International road trip tips: 7 things to know before renting a car abroad

What’s better than cruising down the road, windows open, listening to your favorite playlist? Doing all that… on vacation. Whether you’re traveling from Italy to Switzerland, through the Irish countryside, or across Australia; renting a car can make your international trip that much better.

And with this year’s record-high predictions for summer travel, renting a car might just be the best way to get from point A to B. Plus, renting a car lets you go off the beaten path and explore exactly when and where you want. But, with rules that vary by country, there are a few things to know before you go. Drive confidently with our tips for renting a car around the world.

Find a rental car

Do your research

You’ve chosen your destination, maybe you’ve even booked your flights and hotel. Now it’s time to decide if you want your own wheels to explore and if it’s even possible to rent a car where you’re headed. Lucky for you, in most places, it is possible to rent a car. But some rules and regulations regarding eligibility may vary. Factors such as age, license type and which rental car company you choose may impact your eligibility. Make sure you have your bases covered before you book by looking into the requirements for driving legally in the country you’re headed to. The US Department of State offers a guide to get you started.

Get licensed

 

Check the license and insurance requirements for driving abroad. Depending on the country, it might be acceptable to drive with your U.S. license or you may require an International Driving Permit (IDP). Applying for an IDP costs $20 and works in conjunction with your valid driver’s license (it’s not enough on its own) in more than 150 countries. Keep in mind, an IDP may not be necessary for some countries so checking a country’s requirements early is always a good idea. For example, in many European countries, a valid U.S. license will be enough for you to hit the road.

Get insured

Most car rental contracts include insurance, but sometimes it can get pricey. We recommend getting insurance when renting a car internationally. However, before signing anything check with your current car insurance to see if you’re already covered abroad. If you plan on using a credit card to rent a car, check with your credit card policy to see if your card offers insurance.

You’ll need your car insurance to cover the minimum requirements of your destination country, and it’s best to get insurance that’s equal to what you have at home. Remember, even if your existing car insurance offers international coverage, it may not be as extensive. You’ll want to ensure that whichever insurance you go with includes liability insurance. Lastly, if you’re traveling to more than one country make sure that the insurance you have covers you in all of the countries you plan to visit.

Look at all your options

Be savvy and explore your options to find the best deal. When you search for cars on KAYAK, we show you all of your options in one place and allow you to filter by the things that are important to you. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

  • Book the car in advance, rates might be cheaper. And if you’re traveling during the peak season, options might be limited.
  • Look into bundles, it might be cheaper to rent a car when booking flights and a hotel at the same time.
  • Book and pay before the trip, it’s easier. Use our Payment Type filter to show all of the options that allow you to pay now.
  • Book from a reputable agency. Check out the agency’s rating in our search results – this lets you know if other travelers found it to be a good – and trustworthy – experience.
  • Know what you’re paying for. Sometimes rental car companies will tack on charges for a variety of different things. Make sure you know exactly what’s included in the cost.
  • Make sure you get a car that can fit everyone you’re traveling with. Use our Capacity filter when you search to filter your results by the number of passengers.
  • Don’t assume automatic will be, well, automatic. Manual transmission is the preference across Europe, so if you’re not used to shifting gears, use our Car Options filter to show only cars with automatic transmission.

Drive safe

Before hitting the open road, check a few things out first.

  • Fuel up. Make sure you are leaving with a full tank, so you are not charged for refilling. (Also remember to return it with a full tank as the refueling charge can be pricey.)
  • Check under the hood. Make sure that the oil and windshield wiper fluids are at the right level, so you don’t have to fill either up mid-road trip.
  • Check the tires. Make sure all four have appropriate pressure.
  • Look for damage. Make sure there isn’t any damage from previous renters that haven’t been noted so you’re not liable.
  • Get your paperwork in order. Make sure you have a copy of the registration and know where it’s located, in case you’re stopped by the police.
  • Know how to call for help. Keep a list of emergency contact numbers handy, specific to the country you’re visiting.
  • Buckle up, even if it isn’t the law.

Follow the rules

Before embarking on your foreign journey, make sure you know the rules of the road. Knowing the basics, like which side of the road to drive on, speed limits and how to interpret basic road signs, especially if they’re in a language you don’t speak.

Ask about any country-specific rules of the road you should be aware of when you pick up your car, whether these are laws or just local tips. Drivers can get a copy of the foreign driving laws specific to each country before the trip from the embassy or consulates, foreign government tourism offices or the rental company.

Getting around

Knowing where you’re going is very important. While using your smartphone or a GPS for directions can be easy, take a paper map along for the ride, just in case your phone dies or there isn’t service.

Ready for that international road trip? KAYAK can help you find the perfect ride so you can hit the road confidently wherever you travel.

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