I’m one of those people who has always shied away from renting a car overseas. This is, in part, due to the fact that I passed my test seven years ago, moved to London the next day and haven’t sat behind the wheel since.
On a recent trip to New Zealand, my sister and I took a road trip for a few days and she was very nervous before we pulled out of the rental garage. For one thing, they gave us an automatic to begin with and she’d only ever driven a manual. On top of that, there were rules we weren’t used to, like only being allowed to park in the direction the traffic faces.
This guide comes courtesy of the guys from PassSmart, and is designed to help you figure out what you need to know when renting a car overseas and to help you make the most of your time abroad.
If you love traveling the world and exploring new places, you’ll know how important being able to travel where you want, when you want is. Getting off the tourist trail can be a great way to make the most of your experience abroad, but you can face restrictions if you have to rely on public transport.
Renting a car gives you the flexibility to make your own plans and gives you the freedom to be able to go where you want, whenever you want. It’s not, however, as simple as handing over the cash and taking to the road. Different countries have different rules when it comes to renting a car abroad, so, wherever you are, you need to make sure you’re road-ready and have the right advice to get in the driver’s seat.
Driving in Europe
The rules regarding driving in Europe vary from county to country, but, if you’re driving on a GB or Northern Ireland licence, you will be able to drive in the European Union (EU), all European Economic Area (EEA) countries and Switzerland without extra documentation.
Many countries, however, have a different minimum legal driving age to the UK, so you should check the specific laws for the country you’re visiting. What’s more, the minimum age for renting a car may be higher for specific rental companies.
While some rental companies will allow you to rent from the age of 21, others have a minimum age of 25, and any driver under this age will need to pay a young driver surcharge.
You will need to have your photo driving license as well as the green paper counterpart part of your license with you when you go to collect your rental car and while you’re driving in Europe.
Driving outside of the EU/EEA
When you rent and drive a car outside of an EU or EEA country, you will, in most cases, need to apply for an International Driving Permit (IDP). This is a document that translates your driving license into foreign languages and is required to make sure your license can be read by authorities in a range of countries.
Although it’s not currently compulsory to have an IDP when driving in the USA, it’s a good idea to obtain one because, if you have an accident, many insurance companies will insist you present one before paying out. You may also need to show one to your rental car company, depending on who you choose to hire from.
You can apply for an IDP through the AA, the RAC or the Post Office, at a cost of £5.50. You will need to have a full GB or Northern Ireland driving license and be at least 18 years of age to obtain one.
The majority of rental companies in the US require you to be 21 years old or over to hire a car. In some cases, you will have to pay an additional charge for being a young driver. This is usually between $20 and $30 and varies between rental companies.
Driving in Africa and Asia
Africa and Asia are amazing countries to visit and explore, but they can be tricky to tackle by road. The majority of western tourists choose not to rent a car on these continents, but it is possible if you know what to look out for.
Like Europe and the USA, the minimum rental age in Africa tends to be 21, although some companies will rent to younger drivers. There are many established rental companies, like Europcar, for example, based in Africa, but there will also be a number of lesser-known companies vying for your business too. Make sure you do your research on any rental company before handing your cash over, and consider paying a bit more for peace of mind.
You should also make sure you check the safety advice for any country that you’re visiting on Gov.uk. When driving in South Africa, for example, you should avoid driving alone, in unfamiliar places at night and leaving your belongings in view.
You will also need to check safety advice before driving in Asia. The standards of driving and road maintenance in both Asia and Africa are very different to what you might be used to in the UK, so be very cautious when taking to the roads.
Generally, the minimum driving age for rental companies in Asia is 22. You will need to make sure you have both parts of your driving licence as well as an IDP to drive in both Asia and Africa.
Quick rent a car checklist:
- Read all documentation before signing or agreeing to rent a car
- Make sure you are insured to drive your rental car
- Check, make note of and photograph any damage or scratches to the car before you drive it away
- Ensure you have everything you need in the vehicle before driving it away. All drivers in France, for example, are required to carry a breathalyser by law
For more advice on driving in any country, visit Gov.uk’s driving abroad page.