Are you planning to hire a car abroad? We have done it multiple times ourselves. Especially, we have enjoyed the freedom to move freely without worries about tight schedules. Learn valuable tips from our comprehensive car hire guide.
Covered in the Article
- Car Hire - Freedom and Challenges
- Driving a Hire Car Abroad
- Things to Understand When Hiring a Car
- Picking up the Booked Car
- Challenges with a Hire Car
- Accident with a Hire Car
- Returning the Car
- Our Car Hire Experiences
- Finding a Cheap Hire a Car
- Car Hiring Checklist
- Bottom Line
Car Hire - Freedom and Challenges
Majority of adult travellers are holders of a national driver's license issued in their home country. Car hire companies are popping out every place like mushrooms. This indicates the increasing demand for car rentals among travellers. Even though you may be driving every day in the country you currently reside in, hiring a car during a vacation in a foreign country can still be challenging. The traffic environment can be strange and so will be an unfamiliar car, too.
In many destinations, hiring a car is the easiest way to move around. This is true, especially in distant nature destinations where there is poor public transportation. Going on a day trip via tour package and exploring the sights at your destination is wise, but going on a road trip around the country is even wiser. A hire car gives you more freedom and it often becomes also a cheaper way to explore.
Who Can Hire a Car?
To hire a car, you need a valid driver's license. Quite often, you need also an international driving license together with the national one issued in your country of residence. That is the case, for example, in Israel. In the EU area, a license from any EU country is often enough. Almost all rental companies require that the driver's license must be at least 1 year old. Rarely, you can find some of the few companies making exceptions to this rule and usually, these are smaller car rental companies.
Younger and older people may need to pay extra fees to hire a car. In some circumstances, those who belong to these age groups find it impossible to rent a car at all. At least, the most expensive cars are often excluded from the young/inexperienced drivers. If a company refuses to let you a car because of your age, you may always call them and try to negotiate.
The exact terms vary between car rental companies. Big chains have often stricter terms than small private companies. Big companies may also be unwilling to negotiate. Sometimes, it is the insurance company which sets the terms, so the car hire company can't even negotiate. Before placing a booking, read the terms carefully.
Driving a Hire Car Abroad
Before you start looking for a hire car, have a little time to do background jobs well. Traffic culture in the destination may be different than in your home country and roads may be more difficult to drive. With enough background information in mind, it will ease up your decision-making whether to consider renting a car or not.
Use Google to find information about the traffic rules in the destination. Find out people's real driving experiences. YouTube is a great place to find actual videos of people driving in many famous tourist spots. Again with enough information, you are ready to decide whether to drive yourself on your holiday.
Things to Understand When Hiring a Car
The car rental process is simple in theory. Find a car, hire and pay for it and then drive. This is how it works in theory but in the booking phase, there are important details you need to understand.
Comparison and Booking
It is possible to rent anything from a small car to a big van. Naturally, the better car you wish to rent, the higher the price will be. That's why the first task is to decide the size of the car you wish to hire. If you are travelling alone or with someone, a small car may be enough. When the whole family is with you, a bigger car is more suitable. Though keep in mind that bigger cars are safer than smaller ones in cases of collisions as proven in studies. Large vehicles weigh more and they have longer hoods and bigger crush zones, which gives them an advantage in frontal crashes.
If you intend to drive in the mountains, a small car is more practical.
On car rental companies' websites, you will see a list of car brands with photos. Rarely, you will get the brand you have chosen but a similar car in the same size class. For example, if you rent Toyota Aygo you may get Citroen C1. Or if you rent Ford Fiesta, they may give you Opel Corsa. Quite often, the car you'll get is better than you have chosen.
Our advice is that don't get fixed to the brand but choose the size class. If you wish for a car that has some extra features like parking radar or automated gears, choose a car class that has these features.
It is not enough to compare just cars but you need also to compare car hire companies. Unfortunately, there are some companies with a bad reputation. Usually, these companies are offering cheaper rental fees but their cars may be in bad condition. If you mistakenly chose such a cheap car rental company, you may end up paying for the damages that you never caused yourself. If a company is badly rated, it is best to skip it and choose a little more expensive competitor.
Add-ons and Accessories
Hire car companies are eager to sell add-on services. That is a way how to make their business more profitable.
An extra driver add-on gives another person a right to drive the car. You need to buy this service if two people are driving the same car. Some rental companies allow many drivers as long as the rental agreement signer stays in the car all the time.
There are also many other services available: GPS, Wi-Fi, child seat etc. Choose only the ones you need.
Car Hire Insurance
Choosing the right insurance is the most important decision of a car renter. In Europe, all cars have third-party liability insurance, a Collision Damage Waiver (CWD) and Theft Protection (TP) included in the hire price. However, this is not always the case, so be sure that the car has these insurances. For example, in the USA, some car rental companies rent cars without insurance.
Your travel insurance may not include a hire car insurance abroad.
If the car does not have the said insurance, you will be liable for all damages yourself. You need to have personal insurance to cover the costs or you pay all the expenses with your own money. An accident or a theft can become very expensive so ensure you have the needed insurance as well.
The insurances have also their traps. It is important to understand that insurance may have an excess that is sometimes called also as deductible. It is the amount of money you need to pay yourself in case of an accident. If the repair costs are higher, the insurance company will pay the rest. The excess is normally about 1,000 euros which is a big amount of money.
Almost all car rental companies sell super insurances which have a smaller excess. It can be even 0 euros. Then in case of an accident, you don't need to pay anything. Often, some parts of the car like windows and tires are excluded from the insurance and you are always responsible for them no matter which insurance you have. So read the terms and conditions carefully and make sure to understand them well.
Car Hire Excess Insurance
You can also buy a car hire excess insurance from third-party companies. They are remarkably cheaper than hire car companies' super insurances but they are also more complicated to use. In case of damage, you first need to pay the excess to the rental company and afterwards, you need to apply for your money return from the third-party insurer.
In a very unlikely situation during your travel, you may need treatment following a serious illness or incident. It is also wise to have good travel insurance that covers also yourself when something unexpected happens. Check travel insurance offers from SafetyWing for an instant quotation.
Picking up the Booked Car
It is practical to hire a car that can be picked up from the airport right after landing. The most expensive car hire companies usually have their offices located in airport terminals but cheaper companies will usually drive you from the airport terminal to their office nearby. It is up to you whether you wish to save 30 minutes but pay more.
In the car rental office, car hire papers will be made. The contract must include at least the car's details, all the drivers' names and the details about the insurance. If you have bought extra services like border crossing to another country, these must also be documented. you must confirm that all information in the papers is correct before signing it.
Another important task of yours is to pay the car rental fee. In addition to the hire fee, the company will block the full amount of the excess from your credit card. This sum will be returned later if you return the car without new damages.
When the papers have been signed, it's time for the hire car inspection.
Inspecting the Hire Car
You need carefully to inspect the interior and exterior of the hire car before starting to drive. Oftentimes, even seasoned travellers forget to take photos of the car's interior. Doing so can save you from a possible rental car scam later. This is especially true in case you get involved in a collision later. Some car hire companies may pass the already existing damages to you as the present car user.
Document also the fuel level and warning lights.
Unfortunately, damages are a source of income for some hire car companies. To protect yourself from fraudulent claims afterwards, it is important to take clear photos and videos of the car's original condition. Make sure all faults are also documented in the rental papers. Fraudulent claims may appear months after your rental period. We recommend also sending photos right away to cloud storage so they will get timestamped and safely stored in case you need them later as proof.
In short, inspect the car well and document its condition through photos and videos noting for any dents, scratches or other forms of damage. When everything is in order, you can finally start driving.
Car hire companies typically sell their expensive super coverages when a customer is picking up the car. If you don´t have good additional insurance yet, it may be wise to buy super coverage. However, we recommend buying full insurance from a third party already when booking a car on the Internet.
If you already have additional insurance, you may say: I do not want additional CDW coverage. My booking includes coverage for the deductible and extended coverage.
Challenges with a Hire Car
Keys Left Inside
In an unfortunate situation, it is possible to lock yourself out from a hire car. If you accidentally left the car keys inside the car and the doors lock automatically, there is not much you can do. The only easy solution is to call the rental company and ask them to come to your current location to open the car doors for you.
Many additional insurances cover the extra costs of key problems.
Parking fines are easy to get abroad. You may also get fined for speeding because traffic cameras are everywhere. In case of these violations, we recommend paying the fines before returning the car to the car rental office. Ignoring the fines may incur additional costs because the car rental company surely sends the bill to your home address and let you pay for mailing it.
Not Enough Fuel
Returning the car with less fuel than what was agreed will lead to a penalty. As a consequence, you need to pay a higher price for the missing litres and also a service fee.Therefore, remember to refuel the car with the right fuel amount and correct fuel type before returning it. It is advisable to take a photo of the instrument panel of the hire car showing the amount of fuel at the start and end of your journey.
Sometimes, hire cars are not in good condition. If you notice any technical challenges, we recommend contacting the car hire company immediately. It is not your task to repair the car or find out what is wrong.
It is essential to document the problems well. Take photos of the warning lights and make notes about the car's behaviours. Call the company so you have evidence that you have contacted them. Write down all the extra costs you incurred arising from returning the car and picking a new car from their office if this is the case. You then claim these later when you return the car.
Accident with a Hire Car
Car accidents are inevitable ones even though how much careful you are on the road. For this reason, having car and travel insurance in order is a primary concern.
In the event of an accident, the first task is to take care of the people involved in the accident and call for emergency help. Make sure that you have a working phone and that you know the emergency number of the country you are travelling in. Even if there were no injuries, hire car companies normally ask you to call the police to make a report. That is needed to get compensation from the insurance company.
Again, it is wise to carefully read the car rental terms from which you will know how to act in case of an accident.
Minor scratches in a hire car can become a huge problem. It is important to inspect the car carefully for scratches before you start driving. During the inspection, if dents or scratches are found, all of them must be documented together with the staff of the car rental company. Some car rental companies try to transfer the cost of damage done by other drivers or even by their staff onto the next unsuspecting customer.
Failing to do the check-up may lead to a situation in which you are asked to pay the repair costs of the scratches which you did not even cause. Limit your excitement to drive hurriedly and do a careful inspection of the car. Compare the markings indicated in the car inspection papers and notify the staff of the car rental company immediately to include such missed markings before driving the car. This way, you don't pay for existing scratches or damages that you didn't cause yourself. Thanks to smartphones, photographing the car carefully is easy. Make it a practice to do proper documentation before starting the engine of a hire car. In short, make sure all damages if any have been documented in the car hire rental forms.
Returning the Car
It is important to return the car at the agreed time to avoid penalties. We do not recommend returning the car earlier since small car hire companies may not have staff present all the time.
Unfortunately, some car rental companies are eager to check the car extra carefully when you return it. They may find minor scratches whose repair costs maybe even 500 euros. Because the insurance usually has an excess, you need to pay this amount yourself. Only if you have insurance with 0 euro excess, you are safe. If you have a third-party extra cover, you may apply for money back later.
Before returning the car, inspect the car yourself so as not to get surprised if new damages are found by the car hire company. Keep your previously taken photos ready to prove the existing scratches. Do the inspection together with the car hire company's representative. Never let them inspect the car without you because defending yourself later becomes impossible. Also, insurance companies usually require that you have been present during the inspection if you apply for compensation. That is why it is vital to reserve enough time to document possible damages.
Our Car Hire Experiences
We have hired a car multiple times during our journeys abroad. Everything has gone well without incidents.
Hiring a Car on Canary Islands
On El Hierro Island, we rented a car from Enterprise. We had placed a booking beforehand and we fetched the car from El Hierro Airport.
The car cost 40 euros/day and it had 0 euros excess included. The car was provided by Cicar, not Enterprise itself. We got a free upgrade to a sporty Opel that was suitable for mountains. Even though the agreement's fuel policy was full-to-full, we got the car only with a half tank. We were asked to pay for the fuel during the pick-up and promised a refund of unused fuel.
Returning the car was a smooth process and we were refunded for the unused fuel as promised. However, the refund was a few euros less than we had expected.
Based on our own experience, we can recommend Cicar in the Canary Islands.
Hiring a Car in Alicante
In Alicante, we rented a car from Alamo. The Hyunday i10 cost only 16,12 euros/day but the agreement had about 1000 euros excess. We bought a Super Collision Damage Waiver (SCWD) with 0 euro excess for 16 euros/day.
Also this time, the fuel tank was not full. We were asked to return the car with the same fuel level. That was a fair deal but actually, we returned more fuel than we had got. The whole rental process was smooth.
Based on our own experience, we can recommend Alamo in Spain.
Hiring a Car in the Azores
On Sao Miquel island, we hired a car from Autocunha Car Rental. We paid about 55 euros/day for a car with 300 euros excess and an additional young driver included. We understood that the company was small and family-owned. The company was not the cheapest one but their customer service was friendly. They were using a lot of effort to help us with our plans before we placed the actual booking. The company followed a full-to-full fuel policy well.
We got also a free car upgrade and the Opel Corsa was a brand new. Everything went as planned.
Based on our own experience, we can recommend hiring a car from Autocunha on the Azores islands (Porto and Sao Miguel).
Hiring a Car in Terceira
On Terceira Island, we rented a car from Autatlantis. We placed a booking first to Rhodium but we found that this company had a really bad reputation so we changed the booking to Autatlantis.
We picked up Citroen C1 from Terceira Airport. The car cost 23,60 euros/day and the car had 800 euros in excess. We were given the car papers inside the terminal and told that there were only three (3) scratches on the car. We inspected the car ourselves and found that there were about 10 scratches. We informed the staff who came to do a new inspection and corrected the papers. Before this, we had already documented the car's physical condition with multiple photos. Also this company followed a full-to-full fuel policy.
Surprisingly, when we returned the car, no one inspected it. So the car rental was a smooth process.
Based on our own experience, we can recommend hiring a car from Autatlantis on the Azores.
Finding a Cheap Hire a Car
To find an affordable car, you need to compare car hire prices. We do recommend using Discover Cars which compares the prices of many rental companies. They also sell extra covers to reduce the excess to 0 euros. This extra cover is cheaper than bought directly from rental companies and it covers the car well.
How Does Discover Cars Work?
We use almost always Discover Cars to book cars for our travels. It is simple to compare hire car prices on their website and place a booking. Usually, in the booking phase, you just pay a small reservation fee and the rest will be paid to the rental company during the pickup. Discover Cars allows cancellation and if this is the case, reservation fees will be fully returned.
Picking up the car is done with a booking confirmation that has all the agreed details marked.
Car Hiring Checklist
- Find information about the traffic culture in the destination.
- Choose the size class of a car you wish to have.
- Compare cars and prices on Discover Cars.
- Before making a booking, Google information about the rental company's reputation. If the company has a bad reputation, skip it and choose another company. A big brand does not always guarantee quality.
- Book a car on Discover Cars and get a voucher. Consider buying an extra cover so you can drive with peace of mind.
- Prepare a credit card with enough balance to be able to pay the car hire fee and the excess.
- Fetch the car with the voucher from the chosen location and sign the car hire papers. Inspect the car well, document all damages with the hire car company's representative and photograph the car. Take also slow video.
- Follow the agreed fuel policy to avoid extra charges.
- Return the car and report any possible issues.
- Is hiring a car on a holiday trip a good idea?
- A hire car gives freedom but it is up to the traveller if he/she likes driving on vacation.
- Who can hire a car?
- You must be over 18 years old and the driving license must be at least one year old. Outside the EU, you may need an international driving license. A young driver may need to pay extra fees. Some companies have stricter rules.
- What is the best car hire company?
- We do not recommend any single brand. However, we highly recommended comparing hire car prices on the Internet with a comparison tool. Choosing the cheapest car is seldom a good idea. We recommend hiring a car from a reputable company.
- Where can I compare hire car prices?
- Head to Discover Cars and compare the hire car prices of many companies. Remember to buy extra insurance.
- What does Excess mean?
- In the case of damage, the excess is part of the repair costs you need to pay yourself after the insurance has been applied.
- What does Deductible mean?
- It is the same as the Excess.
- What are CDW, SCDW and TP?
- Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) is the car insurance which normally has an excess. Super-CDW (SCDW) is insurance with a smaller excess. TP is Theft Protection.
- What is important when hiring a car?
- You need to check and document the condition of the hire car carefully before driving any single metre.
- What is the alcohol threshold for driving a car?
- Do not even think about it. Drinking and driving is not a good combination
- Do I get the car make and model which I have hired?
- Usually, you do not get the make you have chosen but another car in the same size class.
- How much does it cost to hire a car?
- It depends on the car and destination. A budget car costs from 10 to 60 euros per day plus extras.
We recommend driving a car during vacations. It is important to prepare well. Compare prices and book a car only from reputable companies.
Read the hire car terms and understand the insurance's coverage well. It is advisable to buy additional coverages but they can be bought cheaper from third parties. For example, Discover Cars sell inexpensive super covers.
As long as you follow the rental terms well, there won't be any extra fees. Follow also local traffic laws to avoid unnecessary fines. We recommend downloading an offline map of the region you are travelling to save data while navigating. Lastly, be willing to give way to over-speeding drivers. Prioritize safety while driving in all cases! Don't drink and drive. Fasten your seat belt and have a happy journey!
Have you hired a car abroad? Share with us about your experience or any additional tips.
About the Author
Ceasar, an immigrant in Finland, co-founded Finnoy Travel out of his passion for exploring new horizons. His content primarily centres around immigration, travel, and life in Finland. An avid road tripper, Ceasar also shares insider tips on car driving abroad.
When not embarking on adventures, he meticulously proofreads every article before it gets published on the Finnoy Travel site. His responsibilities also extend to managing the social media channels of Finnoy Travel.