If you have ever rented a car in the United States, you would certainly be familiar with some of the well-known companies that specialize in this area and the type of service they provide. From arranging to get the car, typically through an online deal to picking it up at a convenient location and finally returning it, hopefully you have had good experiences and everything went as expected. In a foreign country, however, renting a car may not necessarily be as smooth as you would hope, and as I have learned, it can be very frustrating at times.
Before traveling overseas, I generally familiarize myself with the driving requirements and habits of the foreign country I plan to visit. Depending on the place, an international driver’s license may be needed; whereas, in other countries it is not necessary and you can use your U.S. driver’s permit.
With respect to acquiring a rental car to drive while there, I have also tried to use companies that I am familiar with in the U.S., such as Hertz, Budget, Alamo or Avis who have a presence in that country. One thing I have discovered, however, is that the subsidiary car rental companies tend to operate differently in a foreign country and you will not necessarily get the same type of service as you would expect in the US. Even if you reserve a particular car online in the US, there is no guarantee that you will get the vehicle that you requested either.
Below are some lessons I learned from renting cars in a foreign country, which hopefully will be of some benefit for your next trip.
Pay attention to the location of the car rental company.
If you are picking up a car at the airport, make sure that the rental company is located in the terminal. I have rented a car before from a reputable US company only to find out that the office location was off site. Although it was just outside the airport and not too far, the distance was still too far to walk and drag my luggage at the same time. The company did have a free phone attached to a wall which was supposed to dial directly to their office however that phone did not work either. We had to hire a taxi to take us to the rental office.
Note the car rental company operating hours.
If your flight is arriving late in the country, make sure that someone is there to get the rental car to you. Some of the rental car companies are not open all night long and they may be closed by the time your flight arrives. This has been my experience and I was not able to pick up the rental car until the next morning. Again, I had to get a taxi to my destination that night and then again back to the rental company in the morning. The next time I travelled that I made sure to get the phone number and/e-mail address of that particular office, made contact with someone there and communicated directly with them concerning my flight arrival time to ensure that I would have a car waiting for me when I arrived. I have found this method to work successfully. The company made sure they had a car was available for me when I arrived after normal closing hours.
Be sure to get the car rental insurance.
You are responsible for any damages while renting a car and while some people may not get rental insurance in the United States because they will be covered by their own insurance policy, it is wise to get the insurance coverage in a foreign country. In most cases, it is required anyway. Even if you are a good driver in your own country, you can never know what you will encounter in a foreign country. In my experience driving in the Caribbean for example, the roads are generally much narrower than in the US and local drivers tend to speed, even around corners. There are also many winding roads especially in the rural areas and the roads are not usually well maintained. You also have to dodge many pot holes which can cause some major damage to the rental car. In addition, if you have never driven in the Caribbean, be aware that you will be driving on the left side of the road and the cars are right hand drive.
Also if you have a digital camera or smart phone take pictures of the car when you receive it. You don’t want to incur any additional fees for damage that you were not responsible for. I have made sure that the employee checking the car with me is aware that I am also taking photos prior to them handing the car over to me.
Make sure you have the right sized car to fit all passengers.
I traveled with about 7 other people on one particular vacation trip and had requested from the rental agency to have a car that could seat 8 people. What we ended up getting was a car that could hold only 7 people. In the US each passenger must have a seat belt and it is an easy way to tell how many people the vehicle can comfortably seat. In a foreign country, this is not necessarily the case. You may want to ask specifically about the make and model of the vehicle to be sure that it fits your needs.
Although my previous experiences were not always smooth, I am not dissuaded from renting cars in a foreign country. If anything, I have learned that the companies do operate differently in terms of service and although it may not be what we are used to and have come to expect, I have made the necessary adjustments with success.