There are some variables to consider when deciding to rent a car in a foreign country. It will provide you with 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 in your decision.
Savvy Travel Tips:
- Most countries drive on the left side of the street, making it more confusing when driving.
- Many signs and directions may be in a foreign language.
- Current gasoline costs are 3 to 4 times more 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 also 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.
- Without an International Driving Permit (required by many countries in conjunction with your driver’s license), you will not be able to rent a vehicle abroad, or you could 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 will charge a full day rental fee if you are ½ hour late in returning it), and more.
- 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.
- If you have Travel Insurance that includes rental vehicles, be aware that most do not include liability insurance. Find out what coverage you will have with your auto insurance provider and credit card companies to ensure you are covered properly. If your rental car is damaged and you do not have the necessary insurance coverage, you could end up paying thousands of dollars for repairs or replacement of the vehicle plus charges for “loss of use” 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 point out any damage (take a photo and write it down and get the rental agent’s signature). 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
and wherever books are sold