Julie Travel Advice 104 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, 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. 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!

More Information for Your Trip to Europe

FIRST TIME IN EUROPE: If this is your first time in Europe, don’t miss our article 7 Things to Know when Planning Your First Trip to Europe.

EUROPE ITINERARY IDEAS: Let us take the guesswork out of planning your next trip to Europe. Check out our articles 10 Ways to Spend 10 Days in Europe and One Week in Europe: 25 Amazing Itineraries.

EUROPE TRAVEL INSPIRATION: For more great ideas on where to go in Europe, check out our article 30 Beautiful Places to Visit in Europe and the 20 Best Hikes in Europe.

Renting a Car in Europe

WHERE TO GO IN EUROPE: To learn more about where to go in Europe, and read our articles about Italy, Germany, France, Croatia, Iceland, and many more, check out our Destinations page.


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Comments 104

  1. Avatar for Nicolas

    Very informative info: Concise, accurate and on point. It is all about the details and this blog delivered essential recommendations which I found very helpful (Vignette, European street signs, Hotel parking). Thank you!

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
  2. Avatar for Clarissa Robinson
    Clarissa Robinson

    Hello Julie,
    I found your article VERY helpful and an easy interesting read. Thank you so much.

    We are planning our first visit to London this fall. We’re thinking about a 3 day country side excursion(staying in England), so we’ll need to rent a car. I’m finding that some rental locations have the mini commuter/transporter vans for SUPER cheap. Do you know the reason for that? I feel like it might be because they only have 2 seats, which will be fine. But I’m afraid I’ll find out there might be restrictions on where I can drive it. Any help, advice, or leads will be greatly appreciated. Thank you! Trek On!

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      That’s a great question but I don’t know anything about the mini commuter vans. Can you call the rental car company and ask them for more info? The first time we ever rented and drove a car internationally was for a London day trip. Driving on the left and navigating the round abouts in the opposite direction can really feel like an adventure, if you have never driven on the left before. But we loved it! Have fun exploring England! Cheers, Julie

  3. Avatar for lili

    Hi Julie,
    I am Lili from Malaysia. I enjoy reading your family adventures a lot!

    May I ask for your advice?

    We are arriving at :
    10th April : Arrived Munich
    11th April : Munich to Hallstatt
    12th April : hallstatt to cesky krumlov to Prague
    15th April : Prague to Dresden to Berlin

    1. Should we rent a car and drive? we are a family of 4.
    2. Or it is better to take a train for our route from 11th April to 15th April ?
    3. I supposed we should rent on 11th April in city centre vs 10th April at airport ?

    Thank You for your time, Julie!

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      Hello Lili. On a quick search, it looks like it is an 8 hour train ride from Munich to Hallstatt with multiple transfers, so a rental car would be much more time efficient. It’s also going to be a lot easier to drive from Hallstatt to Prague via Cesky Krumlov rather than using the train. So, a rental car is the way to go. However, there will be a drop fee for dropping it at a different location. It might not be that bad since you are picking it up and dropping it in the same country. As far as renting it from the Munich airport or the city center, that really depends. It’s more convenient to pick it up right at the airport, but then you have to drive and park it, which is an extra expense. There is usually more inventory at the airport, so sometimes it is cheaper to rent here, with more options. I recommend pricing it out both ways: from the Munich airport and the city center, and then picking the best option. Cheers, Julie

      1. Avatar for Lili Loh
  4. Avatar for Leonard M.
    Leonard M.

    Great site here, I am planning a trip to Paris, driving to the cost WWII sites and then up to Ghent, and finish in AMS.. I understand that drop off fees are $$$$$ please advise about pick up in Paris and drop off in Lillie and then train to AMS and rent again in AMS. I have used Europacar before and like them, any other tips would be helpful, thanks Leonard

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      It’s a great idea to keep your rental within one country, at least, from our experience. You will still have a drop fee but it should be a lot lower than if you rented the vehicle in Paris and dropped it in Amsterdam. The only way to make the rental car cheaper is to return to Paris and then take a train to Ghent, but at that point, I don’t think you would be saving much, if any, money. Before booking your rental, you could quickly check prices for a rental Paris to Amsterdam, if you want the car for that full time. You can get prices on Auto Europe or check them with each company. We don’t have a rental car company preference, we simply pick the one with the best price. Cheers, Julie

  5. Avatar for Beth

    Hey there! Your articles have been very helpful in planning a 2 weeks trip to Banff and Glacier. Running into some difficulty with car rental situation though, as it seems no place will let you pick up in Canada and drop off in the US. We are thinking of using Turo in each country and taking the airport shuttle express from calgary to west glacier after we drop off the first car to get us to the second car, as we plan to fly out of Kalispell. Any suggestions that would help keep this efficient and cost effective? Thanks!!

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      We have not used Turo yet. But crossing the border with a shuttle is a good idea. Renting a car this year in a cost effective manner is almost impossible. Even without the challenging logistics you are dealing with, rental cars are the most expensive we have ever seen them. I can’t think of an easier or cheaper way to plan out your transportation, other than what you have come up with. But to visit Banff and Glacier on the same trip sounds awesome! Cheers, Julie

  6. Avatar for kristine
  7. Avatar for oasislimousines

    Hi, it was an extremely good post. Hire a car is can be a great deal. Appreciate your efforts in providing information about the car rental service. Anyways good article. It is a simple process to just rent a car and enjoy your trip for once.

  8. Avatar for citycarrentals

    Many thanks for the exciting blog posting! I really enjoyed reading it, you are a brilliant writer. I actually added your blog to my favorites and will look forward for more updates. Great Job,Keep it up..

  9. Avatar for Dave
  10. Avatar for citycarrentals
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