Hiring a Car Abroad: Essential Tips You Need to Know

In this article, we will walk you through the most important things you need to know before renting a car abroad, from research and planning to dealing with common issues and mistakes. So, that you can enjoy your trip without worrying about unexpected issues or expenses.

Traveling overseas can be an exciting experience, and hiring a car abroad offers numerous benefits that can significantly enhance your travel experience, such as:

  • Freedom and flexibility: Renting a car allows you to explore your destination at your own pace, without being restricted by public transportation schedules or tour group itineraries. You can visit off-the-beaten-path locations, change plans on the fly, and enjoy spontaneous adventures.
  • Comfort and convenience: You can travel in comfort, especially if you're with family or friends. You can easily store luggage, shopping bags, and personal belongings, and take breaks whenever needed.
  • Cost-effective: In some cases, renting a car can be more cost-effective than relying on taxis or multiple public transportation tickets, particularly when travelling in a group or covering long distances.
  • Exciting driving experiences: Having a car allows you to experience different driving environments, such as scenic coastal routes, winding mountain roads, or bustling city streets.

However, the car hiring process can be a bit challenging if you're not well-prepared. But keep calm, we have you covered! In this article, we will walk you through the most important things you need to know before renting a car abroad, from research and planning to dealing with common issues and mistakes. So, that you can enjoy your trip without worrying about unexpected issues or expenses.

Research and Planning

Researching Local Driving Regulations and Road Conditions

Before renting a car abroad, research the local driving regulations and road conditions. Familiarise yourself with the speed limit, side of the road to drive on, and any vulnerable road users like pedestrians or horse riders. For example, in Ireland and the United Kingdom, you'll need to drive on the left side of the road, while most European countries require you to drive on the right side.

Also, consider factors such as mountainous terrain, narrow roads, or seasonal weather conditions that may affect driving safety. Stay safe on the road by following driving safety tips, wearing a seat belt, and maintaining a safe stopping distance.

Comparing Prices and Booking in Advance

To get the best deal, compare prices from different car rental companies and book in advance. This will help you secure a better rate and ensure the availability of your preferred vehicle. Websites like Kayak, Skyscanner, and Rentalcars.com allow you to compare prices from multiple providers.

These platforms allow you to enter your travel details and preferences, and they will provide you with a list of available rental options from various companies, making it easy to compare prices, car models, and rental conditions all in one place.

Avoid Airport Locations

Car rental rates at airport locations are often higher due to added convenience they offer to arriving passengers. Also, because of the high demand, they may have limited vehicle availability, especially during peak travel seasons. This could result in fewer options to choose from or being forced to rent a more expensive vehicle than initially planned.

Not to mention, airport car rental counters can be crowded, particularly after the arrival of multiple flights. Long queues and wait times can be frustrating, especially after a tiring journey.

To save money and to have a better overall experience, consider renting a car from an off-airport location. Use public transportation or a shuttle service to reach the rental office, and you may find significantly lower rates.

Tip: Use this checklist and avoid issues when driving in Europe.

Documentation and Requirements

Valid Driver's License and International Driving Permit

Make sure your driver's license is valid for international use and consider obtaining an International Driving Permit (IDP) if required by your destination. Some countries mandate this permit, so check in advance to avoid potential problems.

An International Driving Permit (IDP) is a document that allows you to drive legally in foreign countries where your Irish driver's license may not be recognised. It serves as an official translation of your license and contains your personal information, photo, and driving categories.

Age Restrictions and Limitations

Age restrictions for hiring a car abroad vary depending on the country and the car rental company. To avoid any surprises, it's crucial to research the age restrictions and policies of the car rental company you plan to use in your destination country.

It's essential to note that even if you meet the minimum age requirement, drivers under a certain age (usually 25) may be subject to a "young driver fee" or additional insurance requirements. This fee is charged to offset the perceived higher risk associated with younger drivers.

On the other hand, some car rental companies also may impose an upper age limit. Senior drivers may face additional fees, restrictions on vehicle types, or might be required to provide proof of good health or recent driving experience.

Additional Drivers Charges

Inquire about additional driver policies and fees if you plan to share driving responsibilities. For example, if you and a friend plan to take turns behind the wheel, make sure the rental company allows multiple drivers without incurring extra charges.

Credit Card Requirements and Deposits

Most car rental companies require a credit card for security deposits to cover potential damages, theft, or additional charges that may occur during the rental period. This deposit is often pre-authorised on your credit card, meaning the amount is temporarily held and not charged unless needed.

When you return the car without any issues, the rental company will release the pre-authorised amount on your credit card. However, if there are additional charges (e.g., for damages, refuelling, or late return), the rental company will deduct these costs from the deposit and release the remaining balance.

Ensure your credit card has enough available funds to cover the deposit and any potential charges. Some companies may not accept debit cards or prepaid cards, so check their payment policies beforehand.

Tip: Discover 8 European city breaks that won’t break the bank

Insurance Coverage

Understanding Different Types of Insurance Offered

Car rental companies typically offer several types of insurance options to protect both the renter and the vehicle. Some of the most common insurance types include:

  • Collision Damage Waiver (CDW): Covers the cost of repairs or replacement if the rental car is damaged in an accident or stolen. CDW typically covers damages to the rental car but may not include damages to other vehicles or property.
  • Theft Protection (TP): Covers the cost of replacing the rental car if it’s stolen, many people opt for theft protection, especially when travelling to destinations with higher theft rates.
  • Third-Party Liability: This insurance is mandatory in many countries. It covers injuries to other people or damage to their property caused by an accident involving the rental car.

Understanding Excess Insurance on Car Hire Abroad

Car hire excess refers to the amount that renters are responsible for paying in case of damages or theft of the rental vehicle. When renting a car, the rental company typically includes basic insurance coverage, such as Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) and Theft Protection. However, these insurance policies often come with an excess amount, which is the portion of repair or replacement costs that the renter must cover.

Car hire excess insurance is a policy that covers the excess amount you'd be responsible for paying in case of damages or theft of the rental vehicle. It provides financial protection against these excess fees, reimbursing you for the amount you'd have to pay out-of-pocket in case of an accident or theft.

Car hire companies often offer insurance upgrades to reduce or eliminate excess costs, but these can be pricey and an unforeseen expense during your trip.

Below there are some situations when you should consider car hire excess insurance:

  1. Lack of existing coverage: If your current auto, travel, or credit card insurance policies do not provide adequate coverage for car rental excess fees, purchasing car hire excess insurance can protect you from high out-of-pocket costs in case of accidents or theft.
  2. High excess amounts: Rental companies often set high excess amounts that renters are responsible for paying in case of damages or theft. This amount varies according to the car rental company, the location and the size of the car. Car hire excess insurance can cover these costs and give you peace of mind during your trip.
  3. International regulations: When renting a car abroad, local regulations and insurance requirements may differ from those in your home country. Car hire excess insurance can ensure that you have appropriate coverage for the specific destination.
  4. Frequent car rentals: If you rent cars frequently for business or leisure trips, having car hire excess insurance can save you money and simplify the rental process by providing consistent coverage across different rental companies and locations.

This policy can provide comprehensive protection against excess fees and enhance your overall car rental experience. AIG’s Car Hire Excess Insurance offers several benefits, including:

  • Free personal accident coverage up to €40,000
  • Coverage for damage to tyres, windscreen, roof, and undercarriage
  • Cover for up to 5 named drivers on the rental agreement
  • Coverage for fire, theft, vandalism, your personal items and keys

By opting for AIG's car hire excess insurance, you can enjoy peace of mind knowing that you're protected against unforeseen expenses during your trip.

Check full list of benefits in our policy documents and visit our Car Hire Excess FAQ page.

Save Money on Car Rental & Avoid Extra Charges

Using Smartphone Apps for Navigation

Smartphone apps like Google Maps or Waze can be excellent navigation tools when travelling abroad. Download offline maps to use them without an internet connection. For example, if you're driving through rural areas in France with limited network coverage, having offline maps can be a lifesaver.

Some car rental companies offer GPS devices as an add-on. Evaluate if this option is necessary for your trip or if using your smartphone is sufficient. While a dedicated GPS device may provide more accurate directions and better signal reception in remote areas, it can also come with additional costs.

Thoroughly Examining the Vehicle's Condition Before Accepting

Before accepting the rental car, thoroughly inspect its condition. Check for any existing damages, scratches, or dents, and ensure all features are working correctly. Test the brakes, air conditioning, lights, and windshield wipers to ensure they function properly.

Document any existing damages and take photos as evidence. This will help you avoid being held responsible for pre-existing issues when returning the car. Use your smartphone to capture clear images of any damages, including the license plate and rental company logo, to provide context for the photos.

Filling Up the Tank Yourself

Rental companies often charge higher rates for refuelling services compared to local petrol stations. By filling up the tank yourself before returning the car, you can save money by paying the regular market price and have a clear understanding of the fuel costs associated with your rental.

To make the most of these benefits, locate a nearby petrol station before returning the rental car and fill up the tank to the same level as when you picked it up. This practice will help you manage your travel budget more effectively, save money and ensure a smooth car rental experience.

Following the Rental Company's Return Procedures

Ensure a smooth car rental experience by adhering to the rental company's return guidelines and avoid additional fees, such as late return fees, cleaning charges, or penalties for not refuelling the car properly. These extra costs can quickly add up and increase your overall rental expenses. If you're returning the car after hours, make sure to follow the company's instructions for leaving the keys and parking the vehicle.

Additionally, by following the return procedures, you demonstrate compliance with the rental agreement's terms and conditions. This can help prevent disputes over potential damages, fuel charges, or other issues that may arise during the rental period.

Dealing with Issues While on the Road

Understanding the Process in Case of Accidents or Breakdowns

Keep a copy of the rental agreement with you during your trip and familiarise yourself with the rental company's procedures in case of accidents or breakdowns. For example, some companies may require you to call a specific roadside assistance number, while others may ask you to arrange towing or repairs and seek reimbursement later. Keep their emergency contact information handy and know what steps to take if you face any issues.

Carrying a Physical Map as a Backup

Although smartphone apps and GPS devices are convenient, it's always a good idea to carry a physical map as a backup. This can be helpful if you lose internet connection or face technical issues with your navigation tools. Local tourist offices or bookstores often sell detailed road maps that can be invaluable in unfamiliar territories.


Renting a car abroad can significantly enhance your travel experience by providing freedom, flexibility, comfort, and the opportunity to explore new destinations at your own pace. To make the most of your car rental experience and avoid common mistakes, it's essential to research and plan ahead, understand insurance options, and follow the rental company's return procedures.

To further enhance your peace of mind during your travels, consider purchasing car hire excess insurance from AIG. This comprehensive insurance option will protect you from unexpected expenses and allow you to focus on enjoying your journey. Safe travels!

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