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Car Renting Abroad: A Traveller's Guide

  • By Finnoy Travel
  • Updated: 05/19/20 | March 12, 2020
Opel Corsa parked in Sao Miquel
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We rented this Oper Corsa in Azores. A rental car is a fast and easy way to move around on sparsely populated islands.

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Table of Contents

  1. Renting a Car First Time
  2. Understand the Driving Culture of the Destination
  3. Who Is Allowed to Rent a Car?
  4. The Steps of Car Renting
    1. Choose a Suitable Car
    2. Insurances Will Protect You
    3. Personal Protection
    4. Add-ons and Accessories
  5. An Accident with a Rental Car
    1. Minor Scratches
  6. The Cheapest Way to Rent a Car
  7. Our Car Rental Experiences
    1. Cicar on El Hierro
    2. Alamo in Alicante
    3. Autocunha on Sao Miquel, Azores
    4. Autatlantis on Terceira
  8. Car Renting Checklist
  9. Bottom Line

Renting a Car First Time

Majority of adult travellers have a driver's license in their home country. Car rental companies are popping out every place like mushrooms. This indicates the increasing demand for car rentals among travellers. Even though you may be driving everyday in the country you currently reside, renting 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, the car is the easiest way to move around. This is true especially in distant nature destinations where there is poor or in worse cases when there is no public transportation network available. Attending tours or having your own car are the only viable options to explore. A rental car gives more freedom and it often becomes also cheaper.

Understand the Driving Culture of the Destination

Before you start looking for any rental car, have a little time to do the background jobs well. The traffic culture in the destination may be different than in your home country and the roads may be more difficult to drive. With enough background information, the 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 make a decision whether to drive yourself on your holiday.

Who Is Allowed to Rent a Car?

To rent 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. 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 for this rule and usually these are smaller car rental companies.

Younger and older people may need to pay extra fees to rent a car. In some circumstances, those people belonging in these age group finds it impossible to rent a car at all. At least, the most expensive cars are often excluded from the young/inexperience drivers.

The exact terms vary between car rental companies. Big chains have often stricter terms than small private companies. Before placing a booking, read the terms carefully.

The Steps of Car Renting

The car rental process may seem simple. Find a car, rent and pay it and then drive. This is how it works in theory but there are important details you need to understand well. In this article, we give you our car rental tips based on our own experiences.

Choose a Suitable Car

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 it 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 it 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' website, you will see a list of car brands with photos. Almost never, 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 actually chosen.

Our advice is that don't get fixed to the brand but choose the size class. If you wish a car that have some extra features like parking radar or automated gears, choose a car class that have these features.

Insurances Will Protect You

Choosing right insurances is the most important decision of a car renter. In Europe, all the cars have a third party liability insurance, a Collision Damage Waiver (CWD) and Theft Protection (TP) included to the rental price. However, this is not always the case, so be really sure that the car have these insurances. For example, in the USA, some companies rent cars without insurances.

If the car does not have the said insurances, you will be liable for the all damages yourself. You need to have a 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 an insurance may have an excess that is sometimes called also as deductible. It is the amount of the money you need to pay yourself in a case of an accident. If the repair costs are higher, the insurance company will pay the rest. The excess is normally about 1000 euros that 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 a 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 insurances 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. The thick fog causes poor visibility in the road any time.

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

Personal Protection

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

Add-ons and Accessories

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

An Accident with a Rental Car

Most of the time, everything goes totally well. In an unlucky event, an accident may happen.

The first task is to take care of the people involved in the accident. Make sure that you have a working phone with and you know the emergency number. Even if there were no injures, rental cars 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 really 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 that you are asked to pay the repair costs of the scratches that you did not actually cause when returning the car. Limit your excitement to drive hurriedly and do 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 caused yourself. Thanks to smart phones, photographing the car carefully is easy. Make it a practice to do before starting the engine of the rental car. In short, make also sure all damages if any have been documented to the car's papers.

Unfortunately, some car rental companies are really eager to check the car extra carefully when you return it. They may find minor scratches whose repair costs may be even 500 euros. Because the insurance has usually an excess, you need to pay this amount yourself. Only if you have an insurance with 0 euro excess, you are safe. If you have a third party extra cover, you may apply money back later.

The Cheapest Way to Rent a Car

To find an affordable car, you need to compare prices. We recommend you to use Discover Car Hire that compares prices of many rental companies. They also sell extra covers to reduce excess to 0 euro and to have other protections. This extra cover is cheaper than bought directly from the rental company and it covers the car well.

Our Car Rental Experiences

We have rented a car multiple times during our journeys abroad. Everything went well without any incident.

Cicar on El Hierro

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 really suitable to 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 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 as we have expected.

Based on our own experience, we can recommend Cicar on Canary Islands.

Alamo 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.

Autocunha on Sao Miquel, Azores

On Sao Miquel island, we rented 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 effort to help us with our plans before we placed the actual booking. The company followed 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 Azores: Peaceful streets, great landscapes and pleasant weather.

Based on our own experience, we can recommend renting a car from Autocunha on Azores islands (Porto and Sao Miguel).

Autatlantis on Terceira

On Terceira Island, we rented a car from Autatlantis. Actually, 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 in the car. We inspected the car ourselves and found that there were actually about 10 scratches. We informed the staff who came to do a new inspection for us and corrected the paper. Before this, we had already documented the car's physical condition with multiple photos. Also this company followed full-to-full fuel policy.

Citroen C1 parked on the top of Santa Barbara

Having our own 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 renting a car from Autatlantis on Azores.

Car Renting Checklist

  • Find information about the traffic culture in the destination.
  • Choose the size class of the car you wish to have.
  • Compare cars and prices on Discover Car Hire.
  • Before booking a car, Google information about the rental company's reputation. If the company has a bad reputation, skip it and choose another company.
  • Book the car on Discover Car Hire and get a voucher. Consider buying an extra cover and you can drive more relaxed.
  • Fetch the car with the voucher from the chosen location. 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.

Bottom Line

We recommend driving a car during vacations. It is important to prepare well. Compare prices and a 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 Car Hire 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 you to download an offline map of the region you are travelling to save data while navigating. Lastly, be willing to give way for 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 rented a car abroad? Share us about your experience. Comment below!

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