What you need to know when hiring a car overseas

Hiring a car overseas isn’t exactly the innovation of the century, and yet there are some sneaky little details that catch the best of us out every time.  Here’s what you need to know…

Stuff to be aware of

Unfortunately car hire firms are notorious for ripping off consumers with extra insurance, hidden charges and terrible customer service. So...

  • Shop around a bit for the right company and definitely don’t just go with the cheapest. Just like insurance, you get what you pay for. There are plenty of search engines, like Rental Cars, where you can compare them on ratings, car types, fuel policies, insurance - the lot!
  • Check the reputation of your rental company online, you can do this on Trustpilot or with a quick Google.
  • Check where the car rental pick up is, sometimes it’s a 15 or more minute coach ride from the terminal. If you’re in a rush, make sure you get a rental with a pick up central to the terminal.
  • If you need to put down a deposit with the hire company, do it in local currency, especially if exchange rates are variable. Otherwise you might find you get back less than you paid, even if the car is in perfect nick.
  • The minimum age for driving overseas varies across EU countries. In many it’s 18.
    Often drivers under 25 will be subject to an additional charge - it’s best to find out before you travel.
  • Swat up a little on local driving laws. Speed limits are approached differently around the world (in Sweden there aren’t any, but each road has a recommendation). Some countries have different limits for younger drivers, and don’t forget that in the UK we’re in the minority dealing in mph - most places are all about kilometres.
  • Your hire company should make sure your car is kitted out with everything you need, but it won’t hurt to be up to speed on what you should have in the car. Believe it or not, in France drivers are expected to carry a breathalyser, while some countries insist on a fire extinguisher and a first aid kit. The AA has some helpful advice.
  • Before you drive off in your hire car, give it a once over to check for scratches, chips or controls that don't work. Take photos with your phone and make sure the car hire centre has acknowledged them and made a note.
  • Check the details of the car hire for additional costs like servicing and refuelling charges (most will expect you to refuel the car before returning it). Also cleaning charges, extras like child seats and sat navs, additional road use charges other than tolls, and any daily mileage limits.

What you need to do before you travel

  • In many EU countries you will need an International Driving Permit (IDP) to drive overseas.  You can see more about which countries will need an IDP - here. This will change after the 31st October depending on Brexit.
  • Since the UK got rid of the paper counterparts to driver’s licences, some hire companies ask to check your driving licence record.  They may ask for a code from the DVLA, which is free to get online (you just need your driving licence number, National Insurance number and your postcode) and lasts for 21 days.  The AA also recommends you print your own driving licence record just in case, which you can do at the same time as getting your code - here.
  • Your existing travel insurance may cover you for driving overseas, but you should check the details with your provider. One particularly sticky area is excess waivers. If something happens when you hire a car overseas, it can escalate to thousands.
  • Our advice is to buy specific car hire excess insurance (which we don’t sell at Pluto at the moment, but our partner Zurich does). The added bonus is that you can bypass the conversation with the sales rep at the car hire about all the added extras they can offer you. It might seem like more of a cost upfront, but it’s a real opportunity to save on hassle and money.

What you need to take with you

  • Your driver’s licence. Hopefully this one goes without saying, but you may not realise you need to have held it for at least a year.
  • Your passport - which will need to have at least six months left on it.
  • A credit card with sufficient available funds on it - chances are you won’t be able to hire a car without one. Remember that debit cards won’t work or generally won’t be accepted, sometimes you’re also protected for the purchase with your credit card.

Top tips

  • Keep any fuel and toll receipts in case there’s a dispute later.
  • Take photos of the car and, in particular, any damage before and after you use it in case there’s a disagreement over its condition.
  • Check if there's a spare tyre! Firstly you might well need it, and secondly, some unsavoury providers may even try to charge you for a 'missing tyre' at the end!
  • Ask what you should do in case of a breakdown and make sure you have the right emergency contact numbers and take a photo of these (in case you get locked out or the car is stolen).

Get hassle-free travel insurance from Pluto



Harry Williams

Harry Williams

Product person, design devotee, travel lover.