Renting a car for a holiday or business trip overseas can be a pain—especially if it is your first time in that country. Car rental policies, in general, do not tend to be similar from one country to another; the same goes for the rental fees and charges. Some people tend to completely avoid renting a car while abroad; often preferring to take public transportation to take in the “charms” of their destination. This strategy might work in an urban setting where the public transportation system is efficient, but suburban and rural locations are a different ballgame altogether.
Having a car to drive from one location to the other (especially to locations not serviced by public transportation systems) is very comfortable and convenient, especially if you are traveling with a family or a group of friends. Here are some tips to ease the seemingly difficult challenge of international car rental.
Do your homework. Deciding at the spur of the moment whether you need or do not need to hire a car will not do you good. Simply picking from the hire desks at the airport of your destination will often result to more fees; you would not have a good idea whether you are getting a good deal or not. If you are conscious of keeping to your travel budget (or even setting up a travel budget in the first place), make sure to do your homework.
First, determine the airport you are arriving at. Many car rental firms have hire desks at airports; however, airport locations tend to be more expensive than any other location. This is because the companies have a captive audience in the airports, and can thus charge many an unprepared traveler higher than usual. The high volume of people wanting to rent cars at the airport can also be a potential problem; you cannot be sure that you can get the car model or variety that you wish to rent. Imagine renting a gas-guzzling SUV when all you wanted (and prepared to pay for) is an economical compact car. Surely, an SUV will cost more in the long run—especially with today’s fuel costs—even if it is offered to you as a free upgrade.
Book in advance. Leaving the rental booking or reservations to the last minute is a recipe for vacation stress. Make sure to book early—especially during peak season—to ensure that you have a car reserved for you when you get to your location. The Independent Traveler, a community of real travelers with extensive experience on all travel-related things, says that car hire rates are “almost always higher at the counter than they will be over the phone or online, even just 24 hours before pickup.”
Also, booking in advance (at least three weeks ahead of your arrival date) will allow you to shop for better deals. Some veteran holidaymakers advise other travelers to book the first good deal they see, look for other (better) deals, and cancel the first reservation should a better deal be found. Many car hire companies will cancel reservations or bookings for free if the customer provides a notice of cancellation at least 24 hours before pickup. Also, make sure to book the car rental before you depart from your country to get cheaper rates and make the process easier. Plus, hidden clauses and charges will likely be prevented if you possess a comprehensive quote or cost estimate before arriving at the collection desk.
Plan your routes. Driving a car abroad might be convenient and comfortable, but it can also be a nightmare for people unfamiliar with the roads. Even with almost superhuman navigation skills, people will have a hard time finding the best routes in unfamiliar territory.
Ask questions. Knowing as much as possible about company policies and terms of rental will definitely save you a lot of money and grief in the future. Make sure to ask about the car hire company’s policies on late returns, minor cosmetic damages, and special rates and discounts. It is also important to determine whether the company requires that customers return the vehicle “full to empty” or “full to full.” Full to empty means leaving the car rental lot with a full tank of gas and returning the vehicle empty of fuel, while full to full means that the customer will leave the lot and return the vehicle with a full tank of gas. Policies vary from country to country, so do not assume anything and ask questions.
Some countries might have minimum and maximum ages for customers; for example, drivers over 70 years old or under 25 years old might be required to pay a surcharge, or might be barred from renting a vehicle. Automatic transmission can also fetch a higher fee in some countries, so make sure to ask before booking.
Pay with your credit card, when possible. Many people are wary of providing credit card information to companies that can tack on bills to their credit cards. However, paying cash in a foreign country can be a tricky deal—foreign exchange rates are constantly shifting, so instead of dealing with plenty of maths (and consequently running out of fingers to count with), your MasterCard or Visa is the perfect mode of payment. Banks typically use the foreign exchange rate listed on the day of purchase as their point of conversion. To get the best deals in a wide range of locations, go to ElephantCarHire.net, where international rates are automatically converted to a single currency and no credit card charges are collected from customers.
Get an International Driving Permit. Basically, an International Driving Permit (IDP) is a piece of paper that translates your information into 10 different languages and is recognized in over 150 countries. However, you must get this document from your home country and you must remember that an IDP is not a license in itself, but a translation of your current driving license. Some car rental firms require their customers to present the original driving license with an IDP, so it is best to be prepared.