Compact Car (credit: Randy Yagi)
There’s no question having a rental car in a foreign country has many advantages. For starters, there’s much more freedom in moving about, and you’ll get to a destination much faster than most any other method. But before you decide to rent a car while overseas, there are some ways to make your driving experience much less confusing and far more entertaining. Here are five great tips on how to rent a car while traveling abroad to help prevent you from being “taken for a ride.”
International Driving Permit
While some countries such as Canada, Mexico, France and Great Britain accept U.S. driver licenses to operate a rental car, many other countries, such as Italy, Switzerland, Spain and Japan, do not recognize U.S. driver’s licenses. If the latter applies to you, you must obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP) prior to your trip. Anyone 18 years or older is eligible to apply, and application forms are available through the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the National Automobile Club. After filling out the form, you must present your valid U.S. driver’s license and two passport-type color photos at a local AAA or National Automobile Club office or regional U.S. Passports office. You can determine if you need an IDP by visiting the U.S. Passports and International Travel website. Information on IDP scams can be found by visiting the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) site. Once on the road, you should be carrying your valid U.S. driver’s license and, if applicable, your IDP.
Instead of renting a car upon arrival, you’ll be far better off booking in advance. Not only will this save time at your car rental agency of choice, it also allows you to save money, especially if you combine it with a trip package. You can also take your time in selecting the right car for you at the right price by doing a price comparison on reliable websites like CheapTickets, Kayak, Expedia and Orbitz. Additionally before making a reservation, determine if you’re eligible for any further discounts on the rental like those offered by membership programs like AAA or AARP, through your credit card company, active military or veterans or other reward programs. Finally, before your trip you should reconfirm your car rental either online or by calling the local agency at your destination’s airport.
Auto Insurance Considerations
Because all four major credit car companies offer some form of auto insurance, it may not be necessary to purchase supplemental coverage if you use a credit card. Additionally, your credit card may also offer emergency assistance, as well as flight insurance and baggage protection. However, you should review your credit card’s coverage to determine how much coverage you have and if the country you’re visiting is included. If you plan to drive in an unfamiliar country with unfamiliar driving rules and roads, you can help ease your mind by purchasing supplemental auto insurance. If you’re still undecided, try calling your credit card company or even your private auto insurance company.
Choosing The Right Car
While having the necessary amount of car insurance is extremely important, the type of car you’ll be driving will also be a major factor on your trip. Regardless of your preference, you should be comfortable with the type of vehicle you plan to drive. Therefore, if you’re accustomed to driving a compact vehicle, why would you want to rent a larger vehicle like an SUV? Conversely, if you’re used to driving a sedan with an automatic, you’d be better off not choosing a similar vehicle with a manual transmission. Additionally, if you’re offered a free upgrade to a larger car, consider whether it’s really necessary, despite what the car rental salesperson may say to convince you. One last bit of advice: don’t forget to make a visual inspection of the car rental, document any scratches, dents etc., and take photos of any damage if necessary.
Know Local Driving Rules
Regardless of your destination, you must familiarize yourself with the local driving rules, especially if you plan to drive in a non-English speaking country. This includes understanding street signs, speed limits and traffic signals, in addition to road conditions such as cobblestone streets and the direction of travel, such as in left-hand traffic countries like Japan, Thailand, Australia and the UK. Of course, there will also be driving rules that are similar to the U.S., including using your seat belts, driving while intoxicated and using a cellphone while driving.
Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he received a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com