around your destination once you are there. Renting a car overseas may prove to be the easiest and most convenient form of transportation. However, the process isn’t quite as straightforward as it is in the United States. There are a number of preparations you should take well before leaving the country.
Do Your Homework
If you’re planning on renting a car abroad, spend plenty of time researching the rates and services of different rental dealerships. This will allow you to get the best price and the proper car for your trip. Always book your car in advance of your trip. Cars are almost always more expensive when you book at the counter. Plus, you’ll avoid possible last-minute problems that can arise with exchange rates, language barriers, unfamiliar rental requirements and many other components of the car renting process.
When it comes to price, local companies may offer less expensive options, but choosing a company you’re familiar with might be easier. Hertz has more than 1,300 international airport locations in more than 150 countries and regions around the world. In addition, all Hertz international locations offer English-speaking personnel to assist customers.
Check Your License
While some countries will recognize a U.S. Driver’s License, many do not. It is best to make sure beforehand. The U.S. Department of State recommends checking with your country’s local embassy. If you are unable to drive legally with a U.S. license, you will need to obtain an international driving permit. An IDP is a valid form of identification that translates your information into 10 languages. It remains valid for one year.
If a country requires an IDP and you don’t own one, you will not be able to rent a car abroad. Fortunately, these permits are easy to get. AAA is one of only two private entities in the U.S. authorized by the U.S. Department of State to issue an IDP. Simply fill out an application at your local AAA branch office, bring a valid U.S. driver’s license and two original passport photos, and pay a $20 permit fee.
This process can also be done by mail. However, make sure to start the process early to give yourself enough time. You must receive the permit prior to leaving. An IDP can only be issued by your home country.
Learn the Rules of the Roads
Driving on the left side of the road is just one of the many possible changes you’ll have to get used to when driving in a new country. Make sure to brush up on the local driving laws long before you get behind the wheel of your car rental. (Hint: You can’t turn right on red in many foreign countries.)
When renting a car abroad, you will want to ensure your vehicle is equipped with a GPS unit that can be set to English (unless you’re fluent in the country’s native language). Don’t rely on your cellphone to guide you around town. Cellular charges can get very expensive overseas and service in remote parts of the world are unreliable.
At participating locations in Europe, the Hertz Connect device can provide you with navigation services, complimentary Wi-Fi, unlimited data, internet access, unlimited 4G hotspot across Europe, 30 minutes/day of international calling, use it inside and outside the car, and it works on up to 5 devices. The device is free to Gold Plus Rewards members whose rental spend is $250 USD or more.
You will also want to learn about any areas or roads that should be avoided, and any hazardous or dangerous road conditions. This information can be found on the U.S. Department of State’s website.
Budget for Extra Costs
When renting a car abroad, be prepared to build into your budget some room for extra costs. Check your auto insurance policy to see if you are covered while driving overseas. If you are covered, make sure that your coverage meets the country’s minimum requirements. If you are not covered, be prepared to purchase insurance from the rental company.
Remember that most European cars are manual. Cars with automatic transmission may be more expensive as foreign rental car dealerships generally have fewer in stock. (This is also another reason to reserve your car as early as possible.) Even if you have driven a manual before, keep in mind that depending on where you’re traveling, the driver seat may be on the right side of the car, in which case you’ll be shifting with your left hand. Make sure you’re comfortable with this before reserving a car.
And don’t forget about gas. Gas is often significantly more expensive in foreign countries. Research these prices beforehand so you can set an appropriate budget.
2 Thoughts on “What to Know About Renting a Car Abroad”
What Stephen said above is false in many places in Europe. While it may be true in Spain, it is not, for example, true of the neighboring country Portugal. A quick google search will tell you this. Have a look at your specific destination before you take Stephen’s advice.
The International Driving Permit is a must in most countries in Europe. Now, often the car rental agencies will not ask you to show this at the counter, even if it is required by law. But beware – if you are pulled over for any reason and do not have an IDP, you can be fined substantially, or in some countries your car may be confiscated. This actually happened to my nephew in Spain. So get the IDP.