Julie Travel Advice 100 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!

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Renting a Car in Europe


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Comments 100

  1. Avatar for Nick

    Hi! My fiance and I are going to be driving in Italy for our honeymoon later this year. We’ve read stories about rental companies charging you on return for a full tank of gas (at an inflated rate), even if you returned it with a full tank. Have you guys ever experienced anything like this? Would it be best to just return on E, just in case?

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      Hello Nick, we have never had this happen anywhere and we always return the car on a full tank of gas (and we have rented a car twice in Italy so far). I would recommend returning it with a full tank of gas and arguing your case should they say you did otherwise. Maybe taking a photo of the full gas gauge when you return the car would be proof? Just a thought. Cheers, Julie

  2. Avatar for Nuoma911
  3. Avatar for Melinda Leigh Murray
    Melinda Leigh Murray

    I am taking my 3 college daughters to Scotland and Ireland and I wish I’d found this before I read and did my own itinerary. But the “where to go” is excellent. Very helpful!

  4. Avatar for Semih

    Hey! I really liked you shared them all but let me ask you something if you are okay with the answer. We’re selling counter weights through a few EU countries. And we thought we can make it to Serbia first, then rent a car and country by country, visit Hungary, Bosnia, Montenegro, Kosovo. Do you have any knowledge else -except you given- information we need? I mean, is it possible to take car in Serbia for 5 days and travel these countries and drop off in Serbia again? Thanks in advance! (You can e-mail me if you want) In fact, there’s lot of questions I wanna ask 😀

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      Hello Semih. I don’t know much about renting a car in Serbia, since we have not been there yet, but from what I know, it might be challenging renting a car in Serbia and driving it into other European countries. I’d start with a search on the bigger rental car companies (Hertz, Europcar, etc) to see if it is possible, and maybe see if you can speak with someone who rents cars in Serbia directly. Sorry I can’t help you out much with this question, but feel free to write in again with any other questions you have. Cheers, Julie

  5. Avatar for Alyssa

    How many miles per gallon would you say the normal rental car gets? Is it more or less then the average american car? My boyfriend and I are thinking of going to poland next summer and driving to another country. But if the mpg is low then we where thinking maybe we should just try public tansportation. Also this page was very helpful!

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      If you get a compact car, it’s the same as in the US. However, gas (petrol) and diesel prices are higher in Europe. You might have the double the price for gas. I don’t exactly know the price difference, since it’s measured in liters, not gallons, in Europe. If you are mainly visiting cities, public transportation is your best bet. In Europe, getting around by public transportation is much easier and in some cases cheaper than in the USA (especially trains). Cheers, Julie

  6. Avatar for Thomas Bigum Knudsen
    Thomas Bigum Knudsen

    Hey. I really like your webpage. Do you know if rental cars picked up in Nice Airport comes with a Crit Air sticker?

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
  7. Avatar for Diane Hogan
    Diane Hogan

    We are flying to Frankfurt and were planning on renting a car to drive to Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Dubrovnik, Venice and back to Frankfurt however after reading your and several other articles we are concerned that we will not be able to take the car out of Germany in into the Non-Eu counties. Hertz specifically mentions this in their fine print. Do you know if any rental agencies in Germany that will allow us to travel through Croatia and chech republic?

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      No, I don’t know of any specific companies, you would just have to check their fine print as well. What if you used the train to travel from Prague – Vienna – Budapest – Zagreb, then rent a car in Zagreb and drive to Venice and then Dubrovnik (you’d have to check rental terms for this as well). To get back to Frankfurt you could fly from Dubrovnik. Just a thought. Cheers, Julie

  8. Avatar for Ng Fuang Kong
    Ng Fuang Kong

    Hi, We will be travelling by rental car from Amsterdam to Hallstatt.
    Kindly advise what are the fee and permit required ;and what are the things to take note.

    Thank you very much

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      You should not need any permits to travel from Amsterdam to Hallstatt, although we always travel with a International Drivers Permit. The only fee I can think of is the drop fee if you are returning the car in a different country than where you picked it up. Contact your rental car agency for the exact amount. Cheers, Julie

  9. Avatar for julia

    Hi there! I’ve been reading your blogs about your travels through Slovenia- beautiful! We are headed there in June. We are curious to know if there were any “hidden” fees when renting a car? (We’ve experienced this once in Mexico… showed up to the car rental place to find out we had to pay 3x what we were quoted online due to insurance?)
    Thanks so much!

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      We always rent from major international car rental agencies and we have never had a situation where we were forced to pay hidden fees. Agents at the rental counter have asked us if we wanted to pay for extras like insurance, reducing the insurance deductible, prepay fuel, extra driver, etc. but these were always optional and never forced upon us. Cheers, Tim

  10. Avatar for brown

    Travelling by car helps you to explore so many new thing. you can stop it anywhere and enjoy the place where every you want . you no need to worries about other passengers, no tension about time, the best part of travelling by car is you enjoy the journey the way you want. Also, having a car provides a lot of freedom and convenience when traveling on a trip. 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.

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