A handy guide to hiring a car abroad in 2019

Navigating the minefield of hiring a car aborad

Overseas holidays are a great opportunity to explore new lands, embrace new cultures, and hit new roads. But hiring a car in a foreign country isn’t always a seamless process. Fortunately, our helpful guide has you covered…

What do I need to take when hiring a car?

When you arrive at the airport and head over to the car hire “village”, you’ll need to be armed with the right documents and payment methods.

Here’s a few things to check off:

  1. Credit card: While some companies will allow you to use a debit card to pick up your car, most won’t. It’s vital to have a credit card in the name of the driver when you collect your holiday wheels, to make sure you don’t hit any problems.
  2. Your driving licence: You’ll only need the pink photocard part of your licence and not the green paper counterpart. Although many rental firms won’t ask for it, it’s still a good idea to download a free report of your licence restrictions and obtain a “check code” from the DVLA. To do this you must contact the DVLA via its website or by calling 0300 083 0013. Just give them your driving licence number, National Insurance number and postcode, and you’ll receive a code, which will be valid for 21 days.
  3. International driving permit: If you’re driving in a non-EU country, you may be required to have an International Driving Permit. You can pick one up for £5.50 from the AA,the RAC or the Post Office. To get one you must be a GB or Northern Ireland resident, be over 18 and have passed your driving test.
  4. Booking form: Take a printed copy of your car hire booking form, including any reference numbers, to avoid delays in locating your reservation.

The small print

Sometimes you can run into added expenses that are written in the small print. Before paying for your booking or signing for the car, take extra care to read the detail.

Excess waiver cover

The excess on rental car insurance can be pretty heavy. You can avoid this by taking out additional excess waiver cover, but this can sometimes be more than the daily rate of the vehicle itself. The firm could even add this on without highlighting it, so it’s worth double checking.

However, as you’re likely to be driving on the opposite side of the car and on a different side of the road, you could conceivably be more exposed to having an accident. You can cover yourself by taking out standalone cover in the UK before you go.

Fuel policies

Every car rental firm is different and it’s important to check the fuel policy before you drive away. If you don’t, you could be landed with a hefty bill on returning the vehicle, or you could even end up refilling a car with fuel after you’ve already paid for a full tank.


Hiring a car isn’t cheap, especially when companies are looking to make extra cash by charging you for add-ons, like sat nav, additional drivers and car seats.

Where possible, try to avoid these fees as they’re typically disproportionate to the rental cost.

  • Can you use the GPS maps on your phone? It’s often cheaper to buy a roaming data pass than pay for sat nav, and in Europe it’s now included in most plans. If you have your own sat nav, make sure the maps are updated with the country you’re visiting
  • Most airlines won’t charge you to take a car seat on board, and this could add up to notable savings. You’ll also have peace of mind knowing you’re using one you’re happy with
  • Unless you really need to split the driving, having a nominated person will save you a tidy sum


Police and car hire firms will typically share details of driving contraventions that occur when you’re using a car abroad. This could lead to points or even a disqualification in the country you’re travelling to.

Before you go, try and familiarise yourself with the local driving laws. Do you give way to the right? Are you travelling through low emissions zones? Are dipped headlights required during the day?

By doing your research you can avoid any accidents or penalties that could bring down your holiday mood.

Things to note

  • If you’re only hiring a car for a couple of days, or just looking for a holiday run-around for short distances, a “full-to-empty” fuel policy could see you handing the vehicle back with fuel you’ve already paid for. Try and opt for a “full-to-full” policy if you’re unlikely to be travelling that far
  • If you’re filling up in France, remember that ‘gazole’ is ‘diesel’ and NOT gas/petrol
  • In Italy there’s a zero alcohol limit for drivers who have held a licence for less than three years

Now you know all you need to about hiring a car, take a look at top tips for driving abroad.

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