There are so many reasons to rent a car when visiting another country, the most convincing one is convenience, picture this: you arrive to the Cancun International Airport (CUN) to get ready for a few days of sun and fun in Tulum, Mexico, but after 7 hours of flights + layovers, you have to wait an additional 2 hours for the next shuttle to drive you the 73 miles to Tulum. You’d wish you had thought about renting a car instead so you can make the 1.5hr trip yourself and get to paradise ASAP.
Tip: Click the Country/City name to access my guide and trip recap.
The other reason that renting a car in another country is justifiable is cost. Oftentimes, it’s cheaper to have your own wheels vs relying on public transportation, ride sharing, shuttles and taxis! Quick taxi ride here, jump in a lyft there…and boom, you’ve spent upwards of $100USD for transportation in a day. When visiting Costa Rica, we were staying 3 hours from the airport, our hotel offered a $190 USD per person, one way OR we could rent a car for $500 USD for the total trip, including insurance, split between two. The latter made sense because we then were able to drive to all of our excursions, dinners and places we wanted to visit, with only the additional costs of gas and tolls. We definitely saved money!
Lastly, some locations don’t have a lot of public transportation options available. Think Los Angeles, unlike it’s “large-city” counterparts NYC and Boston, LA does not have a wide transit network, you can’t quickly hop on a train to get across the city and though ride sharing app Uber was birthed on the west coast, it can still be costly.
So, now that I’ve convinced you that you should consider renting a car, check below for a few tips:
- Probably the most obvious, but have your driver’s license! If you’re in the U.S., you should have a U.S. driver’s license, please check THIS list to understand how to get a license in the US if you’re a U.S. citizen and what to do if you’re a visitor/not a U.S. citizen! A U.S. driver’s license is acceptable to drive in all 50 states in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, some countries in Europe, the Caribbean, South America and Africa.
For other circumstances, an International Driving Permit (IDP) is required (in addition to a valid license from your own country). IDPs are valid for a full year, but check local website for the most up-to-date information. IDPs are available in over 150 countries around the world and can be translated into 10 languages. Also note, having a valid driver’s license or IDP is a requirement to secure a reservation for many rental car companies.
So, how do I get one? Companies like AAA make the application process easy, complete the application, present a passport picture and valid driver’s license and pay the $20 USD processing fee. Check HERE for more information or google “IDP for XXX country” to get more information.
2. Make sure you have insurance coverage. It is illegal to drive without insurance coverage (and without a license) in most countries.
I have the Chase Sapphire Reserved travel credit card, and it’s hefty $550 USD annual fee comes with a ton of travel benefits, including Special Car Rental Privileges and Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver that covers up to $75,000 USD in theft and collision damage. This waiver enables me to bypass most insurance plans offered by rental companies (except in rare instances where a country wants you to have additional insurance specific to their laws-like Costa Rica). See HERE for more information on the Chase Sapphire travel benefits. Check with your credit card company and your personal car insurance to see what options and coverage is available to you, you’d be surprised!
For those who can’t leverage the above options, there are still other insurance solutions available. Click HERE for a list of my favorite, reputable insurance companies that can offer coverage for your entire trip INCLUDING rental car insurance. Some of the companies include AIG, Travel Safe, Trawick Travel Insured, and more.
3. Navigation prep! Gone are the days of printing out map quest directions and following along the written instructions! In your hometown/country, you’re probably used to just leveraging apps like Google Maps or even Waze to maneuver through new or unfamiliar territory, but when in a new country, you have to plan ahead for things like access or lack of service. Rental car companies do still offer GPS rentals for a small fee, but alternatively, you can take Google Maps with you abroad, to over 104 countries! Before traveling, ensure you either have service or a SIM card and then download google maps and you’re ready to hit the road. If you will not have service, you can plan ahead by downloading an offline map, which can still give you driving directions despite having slow or no internet connection- check HERE for more information on offline maps.
4. Budget for additional expenses such as gas and tolls! I always recommend that people carry at least $20USD or its equivalency in cash for emergencies, but I suggest more than this when a rental car is involved. You can do some research ahead to roughly estimate how much you’ll spend in gas and fees to have an idea of how much to budget, and I recommend that you carry cash in addition to cards, in the event that cash is the only thing available. I also recommend understanding what the most common currency is and converting a few dollars to the local currency before hitting the road-sometimes, toll booths will only accept cash/cash in the local currency.
5. Familiarize yourself with the local rules of the road. Ignorance of the law is never a valid excuse for breaking said law. Unfortunately, you need to be overly aware of things that are illegal, like turning right on red in the city of New York, this isn’t allowable whereas it’s a norm in many other U.S. cities.
And aside from actual laws, know the “rules” of the road. What side of the road do you drive on? While 163 countries drive on the right-side of the road, you’ll find left-side driving in most (former) British colonies like South Africa, UK, and Bermuda for example.
6. Actually booking the car. I am huge promoter of booking experiences and excursions once at your destination, but for rental cars, I don’t like to always throw caution to the wind. I typically book my rental cars via expedia.com, it not only helps me to build points to use towards future stays/rentals, but it comes with 24/7 customer service and a menu of rental car companies to choose from! I can also read reviews from previous travelers to sort out any red flag or sketchy companies.
7. Consider parking costs or restrictions. In some cities/countries, you might not only spend a lot of time searching for parking, you may pay a lot to secure a spot as well. I try to look for hotels or Airbnb’s that include complimentary valet or parking, but this is not always an option when visiting larger cities like New York or D.C. in the US. Factor these costs into your overall rental budget!
When visiting big cities in the U.S. I leverage apps like ParkWhiz, Park Me or SpotHero, to find discounted parking rates! Click HERE for a list by Emily Delbridge on the Best Parking Apps to Save Time & Money.
8. When reserving your car, pay attention to the details. What kind of car will you need? Will you be doing any off-roading? How many people are traveling with you? Will you need a van? Do you need a lot of trunk space? What are the weather conditions? Will you need a vehicle with snow tires? Do not assume that the rental car company will think of these things for you! On a ski trip to Denver in the middle of December, we were given a rental car WITHOUT snow tires, and we slid up and down those mountains!
You’ll also want to make sure the vehicle is automatic if you are not trained in driving a stick shift (also known as manual or standard) – they are not the same! In the U.S., 96% of Americans drive automatic vehicles, but worldwide about 1/3 of the world’s cars are manual!
Additional Notes: Safety is always a top priority. Pay attention to your intuition if a situation makes you feel uneasy. Try to drive only during day light and on well lit streets. Lock your car and hide valuables when not in the vehicle.
Planning a road trip? Check out my Road Trip Essentials, Ultimate Road Tripping Guide HERE