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Opel Corsa parked in Sao Miquel
We hired this Oper Corsa in the Azores. A hire car is a fast and easy way to move around on sparsely populated islands

How to Hire a Car Abroad?

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Rent a Car Abroad - Freedom and Challenges

Majority of adult travellers have a driver's license 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 be challenging. The traffic environment is strange and so will be an unfamiliar car, too.

In many destinations, a car is the easiest way to move around. This is true, especially in distant nature destinations where there is poor or no public transportation at all. Attending tours or having your car are the only viable options to explore. A rental car gives more freedom and it often becomes also cheaper.

Who Is Allowed to Hire a Car Abroad?

To hire a car, you need a valid driver's license. Quite often, you need also an international 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 people belonging 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 a car because of the 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. They may also be unwilling to negotiate. Sometimes, it is the insurance company that 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 rental 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, hiring decision-making will become easier.

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. With enough information, you are ready to decide whether to drive yourself on your holiday.

Booking a Hire 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 well.

Compare Hire Car Prices and Companies

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. 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 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.

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 a Toyota Aygo you may get Citroen C1. Or if you were renting a Ford Fiesta, they may rent you an 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 cheap but their cars may be in bad condition. You end up paying for the damages that you never caused yourself. If a company is badly rated, it may be better to skip it and choose a little more expensive competitor.

Car Hire Insurance

Choosing the right insurance is the most important decision of a car renter. In Europe, all cars have a third party liability insurance, a Collision Damage Waiver (CWD) and Theft Protection (TP) included to 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 companies rent cars without insurance.

You 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 may become expensive so concentrate on insurances 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 euro. 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 carefully and understand them well.

Driving on Mountains
While driving in the Azores Islands, the weather was changing quickly. Thick fog can cause poor visibility on the road at any time.

Car Hire Excess Insurance

You can also buy a car and hire excess insurance from third-party companies. They are remarkably cheaper than rental car companies' extra insurances but they are also more complicated to use. In case of damage, you first pay the excess to the rental company and then apply for money back from the third-party insurer.

Discover Cars is a practical site to compare car hire companies abroad and buy affordable excess insurance.

Travel Insurance

In a very unlikely situation, you need a doctor after a serious incident. It is wise to have good travel insurance that covers also yourself when something unexpected happens. Check travel insurance offers from SafetyWing for an instant quotation.

Add-ons and Accessories

Rental car companies are eager to sell add-on services. That is a way how to make the 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, WiFi, child seat etc. Choose only the ones you need.

On Discover Cars, It is possible to search for car hire companies that provide a free additional driver.

Picking up the Hire 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 have offices in 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 rental office, car hire papers will be made. The contract must include at least the car's details, all 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. It is your task to confirm that all information in the papers is correct.

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, inspect the car carefully and check that all damages and scratches have been documented. Document also the fuel level and any warning indicators on the dashboard. Report all new problems to the company's representative immediately. When everything is in order, you may start driving.

Super Coverage

Car hire companies typically sell their expensive super coverages while picking up the car. If you don´t have good additional insurance yet, it may be wise to buy super coverage. But 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 the Car

It is easy to lock yourself out from a hire car. If you leave the keys inside 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 open the doors.

Many additional insurances cover the extra costs of key problems.


Parking fines are easy to get abroad. You may also get fines for speeding as there are cameras everywhere. We recommend paying fines before returning the car. Ignoring the fines may incur additional costs as the car rental company sends the bill to your home address.

Not Enough Fuel

Returning the car with less fuel than was agreed will lead to a penalty. You need to pay a high price for the missing litres and also a service fee. Remember to refuel the car with the correct fuel type before returning it.

Accident with a Hire Car

Car accidents are inevitable ones even though how much careful you are on the road. For this reason, having insurance in order is a primary concern.

The first task is to take care of the people involved in the accident. Make sure that you have a working phone and you know the emergency number. Even if there were no injuries, rental 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 a case of an accident.

Minor Scratches

Minor scratches in a rental car can become a big problem. It is important to check the delivered car carefully for scratches before you start driving. If scratches are found, all of them must be documented together with the rental company.

Failing to do the check-up may lead to a situation in which you are asked to pay the repair costs of the scratches that you did not 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 contact immediately the company before driving the car to include such missed markings. 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 before starting the engine of a hire car. In short, make also sure all damages if any have been documented in the hire papers.

Return Inspection

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 has usually 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 becomes complicated. Also, the insurance company usually requires 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.

Open in El Hierro
We were lucky to get a free upgrade in El Hierro. This sporty Opel was perfect for mountain road driving.

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 on 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 really 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.

Opel Corsa in Sao Miquel
It was relaxing to drive around Sao Miquel in the Azores: Peaceful streets, great landscapes and pleasant weather.

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 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.

Citroen C1 parked on the top of Santa Barbara
Having our car was the only way to access Santa Barbara Mountain on Terceira Island. Unfortunately, the top was covered with clouds.

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. Do we recommend using Discover Cars that compares prices of many rental companies. They also sell extra covers to reduce the excess to 0 euro. 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 clear 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 cancelling the hire and the reservation fee will be returned then.

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. Big brand does not guarantee quality.
  • Book a car on Discover Cars and get a voucher. Consider buying an extra cover so you can drive more relaxed.
  • 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 rental car company's representative and photograph the car.
  • Follow the agreed fuel policy to avoid extra charges.
  • Return the car and report any possible issues.

Visit Discover Cars to compare hire car prices.

Bottom Line

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 rental car terms and understand the insurance's cover well. It is advisable to buy additional covers but they can be bought cheaper from third parties. For example, Discover Cars sells 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 experiences.

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Destination: Spain, Portugal

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Readers' Comments (2)

  1. 10-16-2020 at 10:54pm UTC by Davies :

    I just want to say that you have been ripped off for all your rentals and have paid over twice what I ever have. You should never pay the hire company to reduce your excess as this will normally cost more than the rental. Third party excess reduction insurance normally only costs £40 a year. The most I have paid for a rental was in France for around £25 a day. Cheapest was Croatia for £8 a day. I use economy car rentals to search for cars.

    1. 10-16-2020 at 11:08pm UTC by Finnoy Travel / Niko :

      Thank you for a good comment.

      We have a yearly 3rd party excess insurance costing less than 30 euros. Sometimes, buying excess insurance from the car hirer has a few benefits: return inspection is fast and dealing with minor scratches simple.

      But you are right. Third party insurances become much cheaper.

      We have not always chosen the cheapest rental companies. Just because their customer service level reflects the cheap price.

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Scenery from El Hierro