Renting a car in a foreign country requires more than just common sense and the experience of having rented a car in your home country. When deciding whether or not to rent a car in a foreign country, in addition to licensing and insurance regulations, you should consider the differences in foreign driving practices and conditions as well. Having rented cars in several foreign countries, I’ve learned some valuable and practical lessons.
- Obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP). You can obtain an IDP in the United States through the American Automobile Association. The IDP is a translation of your driver’s license into 11 different languages. It is much like a passport, and must be accompanied by your valid driver’s license when used. The IDP is recognized in 120 countries. Luckily I had one, because the car rental agency I used in France required it. You may contact the AAA for application requirements and details.
- Determine hours of operation of the car rental agency. This might seem like a minor thing but it should not be taken for granted. If you are expecting to have a vehicle available at an airport when you arrive and your arrival is delayed, you may find that the agencies are all closed for the night and you are left without wheels. I found out the hard way, arriving in Larnaca, Cyprus, at midnight and finding no car rental agencies open. I took a $40 cab ride to my hotel and arranged for a rental car the next day.
- Check insurance requirements. Insurance requirements vary from country to country. While some car rental rates may appear to be low, insurance can drive the price up to double what you might be expecting to pay. You should determine what your own car insurance and credit cards cover and whether or not this coverage is acceptable for the country you are in. Waiving insurance offered by agents on a rental car without knowing all the risks can be disastrous and costly. I waived the insurance in Mexico and ended up paying for a spare tire that the agency said had been stolen.
- Familiarize yourself with local driving customs. I’ve driven in countries such as Cyprus where they drive on the left side of the road; I’m accustomed to driving on the right. Adjusting to this difference is not as easy as it might seem, especially in remote areas where there is no traffic to use as a guide. In Mexico, where their driving might seem a bit reckless to a stranger, knowing how they drive and why makes good sense. There, as with the law of the sea, the vehicle in the forward position has the right of way. Knowing this, when I was being passed on either side, I remained aware when a car eased ahead of me so I wasn’t unexpectedly struck from the side or cut off.
When renting a car in a foreign country, do your homework and leave nothing to chance. Check local rules and practices and make renting a car in a foreign country a safe and pleasant experience.
AAA International Driving Permit