A guide to hiring a car abroad

Planning to rent a car abroad? If so, there are certain costs and considerations to bear in mind. Here’s what you need to know.

Planning to rent a car abroad? If so, there are certain costs and considerations to bear in mind. Here’s what you need to know.

Josh Daniels
Travel Insurance expert
5
minute read
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Last Updated 28 NOVEMBER 2022

Plan ahead when hiring a car abroad

Organising your car hire abroad before you go is likely to save you time, money and stress.

Queuing up at a random car hire desk on arrival is unlikely to get you the best deal. It may also mean making do with what’s available, rather than getting your preferred choice of car.

Hiring a car abroad at the last minute means you might not have time to read the terms and conditions. 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.

Planning ahead allows you to do your research and compare car rental companies to get the best price. It also means you can work out exactly what extras you need so you don’t have to make any decisions on the spot.

Trevel Tip

Travelling with children? It might be cheaper to take your own car seat, rather than renting one. Most airlines let you take your child seat onboard free of charge – but check beforehand.

What do I need to hire a car abroad?

To hire a car abroad, you’ll need:

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

Some car rental companies may ask to see your driving record, though this is rare. For this, you’ll need to get a DVLA code. 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 documents do I need to hire a car in Europe?

You’ll need your UK driving licence and passport to hire a car in Europe. You don’t need an international driving permit (IDP) to drive in the EU, Switzerland, Norway or Lichtenstein if you have a photocard driving licence issued in the UK.

You may need an international driving permit to drive in some European countries and Norway if you have a paper driving licence, or a licence issued in Jersey, Guernsey or the Isle of Man.

You can find more information on the GOV.UK website.

You can get an IDP from your local Post Office for £5.50. To buy one, you must be over 18 and a UK resident.

What else do I need for visiting Europe?

Now that the UK has left the EU, you’ll need:

  • At least six months left on your passport
  • Travel insurance that covers medical expenses – the Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) has replaced the old European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), although you can use your EHIC if it hasn’t expired.

Do I need insurance when hiring a car abroad?

When you rent a car abroad, insurance is included. But this is usually basic and often includes a high excess.

Most car hire companies will try to talk you into buying ‘super collision damage waiver’ (SCDW) to lower your excess. It’s usually cheaper to buy your own excess reimbursement insurance from an online insurance provider. This lets you claim back any excess you have to pay if you damage the car.

You’ll probably be offered extra insurance to cover damage to tyres and wheels. These extras can be confusing and unclear – particularly after a long flight – so make sure you understand any add-ons before you buy. Even with extra cover, you might be liable for more than you’d think.

You might find you don’t need some insurance add-ons as you’re already covered. For example, your travel insurance should include personal accident insurance (PAI), which pays out if you or your passengers are injured.

What are fuel costs for hiring a car abroad?

When you rent a car abroad, it’s important to know how you’ll be charged for fuel. There are two options:

  • Full-empty: some hire car companies expect you to pay upfront for a full tank and return it empty. This could be stressful (you don’t want to run out of petrol before returning the car) and expensive as you won’t be refunded for any petrol in the tank.
  • Full-full: most car-rental companies operate this policy, where you receive a car with a full tank and return it full. You’ll need to find a petrol station near the rental-car drop-off where you could fill up before returning it.

Try to avoid airport petrol stations, which tend to be expensive and busy for this reason. It’s worth taking the time to fill up though – there’s usually a heavy ‘service charge’ if you don’t.

How should I pay when hiring a car abroad?

It’s worth paying by credit card when hiring a car abroad. That way, if there’s an issue, your payment might be protected under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, which covers purchases between £100 and £30,000, although this isn’t guaranteed.

If you’re given the choice, always pay in the local currency so you can avoid unfavourable exchange rates.

What should I know about hiring a car abroad?

Hiring a car abroad is usually simple, but there are a few factors to consider. Before you drive away, always:

  • Check the car for damage and take photos or a video as evidence
  • Have any damage noted on the rental agreement
  • Understand how the car works – if not, ask for help
  • Check what your insurance covers and, if possible, get comprehensive cover
  • See if there are mileage limits and that these are sufficient for your plans
  • Have an emergency contact number in case of a breakdown or accident
  • Check the rules of the road for the country you’re driving in and that the car has the right equipment. For example, if you’re driving to a ski resort, you’ll need reflective jackets, a warning triangle and snow chains.

It’s also worth keeping all petrol and toll receipts in case there are any issues once you return the car.

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Frequently asked questions

Can I drive a car in Europe with a UK licence?

Yes, it’s fine to drive a car in Europe with a UK licence. But you’ll need to carry it with you.

Can I drive a UK hire car abroad?

If you want to rent a car in the UK and drive it to Europe, you’ll need permission from the car-hire company. Most will let you take the car across borders for an extra fee.

Can I rent a car and drive it across Europe?

Most rental companies will let you drive your car across multiple countries, but you’ll need to let them know first and you’ll need to pay an extra charge.

Do I need a green card to drive in Europe?

You don’t need to carry a green card to drive in the EU, but you may need one to drive in Turkey, Russia, Albania and Ukraine.

How old do I have to be to drive a car in Europe?

Although you need to be 21 to rent a car in the UK, in France, Germany and Spain you can be 18. You’ll need to check the rules of the country you’re travelling to, and if you’re under 25, you’ll probably need to pay an extra charge.

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