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Not every country will honor your state driver's license, and you may even be turned away from the rental car counter unless you have an International Driver's Permit (IDP).

Traveling to Europe? 5 Tips When Renting a Car Outside of the U.S.

Car rental lot
Car rental lot

Car rental insurance and insurance in general is very different in Europe than it is here in the U.S. The good news is that, as a rule, residents of the EU aren’t nearly as litigious as we are in America. And because lawsuits aren’t as profligate, insurance there is more about damage to the vehicle and covering medical expenses in case of injury than it is dragging someone to court. When you rent domestically, your personal car insurance may cover your liability in case of an accident. But when you head outside the country, you can’t rely on your policy. Here are five tips on renting a car in Europe or anywhere else you travel.

#1 Learn the local laws

Before you hit foreign shores, it’s best to brush up on driving laws, insurance regulations, and rental car policies so you’re well informed. You don’t want to get into trouble by making a right on red in a left-hand driving country, misinterpreting street signs, or parking where you shouldn’t because you weren’t savvy to local signage and got towed. Click here for a roster of foreign embassy websites that may offer info on driving rules. Otherwise, hit Google and you’ll find plenty of information there. The last thing you want is to be stopped for a traffic violation or get involved in an accident.

#2 Pay for your rental wisely

Some credit card companies may include rental car insurance, even for an international rental. American Express offers coverage for theft or damage in most cases so long as you pay the entire rental with their card. And reserving in advance can score a better price and allow you to pay in US dollars rather than another fluctuating currency. Avis and Budget allow you rent internationally on their websites as do major travel sites like Expedia and Travel Zoo. This also ensures you won’t be left scrambling if you land and there are no cars for last-minute renters.

#3 Get an International Driver’s Permit

Not every country will honor your state driver’s license, and you may even be turned away from the rental car counter unless you have an International Driver’s Permit (IDP). You can get an IDP from AAA or the National Auto Club, but it cannot be obtained more than six months in advance of your travel. You must also carry your state license along with the IDP in case you are stopped for an infraction or accident. An IDP is valid for one year from the date of issuance. If you need rush service, you can get an IDP in less than a week if you pay for expedited service.

#4 Know how you’ll find your destinations

Most of us rely on Google Maps to get us where we need to go, and you can rest assured that they are just as reliable in other countries as they are here. The upside to sticking with Google Maps is that you already know how to use it. You can usually rent a GPS device with your car for $10-$20 a day. That’s pretty steep. The only consideration is your international data usage. Contact your cell service carrier to find out if you can upgrade to an international calling plan for the length of your travel. An alternative is to rent an international phone for the duration of your stay that comes with data included.

#5 Consider skipping the rental altogether

In America, we’re very vehicle-centric, but then again, it’s a big country, and many of us don’t have access to public transportation. By comparison, many international locales, particularly in Europe have excellent train, bus, and taxi services. You may find it’s more cost effective to buy a train pass or pay per ride than to rent a vehicle. Plus you’ll avoid the stress of driving on unknown roads, dealing with unfamiliar customs, and the myriad parking hassles you’ll face. If you want to explore this option, check the State Department website for travel alerts where you’re headed to make sure it’s safe to hop a train.

In Europe, rental rates often include liability insurance but not collision coverage. You’ll want a collision damage waiver (CDW) if it’s not included with your rental, or your credit card company doesn’t include it. A super CDW covers the car from top to bottom with little or no deductible but can cost $30-$50 a day on top of the rental. A final option is to look to a third-party insurer for a low-cost CDW for less than $10 a day. No matter what options you choose, preparation is key to safe driving on international roads.

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About Alyssa Sellors

Alyssa Sellors was an English and Journalism educator for eight years and now works as a freelance writer and journalist. She is a regular contributor to a number of publications. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, reading, and spending time with her husband, baby boy, and two chihuahuas.

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