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Tips for Renting a Car in Europe and Other Overseas Destinations

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Trains are romantic. Buses are cheap. But sometimes you just want to get in your own car and zoom away. Just keep in mind that it’s not as simple as it is in the United States. Here’s a look at renting a car in three popular destinations: Europe, Australia and Costa Rica.

If you’ll be driving in countries where English is not the primary language, you should get an International Driving Permit (IDP) before you go. It sounds official, but it’s really not — the IDP is just a card that translates your driver’s license info into several languages. You can apply for an IDP from the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the National Automobile Club (NAC) for about $15. An IDP is a must if you’ll be driving in Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, or Spain.1

Renting a car in Europe: What you need to know

Renting a car in Europe can be expensive, but it’s the best way to explore the countryside and visit remote villages without the restrictions of a bus tour. Expect your car to be smaller than your daily driver at home and to have a manual transmission (you can pay extra for automatic). Be aware of local driving rules and habits — Germans really are the best drivers (according to Brits, at least) and Italians are the worst.2

Most importantly, make sure you understand how rental car insurance works in Europe. The good news is that liability insurance — which covers damage to other cars/motorists — is typically included in the rental rate. The bad news is that you’ll need to purchase a separate collision damage waiver to cover damage to the car. And, as Travel + Leisure explains, “a CDW in Europe carries a deductible of around $1,000–$2,000 — even if the damage wasn’t your fault. And a CDW doesn’t cover your tires, windows, roof, undercarriage, or interior. Nor does it include theft (also called “loss”) insurance, which costs an extra $5–$12 a day.”

If you plan on renting a car in Europe, you’re better off purchasing your collision damage waiver ahead of time. The Rental Car Damage Protector from Allianz Global Assistance provides collision loss/damage insurance coverage up to $75,000 for just $11 per calendar day. Theft is included, and there’s no deductible to pay. It’ll cover you anywhere in Europe except for Northern Ireland/the Republic of Ireland.

Renting a car in Costa Rica: What you need to know

Costa Rica is only as big as West Virginia — and just like the state, it’s wild, wonderful and mountainous. If you want to visit every corner of Costa Rica, from the humid Caribbean coast to the cloud forests of Monteverde to the bright Pacific beaches, the best way to get around is to rent a car. In rural areas, expect rough roads and few signs. You’ll need four-wheel-drive if you plan on visiting the Nicoya Peninsula, Monteverde, Rincón de La Vieja, the La Paz Waterfall, Bajos del Toro, the south Pacific, the Osa Peninsula, and many places along the Caribbean coast, Anywhere Costa Rica advises.

If you’re renting a car in Costa Rica, be a cautious driver. I remember bouncing along the rutted roads of the Nicoya Peninsula and getting stopped by a police officer who claimed we were speeding. We paid the ticket in cash — about $60 — and continued on our way. Fifteen minutes later, we were pulled over by a different cop, who demanded another $60. I summoned all the Spanish I knew to plead with him, explaining that we had no more cash and that we had just been shaken down by his buddy. He let us go.

Renting a car in Australia: What you need to know

First of all, people might look at you askance if you say “rent a car” — if you want to sound like an Aussie, say “hire a car.” Otherwise, renting a car in Australia is pretty easy if you’re an American and have a driver’s license issued by any American state or territory.3 Remember, however, that Australians (like the British) drive on the left-hand side of the road. And if you drive in Melbourne, you’ll have to get the hang of the “hook turn” — a maneuver that involves turning right from the left lane to cross the tram tracks. Good luck with that one.4

While most major Australian cities have a good public transportation network, renting a car can be the best way to see the country’s more remote areas. Plan a grand Australian road trip along the Red Centre Way, a five-day, road trip through the Northern Territory and the Australian outback. From Alice Springs, you head west through the desert, visit a comet crater, swim in tropical pools and see Australia's most famous natural wonder, Uluru. Remember that rental car insurance is a must.

Here are a few more dos and don’ts for driving overseas. Drive safe, and travel happy!

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