A guide to hiring a car abroad

Hiring a car for your holiday abroad is a great way to get around and see more of the country you’re visiting. But there are some things to be careful of, including extra costs and new rules after the Brexit transition.

Here’s what you need to know about hiring a car abroad.

Hiring a car for your holiday abroad is a great way to get around and see more of the country you’re visiting. But there are some things to be careful of, including extra costs and new rules after the Brexit transition.

Here’s what you need to know about hiring a car abroad.

Josh Daniels
Travel Insurance expert
minute read
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Posted 22 FEBRUARY 2021

Hiring a car abroad – plan ahead

Planning ahead and organising your car hire abroad before you go could help save you time, money and stress.

Queuing up at a random car hire desk when you arrive could mean you’re not getting the best deal. You might also have to make do with what’s available, rather than a car of your choice.

If you hire a car at the last minute, you may end up not having the time to read the terms and conditions properly. Many car rental companies add ‘extras’ that bump up the cost. Before you know it, you’re driving away having paid for a bunch of add-ons you neither want or need.

By planning ahead before your trip, you can work out a fixed cost, pick a suitable car and any extras you might want. Then you can compare car rental companies to get the best price and hopefully save money.

Top Tip

If you have a young child, it might be cheaper to take your own car seat than hire one from the rental company. Most airlines allow you to take your child seat onboard free of charge – but always check beforehand.

What you’ll need to hire a car abroad

To hire a car abroad, you’ll need:

  • Your UK driving licence
  • Your passport
  • An International Driving Permit (IDP), depending on the country you’re visiting

Some car rental companies will also ask to see your driving record. For this you’ll need to get a code from the DVLA. The code is valid for 21 days and gives the car rental company one-off access to your online driving licence record if they need it.

To access your driving licence code visit the ‘check code’ page on the DVLA website.

What you’ll need to hire a car in Europe

You’ll still need to carry your UK driving licence and passport to hire a car in Europe. Because of Brexit, you may also need an International Driving Permit (IDP) to drive in some EU and EEA countries.

Check the GOV UK website for updates on the European countries that will require an IDP.

You can get an IDP over the counter at your local Post Office. An IDP costs £5.50, and you must be a UK resident over the age of 18 to be able to buy one.

What else you’ll need for visiting Europe

There are new rules for UK residents visiting the EU. You may need:

  • A valid UK passport with at least six months left before expiry
  • Travel insurance with healthcare cover – your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) may no longer be valid
  • An IDP for certain EU and EEA countries

Insurance for hiring a car abroad

Insurance is included when you hire a car abroad. But it’s usually ‘basic’ and subject to a heavy excess.

Some car hire companies sell a ‘Super Collision Damage Waiver’ which can lower your excess. This can be expensive, so it might be cheaper to buy your own ‘Excess Reimbursement Insurance’ from a standalone insurance provider. This lets you claim back any excess you’d have to pay in the event of damage to the rental car.

You might also be offered ‘extra’ insurance cover. This can often be confusing and unclear, so make sure you understand any add-ons before you buy. Even with extra cover, you may still be liable for more than you’d think. Others, you might not need, because you’re already covered.

For example, Personal Accident Insurance (PAI) which covers injury to you or your passengers, should already be covered by your travel insurance.

Fuel costs for hiring a car abroad

When choosing a rental car company abroad it’s important to know how they will charge you for fuel.

  • Full-empty: you pay up-front for a full tank and return the car as empty as you can. As well as being risky (you don’t want to run out of petrol before you get the car back to the rental company), it can also be more expensive as you don’t get a refund on any petrol left in the tank.
  • Full-full: you get a full tank, then have to return the car with a full tank. You’ll need to find a petrol station close to the car hire company to fill up before you return it. There’s usually a pretty heavy ‘service charge’ if you don’t return the car with a full tank.

How to pay for hiring a car abroad

It’s advisable to pay by credit card when hiring a car abroad. This way, if a problem occurs, your payment is usually protected under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. This covers any purchases between £100 and £30,000.

What to look out for when hiring a car abroad

Hiring a car abroad should be a fairly simple process but there are a few things to look out for.

Here are some car hire tips to help you enjoy a stress-free driving holiday:

Car hire checklist:

  • check the car for damage before you drive it away and take photos or a video as evidence before you drive away
  • make sure any damage is noted on the rental agreement
  • make sure you understand how the switches and controls work – if not ask for help
  • check what’s covered by the insurance and if possible, get comprehensive cover
  • keep all petrol and toll receipts in case of any issues once the car has been returned
  • check if there are any mileage limits and whether they will be enough for your travelling plans
  • make sure you have an emergency contact number in case of a breakdown or accident
  • check the rules of the road for each country you’re driving in – the car should have the right equipment on board, for example, reflective jackets, warning triangle and snow chains during winter

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