Julie Travel Advice 87 Comments

Having a car provides a lot of freedom and convenience when traveling through Europe. You can travel at your own pace, stop frequently to take in the view, and get to some places that are difficult to reach with public transportation. However, there are some things to know about renting a car in Europe. Knowing these differences in advance can save you some money and maybe even a big travel headache.

Renting a Car in Europe

#1 Choosing a Company

The major rental car companies in Europe are Avis, Hertz, Budget, Europcar, and Sixt.

We always book our rental car in advance. During the planning phase of the trip, Tim checks the rates for the major companies and chooses the one with the best price. It takes extra time to price out five companies, but prices can vary widely depending on promotions and supply and demand, and it has been worth it to do this extra work in order to save money.

We don’t have a preference for one particular company, we just want the best deal.

If you don’t like the idea of pricing out the costs for multiple companies, you can use Auto Europe, which will find you the best rates for your trip. It’s similar to using Kayak when searching for the best deals on plane flights.

Trollstigen

Trollstigen, Norway

#2 Factors that Affect Rental Car Price

There are the obvious factors that determine price, such as duration of the rental period and the size of the vehicle. But there may also be some factors that you are not aware of.

Manual vs. Automatic

Manual vehicles are much more common in Europe than automatic vehicles. You can rent an automatic but these cars can cost as much as 50% more than a manual vehicle.

Different Pick-Up and Drop-Off Locations

Sometimes it makes sense to pick up a car at one location and drop it off at a different location.

For example, if you are driving through southern France, you may pick up a car in Nice, road trip through the French Riviera and Provence, and drop the car in Avignon.

Dropping the car off at a different location saves you a lot of time and unnecessary backtracking. However, there is a drop fee and this usually costs between €100 and €300, but it can be a lot more (up to €1000), particularly if you are picking it up in one country and dropping it off in another country.

When getting an estimate for different pick-up and drop-off locations, you have to decide if the extra money you will spend is worth saving the time and extra driving.

Tim and our Mega Van

Our “mega” van in Germany. The smaller shop in town did not have the compact car that we reserved, so Tim drove this beast on the Autobahn.

Picking up a Rental Car at an Airport or Train Station Adds an Extra Fee

Sure, it may be convenient to pick up a rental car at an airport or train station, but this usually comes with an additional charge, as much as €25 to €100 depending on the country. To save money, consider renting from a shop in town.

With that being said, renting at an airport or train station does have several advantages. It’s very convenient to get off the plane, pick up your car, and drive to your hotel. Secondly, the car rental facilities are much larger at airports and train stations. They have a higher volume of cars, so you’re less likely to be stuck waiting for a car or stuck with a car class you didn’t reserve (like in the photo above). And finally, those smaller shops also have reduced hours. Don’t expect to pick up or drop off a car before 9 am or past 5 pm at many of these locations.

It’s up to you to decide if the extra fee at the airport or train station is worth the convenience.

Cross Border Fees

Some rental car companies will charge you extra for driving their cars into certain countries. When driving through western Europe this is generally not an issue. However, you can be charged extra when driving into or between non-EU countries. This fee ranges from €15 to €50.

#3 You May Not be Permitted to Drive into Certain Countries

Some companies may forbid you from driving into specific countries, typically those than are not in the EU. Countries that can make this list are Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Albania, and Montenegro. However, these rules are always changing and can be very particular to certain rental companies.

#4 Make Sure you have an International Drivers Permit

When you go to pick up your car they will ask to see your confirmation number, drivers license, passport, and credit card. And they could potentially ask to see your International Drivers Permit (IDP).

An IDP translates your Driver’s License into 10 different languages. It contains your name, photograph, and driver information. You can get an IDP at AAA for $20.

It is important to know that an IDP does not replace your Driver’s License or passport; it supplements your Driver’s License.

Countries that require you to have an IDP are Spain, Germany, Italy, Greece, Slovenia, Poland, Hungary, Austria, and Bosnia & Herzegovina. You may not be asked to show your IDP when picking up your rental car in these countries, but it’s still a good idea to have one just in case.

Croatia Highway

Driving through Croatia

#5 What’s a Vignette, You Ask?

A vignette is simply a sticker that you attach to your windshield that shows that you have paid the highway taxes. If you rent a car in a country that requires a vignette, you will already be covered. However, if you drive a rental car into a country that requires a vignette, you will have to purchase it.

Countries that require vignettes include Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Switzerland, Hungary, Slovenia, and Bulgaria.

Vignettes are sold at border crossings and nearby gas stations. You can purchase a vignette for €3 to €10, depending on the country. If you fail to purchase a vignette, you could be fined 60€ or more.

#6 And then there’s this thing called the “Green Card”

A green card is a cross-border insurance card that proves that your car has at least minimum level of insurance required.

Most countries in the EU do not require you to have a green card. It’s required in just a handful of countries, including Bosnia & Herzegovina, Albania, and Montenegro, just to name a few. We needed a green card for our trip on the Balkan Peninsula and we spent $2.34 USD per day for the green card.

This is issued by your rental car company when you make your reservation.

#7 Use a Credit Card that Offers Rental Insurance

Some credit cards offer car rental insurance. We always reserve our rental cars using our Visa card because it provides collision damage insurance so we do not pay extra for the rental car company’s insurance.

#8 About Filling the Car with Gas

What Americans call “gas,” Europeans call essence, petrol, or benzine. Regular unleaded gas is labeled as “95” at the petrol stations.

There’s a very good chance that you will be adding diesel to your car, rather than unleaded gasoline. When you pick up your rental car, confirm what type of “gas” you will need to add.

Prices are listed in liters, so it may look cheap, but one gallon of gas costs roughly €7 in Europe.

#9 Driving on the Left in the UK and Ireland

If you are accustomed to driving on the right side of the road, making that switch to the left can be intimidating. At first, it takes a lot of concentration. Roundabouts, busy city streets, and entrance ramps onto highways can be nerve wracking. All of a sudden you feel like a newbie driver again.

Give it some time and it does get easier, and rather quickly. Just remind yourself which side of the road to stay on as you make a turn and as you enter a roundabout. It can be helpful for the passenger to remind the driver as well.

The other thing to know about driving on the opposite side of the road is that the driver’s seat will also be on the opposite side of the vehicle, forcing you to shift gears with your opposite hand. If shifting gears with your opposite hand concerns you then make sure you select an automatic car when you make your reservation.

Dingle Drive

The Dingle Peninsula, Ireland

#10 The Quirks of Manual Transmission

One thing to know about manual transmission is that it’s not always as simple as pushing in the clutch and moving the gear shifter to “R”. In Europe, some cars require an extra step.

You may have to apply downward pressure on the gear shifter, pull up on the collar of the gear shifter, or even press a button on the collar of the gear shifter, in order to get it to engage into reverse.

Just make sure you know how to put the car in reverse before you drive it off the lot.

#11 European Street Signs

Become familiar with European street signs. If you are from the United States, European street signs are very different than the streets in the United States. Click here for a giant list with images of the street signs used in Europe.
 

#12 Is Parking Included with Your Hotel?

Confirm if your hotel, hostel, apartment, etc. offers parking and if they do, what type of parking that is available. Possible options include private parking on the hotel property, parking on the road next to the hotel, or in a nearby parking garage. All of these have different factors to be considered, such as the cost, the hassle of finding a space, and the chance that you may need to parallel park.

If your hotel offers private parking, then it is also a good idea to determine if you need to reserve a space in advance since there may not be enough parking for all of their guests. Street parking might mean that you need to brush up on your parallel parking skills before your trip and there might also be fees during certain hours of the day.


Have you rented a car in Europe? Are there any tips or tricks about renting a car in Europe that we missed? Comment below and let us know!

 

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Renting a Car in Europe

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Comments 87

  1. So helpful! We are going on our first European family tour this summer and this post was so insightful, thank you!
    Question: Do you know if there is anything additional we may need for our rental car? We are starting in Paris, France – Belgium – Netherlands – Germany – Switzerland – Italy – Paris, France.
    It is so confusing on line to look up requirements.
    I will grab a IDP from AAA.
    I will also grab a vignette when arriving in Switzerland.
    I have a “travel” credit card.
    Anything else?
    Thank you so much for this article!!!!

    1. Post
      Author

      All of the countries on your list seem to be relatively straightforward to drive in and don’t have any special rules (like Croatia or Bosnia & Herzegovina). There could be some toll roads, so when you pick up your rental car, ask the agent how that works with your rental car. But it looks like you have everything covered. Have a great trip! Cheers, Julie

  2. Thank you for the info. I tried looking into some rentals for Portugal and saw a note on some sites that the rental company may not accept credit cards that are not embossed? All my cards have laser name and credit card numbers. Have you heard of this issue?

    1. Post
      Author

      This is the very first that I have heard of this. I recommend reaching out to the rental car company that you choose to make sure that you don’t have an issue. Cheers, Julie

  3. Thank you for writing this article! I’m talking a 2 (ish) week trip with a friend to Portugal and Spain, but I wanted to drive from Barcelona, through France and end up in Sanremo, Italy and just spend a few days seeing the sights via car. If you have any tips for this drive, I would be appreciative. Also, I’d really like to know — where was the photo taken that is at the start of this article (the one with the fence along the roadway and green, beautiful hills and mountains in the background)? Thanks — David

    1. Post
      Author

      That sounds like a beautiful trip. On your route, we have only driven between Nimes, France and Monaco, and it is gorgeous. Take a look at our French Riviera itinerary for some photos and ideas. We did this way back in 2009. If you haven’t seen it yet, we have some articles on Barcelona and Girona that should help you plan your time here. Google Maps works great for navigation. Get a SIM card for your phone so you have data. You will have to do some research to get a SIM card that will work in Spain, France, and Italy (and Portugal too). We haven’t been to Portugal yet, although you will most likely see us here this summer. The cover photo for this article was taken in Scotland when driving between Edinburgh and the Isle of Skye. That’s a great trip to put on your list too! Cheers, Julie

  4. Thanks for the tips! Do you have any advice into what renting from one country and returning in another looks like? We’re flying into Paris and leaving out of Berlin and planning to stop through Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic and possible Slovakia along the way. The car would offer a lot more freedom than the train. Thanks!

    1. Post
      Author

      Hello Rachel. Just check the rental agreement terms when you are making your reservation to make sure you can drive the car into all of the countries you plan to visit. We took a long road trip where we went Poland -> Slovakia -> Austria -> Croatia -> Slovenia -> Austria -> Germany -> France -> Switzerland. We weren’t able to drive the car we picked up in Poland to all of the countries we wanted to visit so we arranged two rental reservations. One from Poland to Slovakia and then a separate rental from Slovakia to the rest of the countries we wanted to visit. So we essentially swapped cars at a rental facility in Slovakia in order to make our road trip work. Cheers, Julie

  5. Amazing tips! Now I know a lot more about renting a car in Europe. Thanks for sharing this informative and helpful post and I wish you luck for more wonderful work in the future.

  6. We are planning to drive from Prague to Kotor, and flying out of Dubrovnik. Will driving through all of these countries be a problem?

    1. Post
      Author

      The actual driving should not be an issue. However, you will have to check with the rental company if they will allow you to drive into every country in your list, and drop the car in Croatia. I can’t recommend one particular rental car company, since they each have different rules for what they allow in this part of Europe, but I recommend checking with Hertz, Avis, Budget, Europcar, Sixt, Europecar, etc. to see if you can visit all of these countries with the rental car. Cheers, Julie

      1. Thanks Julie! I just looked at Hertz, Budget, and Europcar. They all seem to forbid driving in Bosnia and Montenegro. This seems strange as you can’t get to Dubrovnik without driving through Bosnia, yes? I really hope we don’t have to bag the Montenegro part of our itinerary. Thanks for writing this blog! I’ve really enjoyed reading many of your posts over the last several days.

        1. Post
          Author

          When we visited Bosnia, Croatia, and Montenegro, we rented and returned the car to Sarajevo, Bosnia. The rules must be different depending on the starting point. Sometimes, you have to rent two different cars for a road trip through Europe, either to follow the rules or to keep prices down (we needed to do this on a separate trip to Europe). The other way to do it is to buy a car. I know that sounds crazy, but some people buy a car and then sell it at the end of their trip. This is usually done on longer trips (4 weeks or more) but it could be something to consider. We have not done this so I don’t know the specifics, but a quick Google search could hopefully give you more info. Cheers, Julie

          1. Thanks Julie! I think we will train from Prague, Vienna, Budapest, to Zagreb. It looks like renting the car there is less restrictive. However, Hertz has weird language that says you can’t take the car on an island but then in the next sentence talks about paying extra for ferry insurance. So, we will need to sort that out. Many thanks for this blog! Oh, one more thing, I’d add Galapagos Islands to your top 10 list 🙂

          2. Post
            Author

            Thanks! The Galapagos is on our top 10 list for next places to go. 🙂 I hope you have a great trip!!

  7. Narrow winding roads, congestion and ESPECIALLY parking (cost & availabity) are major issues about driving in Europe. The top level advise is to not have a car if visiting urbanized areas or use park n drive facilities, however since you did extensive traveling you may be able to provide useful hacks.

  8. IMPORTANT NOTE:

    Make sure to get many good dated pictures and require a signed check in proof that you have returned the car in good condition. It is very common scam from reputable rental car in Europe (we have had that with Sixt and Hertz) to charge you bogus claim.

    Many times they tell you just to leave the car there so they do the inspection later. Don’t ever do that.

  9. Amazing post, Julie! Though I have some car rental hacks for the next trip -Always make sure to check your credit card benefits before buying the insurance. Do not overpay for gas. Also, check the car for damages and take pictures before driving out the lot.

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