The first time I rented a car in another country was in Israel. A friend had convinced me that we should head out to the desert for the weekend and that since we were going to need a car to get there, I should be the one to rent it. White-knuckled and trying to negotiate my way through Tel Aviv’s chaos, I cursed him repeatedly and though I managed to get through the weekend without killing, maiming, or endangering anyone, I promised myself that I would just stick to modes of transport where I’m not the one behind the wheel.
Flash forward two months later and this same friend has convinced me that we need to rent a car to get to a remote resort in the Swiss Alps. Circling around Geneva, I’m again thinking about hitting him with my anti theft purse and wondering how many times we’re going to go through this. Turns out, quite a few. Here’s what you need to know about renting a car overseas:
International Driver’s License
You can get one from AAA for a nominal fee. I’m of the opinion that it’s always better to have one though it’s true that many countries will accept a U.S. driver’s license. If you’re just renting a car for a few days while traveling across Europe, you really don’t need to worry about it. Just make sure you have your passport and a valid driver’s license from your country of origin. If you’re not sure, then check with the rental agency you’re going through or do a quick Google search on the country you’re visiting. I have one because I’d rather have one and not need it than need one and not have it.
Familiarize yourself with the tolls. In Europe especially, there are certain roads you can’t get through without paying and you’ll want to make sure ahead of time that you have enough cash or a card that works in the machines. You’ll also just want to double check your route to ensure you don’t get blindsided on one of Switzerland’s beautiful, but expensive tunnel roads.
Rules of the Road
Don’t take for granted that you know the traffic laws. In Germany, for example, you need to pay attention to which lane you’re in depending on how fast you’re going. Unless you have a need for speed, stay to the right. Seriously. Also, that whole “right on red” thing doesn’t apply in Europe. Just FYI.
If you don’t specify that you need an automatic, you’ll most likely get a stick shift. It’s definitely cheaper to rent a stick shift, but if you’ve never driven one before, this probably isn’t the time to start.
Just pay the extra money for the insurance if your own doesn’t cover it. I promise you, it’s worth it.
One of the biggest differences in renting cars overseas is the size of the vehicles. Vehicles are typically categorized one size smaller than the cars in the U.S. or Canada. If you need a mid-size car, make sure to specify a full size car when renting overseas.