If you are thinking about renting a car in a foreign country, take into consideration the pros and cons. It will provide you with the freedom that public transportation cannot, however, road conditions, rules of the road, and driving habits are oftentimes substantially different from those in the U.S.
Here are some facts to help you with your decision:
- Most countries drive on the left side of the street, making it more confusing when driving.
- Signs and directions may be in a foreign language.
- Current gasoline costs are three to four times higher than in the U.S.
- Most cars are a manual transmission with limited passenger space and small trunks. An automatic can add about 50% more to the cost.
- Many winding roads in the mountains or steep areas may be narrow and without guardrails.
- Certain countries may require special road permits (instead of tolls) to use their divided highways. You may be fined if you do not have one.
- Countries may have an age restriction for drivers renting cars (typically under the age of 25 or over 70). They may refuse to rent you a car, or they may charge a surcharge. Those under 21 generally are not allowed to rent a car.
- Many countries require you to honk your horn when going around a sharp curve or flash your lights if passing.
- Warning: Many countries have zero tolerance for alcohol (including minimal amounts of alcohol that can be smelled on your breath) or drug usage while driving. Criminal penalties can be severe and may result in prison sentences.
- Several countries have strict penalties on the use of a hand-held cell phone or similar device while driving. For example, in the United Kingdom, using a cell phone while driving could result in severe fines, and if an accident occurs, jail sentencing could occur.
- PEDESTRIAN WARNING: When crossing the street in foreign countries, don’t forget that oncoming traffic approaches from the opposite direction of what you are used to. Many U.S. citizens are injured abroad when crossing the street.
- If traveling with small children, be sure to bring their car seat from home.
- Several countries require an International Driving Permit in conjunction with your driver’s license. Without this, you would not be able to rent a vehicle abroad. You could also run into a problem if you get pulled over by the police. Anyone planning on driving the rental should have one.
- Be aware of hidden fees such as: returning the vehicle to a different location (you may be charged a hefty fee), mileage charges (these add up fast), late charges. Some companies charge a full-day rental fee if you are a half-hour late with the return.
- Fill the vehicle up with gas prior to returning it (if required). Rental companies may charge more than double to fill it up for you.
- Be aware that some car rental companies place a temporary charge of the value of the vehicle to the credit card you use. This will tie up your available credit on that card.
- If you have travel insurance that includes rental vehicles, be aware that most do not include liability insurance. Find out what coverage you have in foreign countries with your current insurance provider or with your credit card companies. You may or may not need to purchase insurance from the rental company. If your rental car is damaged and you do not have insurance coverage, you could end up paying thousands of dollars for repairs or for the replacement of the vehicle plus “loss of use” charges by the agency.
- Rent a vehicle that fits in with the locals. Criminals target more expensive cars and SUV’s.
- Be sure to take before and after pictures of every part of the vehicle and note any damage. Have the rental agent sign off on this. Rental companies have been known to send out bills to renters several weeks after vehicles have been returned, stating that there were damages to the vehicle.
For insightful travel ideas, check out my book:
Know Before You Go: Traveling the U.S. and Abroad