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Top Tips for Renting a Car Abroad

Hiring a car abroad can be a hassle to say the least. It should be an easy process, but different insurance policies and conditions of hire makes it difficult and highly time-consuming. The Automobile Association (AA) indicate that anyone thinking of hiring a car whilst abroad should plan ahead.

If you arrange the rental of a car weeks, if not months, before flying abroad, you can easily compare suppliers, work out the costs including fixed and extras. By doing this, not only can you save yourself hundreds of pounds’ worth of money, it will give you the peace of mind that transport will be available to you when you arrive. Money Saving Expert claims that if you book early enough, you can hire a holiday car abroad for as little as £4 per day.

There are many stipulations when hiring a car, which tend to vary from company to company. It is important to read them all through thoroughly, and compare them carefully to ensure you pick the right car rental service. Some tend to have mileage constraints per day, and others may have strict age restrictions, such as a 21 or 25 years’ minimum age, or a maximum age limit. 


Photo credit: create jobs 51/Shutterstock



The price you are quoted by your car hire firm will generally include any compulsory insurance, although different insurance companies provide different cover. The vast majority provide the most basic insurance to ensure that you pay out for extras, and some are more extensive and offer comprehensive damage cover without an excess. Take care and check what is covered in your insurance as some do not cover problems with tyres, rims, the underbody of the car or stone chips, leaving you liable. It is wise to take out theft insurance as theft abroad can be common and you don’t want to be held accountable for a missing car and belongings. 

It is common for most insurance policies to have a high excess attached, meaning you could be responsible for paying hundreds of pounds if you, or another driver, damage the vehicle. Most rental companies will give you the opportunity to upgrade your insurance package for a small daily charge, often reducing the excess to just £50, or sometimes even nothing at all, if you have to make a claim. It is highly advisable to do this; having to pay out money because another driver has damaged your hire car is not ideal.

According to research by insurance firm Admiral, the following European destinations where drivers were most likely to have made a claim are: 

1. France 46%

2. Spain 9%

3. Germany 7%

4. Republic of Ireland 7%

5. Belgium 5%

In addition, further research by Admiral has found that 23% of claims made over the last 10 years were made from drivers from London, branding Londoners to be most accident-prone when driving abroad. In second place, drivers from South East England are the second most likely to be involved in an accident with 18% of claims. Consequently, it is worth paying out for insurance if you are considered to be ‘accident-prone’ to save yourself paying out. 

Comparison sites let you search car hire companies and insurance deals at a fast pace, allowing you to easily find a good deal that is cheap. According to Martin Lewis' Money Saving Expert, it's worth spending a few minutes searching through comparison sites as the cheapest deal you can get will vary depending on destination. Their website claims that the best comparison sites for finding the best and cheapest insurance deals are: 

-    Skyscanner 
-    Travel Supermarket
-    Kayak
-    Carrentals 


Please note: If you are someone that is planning on renting a car more than once a year, it may be sensible to inquire about annual excess cover.



Photo credit: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock 



It’s easy to accept just any deal, but it’s vital that you read policies carefully, especially regarding fuel. There are two ways fuel can be provided – you can sometimes choose between them but often either one or the other is available. 

  1. Supplied full, return full – you pay only for what you need, but you must ensure you find a petrol station near the hire company to ensure the car is returned ‘full’. If the car is returned without a full tank, there may be a large bill waiting for you when you return home. 
  2. Supplied full, return ‘empty’ – you pay up-front for a full tank of fuel and return the car as empty as you can, without breaking down. This is best if you are visiting a small island, but if you won't be driving far, you'll be wasting lots of fuel and money as no refund is provided for leftover fuel.

Some firms and comparison sites allow you to avoid instances like this by providing results based on companies where you only pay for the fuel that you use, or show that the prices they are quoting are the same as the local petrol station prices, so you know you’re not being ripped off. 


Choosing a car

Don’t just pick the car that looks the nicest. Things to consider may be:

-    The number of passengers that will be using the car at one time
-    How much luggage you have
-    What you want to use the car for

If you have children, in many countries, it is compulsory for them to be in car seats when travelling. In the EU, all children under the age of 3 must use child seats. Children over 1.35m tall can use an adult seat belt, but smaller children may need a booster seat.

Renting a car seat from your hire company is available, but this can be expensive. Instead you may want to consider taking your own car seat from home, or even buying one once you’ve arrived at your destination.




If possible, it is advised to pay for car hire using a credit card, especially if the amount totals over £100, and under £30,000. This is due to Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act which enables you to get extra protection on your insurance as your credit card company is equally as liable for any damage on the car if anything happens. It is also imperative that the car policy is in the drivers name, otherwise you may have to start the booking all over again – and pay much more for it.


What do I need to take to the hire firm?

The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) discarded the paper counterpart of the Photocard licence in 2015 as driving licence records are now kept in online databases. However, it is common for some hire companies to inspect your driving licence record when you arrive. Check everything is in order before you go to avoid any problems.

The AA recommend printing out your own driving licence record and get hold of a code from the DVLA’s ‘share driving licence’ service which gives a hire firm one-off access to your driving licence record if they need it – this code is valid for 21 days. To do this, you must provide your driving licence number (DLN), national insurance (NI) number and postcode.


Photo credit: Rob Wilson/Shutterstock 



Hiring a car inside Europe requires you to bring your Great Britain (GB) or Northern Ireland driving licence in all EU or European Economic Area (EEA) countries – including Switzerland. 


Outside Europe 

Driving outside of the EU/EEA may require you to purchase an International Driving Permit (IDP), but you can check this with the AA. An IDP is usually required, or recommended, in around 140 countries, including the USA, Thailand and India. If you drive without one where it's needed, you risk getting into trouble with the authorities, and may be refused car hire.

International Driving Permits can be purchased easily from the AA, RAC or the Post Office. Permits tend to cost £5.50 and can be obtained without difficulty, however they do have clauses. 


You must:

•    Be a Great British or Northern Ireland resident 
•    Have passed your driving test 
•    Be 18 years old, or over 


What documents do I need to take whilst driving? 

Whilst driving, you may need to show your documents at any time, and you could be fined or have your car taken away from you if you don’t have the correct documents with you, or if they’re not in order. 


Things you must carry:

-    Your valid full driving licence (provisional driving licences do not apply) 
-    A copy of your DVLA driver record and licence check code (if you have one) 
-    An International Driving Permit (where necessary) 
-    Your vehicle’s registration document (this must be the original document) and a letter of authorisation from the registered keeper (if it’s not yourself), or ‘Vehicle on Hire Certificate’
-    Your motor insurance certificate 
-    Your passport 
-    Your travel insurance documents 
-    Your visa (for certain countries) 
-    Your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)

Please note: If you’re hiring a boat, or travelling in another vehicle other than a car, you may need to take additional documents. 


Photo credit: Pelham James Mitchinson/Shutterstock


Before you drive away


Before you drive away in your hire car, it’s important to check these few details:

-    Check the fuel type (this should be on the agreement). Putting in the wrong fuel and driving off can damage the engine and can result in your insurance being withdrawn 
-    Inspect the car thoroughly. Make sure every tiny scratch is documented, as well as the bodywork, alloy trims, hubs, the underside of bumpers, the edges of wing mirrors etc. 
-    Open the boot and check there is a warning triangle, a high visibility jacket, spare bulbs and any other items that are legally required in the country (check the AA website for any information about the country you are travelling to)
-    Use a phone or camera to take photographs of all four sides of the car
-    Check the clutch is working correctly. To do this, put the car into fourth gear, depress the clutch and slowly let it our whilst stepping on the accelerator. If it releases fully without stalling, ask for another vehicle
-    Make sure you have an emergency contact number in case something goes wrong (for example, if you breakdown, have an accident or the car is stolen)


Photo credit: Srijaroen/Shutterstock


When you hand the keys back


It is important to keep hold of all documents and receipts for the period you hired your car for. 


-    Keep your receipt from the petrol station where you filled up the car on the final day (if you are on a ‘supplied full, return full’ contract) – it is advised to take a picture of the fuel gauge when you leave the car.
-    If you use any tolls, keep their receipts so you can prove you paid if there’s any doubt later.
-    Always try to get the vehicle signed back in. If this is not possible, make sure you take a new set of photographs to prove it has been returned with no extra damage 


What to do in the case of a dispute


  • The European Car Rental Conciliation Service (ECRCS) has a free service in place to help people who may have unresolved complaints concerning vehicle borders within Europe. The ECRCS can help with receiving refunds for incorrect charges, but only deal with complaints about companies who it is partnered with, and you must have booked directly with the company 
  • The European Consumer Centres Network has a free service to help resolve disputes
  • If you hired a faulty car as part of a package holiday deal, you have the right to claim compensation from the package holiday company 
  • Car hire companies that are members of the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA) can complain 
  • Pictures or video showing the car’s condition on collection and return can be helpful if there is a dispute later – always remember to be thorough to ensure you’re not liable for something you didn’t do


Road laws 


From place to place, driving laws vary drastically. And while some international driving laws might seem silly, not following them can get you in serious trouble. It is important to read up and educate yourself of the rules and regulations before you travel to ensure you don’t get in trouble whilst you’re there. The AA provide a country-by-country guide to help tourist familiarise themselves with laws, what documentation should be taken relating to the country and more. Alternatively, click here for top 6 tips on how to confidently drive abroad when renting a car.


Questions to consider

-    Which side is right?
-    Can you put kids in the front?
-    Are there rules about carrying items?



Photo credit: igorstevanovic/Shutterstock


Keep up-to-date as laws and requirements can change more often than you think. 

Feature image credit: Jack Frog / Shutterstock

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