Thursday 14 August 2014

Are cross-border car rentals possible?

EU Swiss border post
Swiss border post in Italy
Thinking of renting a car and traversing across several countries?

Well, it is not always as easy as it seems.

Besides USA-Canada-Mexico, parts of Western Europe, and parts of Southern Africa, there are still many complications with cross-border car rentals that will make things difficult, costly or outright impossible.

Rental car agencies are naturally quite concerned with renting their vehicles for travel in countries that have a notorious reputation of theft or damage and, sadly, this includes a good chunk of the world.

Donegal Carrickfin Airport - Rental car - - 1174901
Donegal, Ireland car hire
Even if a car rental agency will let you take a vehicle into another country, it will unlikely be their best make and model.

You may find yourself behind the wheel of a small economy car that has limited functionality to traverse in countries with bad roads. An economy car will likely have issues in countries with lots of potholes and lack nearby logistical support to help out a strained car, leaving you at the mercy of the general public for assistance.

Also, a small car will likely show your belongings more on the backseat as you will be cramped with trunk room and this will again attract attention from possible thieves, carjackers etc.

Uruguay rental car vehicle registration plate
Rental car plates in Uruguay are
identified by the word "alquiler"
Another thing to think about is do you really want to tell the next country that you are a foreigner and attract unwanted attention? If you are driving from Hungary into Bulgaria or Romania, or from South Africa into Mozambique, you may elicit unwanted attention (“we need to check your paperwork”) in the forms of frequent traffic stops and bribes from the police.

Bottom line, if you can find alternative transportation, such as a train, then this is your best bet. You can always try to rent a car locally for the country in question versus irregular cross-border journeys. However this is not always realistic based on limited infrastructure in some of these countries, so if you need to drive cross-border here are some things to plan for:
  • Confirm first and foremost you are permitted to drive to another country. This includes the online booking details as well as asking in person once you are picking up your car 
  • You need special insurance to go into another country and this is something the car rental agency will arrange for you beforehand (keep these documents in your glove box and present these to the relevant authorities: highway police, immigration control stops) 
  • Make sure you have an international drivers permit – this will avoid the “you are not authorized to drive in country X” accusation (and the accompanying "we need to be paid off in order to let you drive away" bribe)
  • Inquire about vignettes, or road taxes, (especially in Central & Eastern Europe) that essentially covers off all toll roads – if you don’t get this figured out you could be in for a nasty surprise when dropping off your car or being pulled over by the police 
  • Check out our page on renting How to Protect Yourself When Renting a Car for more tips
Related resources
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