What Your Travelers Should Know About Renting and Driving a Car in Another Country

Published on Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Road trip insurance is a key part of driving vacationsThis post was written by world traveler and member of the Society of American Travel Writers, Diana Lambdin Meyer. You can read from Diana on the RoamRight Travel Insurance Blog.

Renting and driving a car in another country can be a scary experience no matter how experienced the traveler. The first time my husband and I traveled in Spain, we rented a car in Sevilla and drove to the village of Nerja on the Mediterranean, an area known as the Costa del Sol, or Coast of the Sun. It’s where I celebrated a significant birthday and life was good.

Until we were just a few miles from the Sevilla airport for our return flight home. Road construction forced four lanes of traffic into two via an army of orange barrels and cones. As we slowly merged into another lane, we clipped the side view mirror on an orange barrel, snapping it off and shattering the driver’s window.

It’s an accident that could have happened anywhere, but it happened to us in a country whose language we barely spoke.

We had no idea what the ramifications would be as we turned in our rental car, but fortunately, we had the right coverage, the damage was covered and with a minimal amount of paper work, we caught our flight home.

Since then, we’ve rented everything from motor scooters to motor homes on three continents and have occasionally had some trouble in terms of navigating our way to where we wanted to be, reading unfamiliar road signs in a language we don’t speak, and of course, a scrape or dent here and there.

But each time, we learned a lesson or two that made our experience the next time just a little less daunting.

Lessons on Renting a Vehicle in Another Country

The most important thing is to help your travelers make sure their travel insurance covers liability and damage to the vehicle. Many drivers assume their personal auto insurance at home will cover everything abroad, but that’s not always the case. Some credit cards also offer auto insurance if the car was reserved using that card, but again there are many limitations with those as well. When it comes to auto insurance in another country, it’s always better to have more than less.

Most North American rental agencies have offices in major cities around the world and employees who speak English.

If your travelers don’t have a favored rental car company, check out the new app or buyer’s guide by Consumer Affairs that highlights the top ten rental agencies in the world, including CarHire UK and EuropCar with 10,000 locations in 150 countries. Consumer reviews will answer a lot of questions about dealing with the company in case of an accident or reveal a few tips about getting around in certain countries.

Before the trip, you should encourage your travelers to go online to check out rules of the road in the country or countries they’ll be visiting. Although many road signs are designed for international understanding, I can assure you that oddities will appear and may indeed be very important.

The most important thing is to help your travelers make sure their travel insurance covers liability and damage to the vehicle.

A U.S. driver’s license is all that it needed when renting a car in Mexico or Canada. However, many countries and rental agencies require an international driver’s license. The only places that offer these in the U.S. are AAA offices. I have one, which I paid $15 for, but have never been required to show it when renting a car. A passport is all that has been required, in my experience. However, in case of accidents or fines, an international driver’s license might make a huge difference, especially since it translates the vital information in a variety of languages.

If your clients are considering renting a motor scooter, like we did on the Greek island of Argostoli, many countries will require a motorcycle license. I didn’t have one, but was able to demonstrate my ability to handle one for a few hours anyway. Others in our group were not so lucky.

Financial Considerations When Renting a Car

Naturally, work with your travelers to reserve cars before leaving home. It’s cheaper, they can customize the kind of car they get and it makes life in general a lot easier.

Unlike the United States, sixteen year old drivers are not the norm for much of the world. In places like Switzerland, you must be at least 20 years old to rent a car and if you are not yet 25 years old, plan to pay a higher rate. Travelers should be aware of these age restrictions if there are younger family members in the group.

When helping your clients budgeting for an international road trip, remind them that toll roads are common throughout Europe and usually much more expensive than in North America. On an eight day journey through Belgium and France, my sister and I spent more on toll roads than we did on the actual cost of the car.

Fuel, either diesel or gasoline, can also cost up to four times more than in North America. And emphasize the importance of triple checking what type of gas the vehicle takes before heading out on the road. A friend of ours ruined the engine of a rental car in Iceland by putting gasoline in a diesel engine.

Thankfully, they had good travel insurance that covered such a mistake.

Are you ready to help protect your clients on their road trips? Become a RoamRight partner to offer travel insurance to them.

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