7 Tips for Renting a Car in Europe

03.20.23 by Travelex Insurance
Image credit: Getty Images

There’s so much to see in Europe, renting a car is one of the best ways to explore without being tethered to train or bus schedules. With a car rental you have the freedom of traveling at your own pace, but there are several important things you need to know. Read our answers to the most common questions travelers ask about renting a car in Europe .

1. Do I need an International Driving Permit (IDP)?

More than likely you’ll need an International Driving Permit to drive in Europe legally. An IDP is a supplement to your driver’s license and passport, not a replacement, and translates your license into 10 different languages. When you pick up your rental car, you’ll be asked to show your confirmation number, driver’s license, passport, credit card, and likely your IDP. You can apply for an IDP through Fastport Passport, which covers 150 countries.

2. Does it matter what car rental company and car type I choose?

Car rental company

Many experts will advise you to avoid small rental companies and towns when renting a car in Europe. The potential issue is they typically have a smaller inventory of cars to choose from and if you break down, you want to be as close to help — and a replacement car — as possible. Stick with a major car rental company In Europe, these would be Hertz, Avis, Budget, Europcar, and Sixt. You may choose to use a resource like Auto Europe, which will price out the costs of multiple car rental companies at the same time. Once your rental is taken care of, always call a few days before arrival to confirm your reservation. It’s usually more cost-effective to pay in advance than at the counter, and you’ll also avoid international transaction fees. Always read through the company’s cancellation fee, especially if your itinerary is likely to change, to confirm whether advance payment is still cheaper.

Type of rental car

According to Rick Steves, “Expect some differences between your typical American rental car and what you'll likely get in Europe, where midrange cars have less passenger room, vast trunk space is unheard of, and manual transmissions are the norm. Automatics are more expensive (usually about 50% more). Since supplies are limited, you'll need to book an automatic farther in advance than a manual-transmission car. You'll find a better selection of automatics in big cities and airports.”

3. Can I cross European borders in a rental car?

Always determine if your rental contract allows you to cross borders between countries, and double check to be sure your itinerary falls within the allowed countries of your rental agreement. Some rental car companies specify where a rental can be driven, while others specify where vehicles cannot be driven. Issues may arise if you plan on taking your rental car into non-Schengen areas, and there may be restrictions regarding which type of car you’re allowed to drive across certain borders. Be aware that some rental car companies charge extra fees for each border crossed, so know what to expect before you rent.

4. Are there European rental car age restrictions?

Rental car age restrictions may affect the cost of reservation, especially for those under 25 (often called a young driver surcharge) and sometimes for senior drivers over 75 years. Age limits will depend on the rental company and location. Auto Europe has a handy guideline chart broken down by country to help determine age restrictions.

5. What about rental car insurance?

Standard insurance offered with most European car rental companies have significant excess amounts, leaving you to pay the excess (over the limit of what they’ll cover) in the event of an accident. Some companies offering comprehensive insurance that removes your liability to pay an excess are often quite overpriced. It is undoubtedly wise to purchase travel insurance for your trip and with the car rental collision upgrade, you  can be covered for the duration of your trip for rental car damages or loss. Covering your trip and rental car in one policy can simplify things for you and give you peace of mind while traveling.

6. How much does it cost to rent a car in Europe?

Take the time to do your homework with pricing rental cars. Check to see if you can save money with a weekly rental versus daily. Double-check currency conversions when comparing prices. Consider that automatic transmission rentals will always cost more, as will full-size vehicles, Sunday rentals, and taking on additional drivers. Know that picking up your rental from an airport or train station will incur an additional fee, so measure the expense against your itinerary and weigh pick-up/drop-off options with the convenience verses cost in mind.

7. What extra fees should I watch out for?

Some rental companies will charge border-crossing fees. While this isn’t usually an issue in Western Europe, you can be charged for crossing in and out of non-EU countries. Be aware of vignettes, which are stickers you attach to your windshield showing you have paid highway tolls (taxes). If renting in a country that requires a vignette, you should be covered by the rental company (always ask). If you drive the car from a country that doesn’t require one into a country that does, you’ll need to purchase one. You can either buy a digital vignette online or purchase a sticker at the border. Also be aware that you may run across ferry fees while you’re roaming. Rental companies allow renters to take a vehicle on a ferry, but a breakdown (for any reason) on an island is going to result in a hefty cost. Be sure to check with the rental company to confirm how they handle this issue.

Traveling around Europe in a rental car can help you explore beautiful places off the beaten path. Be sure to do your research before booking, as laws in various countries can change without notice. We are here to help you protect your travel investment abroad. Get a quote for travel insurance today.

The product descriptions provided here are only brief summaries and may be changed without notice. The full coverage terms and details, including limitations and exclusions, are contained in the insurance policy.

Travel Insurance is underwritten by Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance Company; NAIC #22276.    

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