Europe is just an ultimate road trip heaven. With stunning stretches of coastlines, magnificent ranges, crystal-clear seas, bustling metropolitans, piquant towns, and especially hidden gems off the beaten tracks, it seems as though Europe is endowed with a mysterious shroud waiting for the stout-hearted to explore.
There are many ways to traverse this continent, but with countries cheek by jowl with one another, and the generous cross-country travelling policies, it seems that driving a car throughout Europe is the most exciting and travel-friendly way there is.
But not everyone owns a car, and travellers definitely don’t. You’d need to rent a car in Europe to travel. But car-renting can’t be quite tricky for those who don’t know their way around it. It can be a true pain trying to rent a car for the first time in Europe.
Therefore, to save you from all the hassle, we’ve made here the most comprehensive guide to car rental for you. So, here’s everything you need to know before renting a car in Europe.
Rent A Car In Europe Guide
Before you think of anything, you must ensure that you’re qualified for renting a car.
Having the COVID pass is a must. Photo by Mike Dot - stock.adobe.com
In this day and age, you must have a COVID pass to travel abroad before you think of renting a car in Europe.
If you’re an international traveller, you must first obtain a Schengen visa. This will allow you to cross most borders in Europe relatively care-free for tourism or business purposes in less than 90 days.
Unfortunately, the world hasn’t been the same since the COVID pandemic, and neither is international travelling. To protect everyone from potential interpersonal virus transmission, the European government has implemented a number of safety measures, and that includes restrictions that forbid people from entering the continent without first having some proof of COVID immunizations. Such COVID passes will be different from country to country, so do make sure to check with government sources to see if yours are allowed in Europe.
That is, of course, if you do have one yourself. If you haven’t, we strongly advise you to get to it as soon as possible.
There are exemptions as well, but mostly those aren’t for travellers, but more for workers and international students. Don’t count on it if you haven’t had your own COVID pass. It’s imperative that you get one anyway.
In many European countries you can rent a car as soon as you turn 18, but there are other countries in which you must be at least 25 to do so. Most countries implement a “young fee” for younger renters, as many view them to be a liability and therefore prefer to impose some responsibilities upon them, so do keep that in mind too.
Most companies will only ask for your driving license, but some will ask for an IDP (International Driving Permit) when you rent a car in Europe. Essentially, an IDP is a translation of your driving license into the country where you need it to travel around. It’s recommended in about 140 in the world.
The quickest way to obtain one, if you’re not a European citizen, is to contact your local post office branch. Most car rental companies in Europe will have affiliation services which offer IDP as well if you’re struggling to get one locally. Keep in mind that IDPs will not be issued to people with only a provisional licence, so if you haven’t gotten your office license consider taking the necessary exams for one before you go.
>> Read more: Most Beautiful Countries To Visit In Europe
Where to rent a car in Europe?
Traditionally, visitors would rent a car in Europe succeeding their arrival at the hotel, as most hotels have affiliation services that include car rental fee. It’s a quick and easy option for most casual travellers, as the less they have to be mindful of, the better.
There are still drawbacks, still. If you plan to travel around the country or cross-country even, certain legislative issues will arise. Besides, most hotels only allow their customers to drive no further than the vicinity of the locality.
Therefore, many have come to rental services. While this does inflate the total expense of the trip, it comes with a great deal of benefit. For example, you can travel anywhere at will, you can choose the car to your liking (for those instagramholics), and perhaps, most vitally, insurance policies, just in case.
But even then, choosing the right service provider can be a bit troubling. There are so many companies locally. Head over to our best car rental companies in Europe to check the best options.
Rent a car in Europe Fee
The cost will vary significantly depending on a few key factors. Get a good grasp of those to avoid being fleeced.
The type of car
Obviously, this would be the main factor. A small, family van will be a lot more affordable than a sports car. The efficiency of the car is also important to consider. While most cars come with high fuel-efficiency, some high horsepower cars will consume more fuel more quickly just in case you plan to rent them to conquer precipitous hills or long trips.
Pick-up and drop-off location
It might sound irrelevant at first but actually this does matter.
The thing about a continent-wide adventure is that everyone wants to visit as many places as humanly possible, and therefore nobody wants to take a detour to return to the starting point.
That’s where the trouble stems, if you end up in a different country from where you started out, your car will have to be delivered back to the original spot. Delivery price will be expensive, and you’ll have to incur everything.
So take both the advantages and disadvantages, and your travel plan too, into careful consideration upon choosing where to pick up and drop off your vehicle when you rent a car in Europe.
Everything associated with money is convoluted, so is car rental in Europe. Surcharges might come from the most unexpected place. Let’s have a look at some of those miscellaneous elements that may balloon your expenses.
- Tax: VAT taxes (15% to 30%) and local taxes are usually included in your rental deal, but sometimes they aren’t, so be wary!
- GPS: Same goes for GPS. Most cars nowadays have GPS systems built in. But some don’t, in which case you’ll have to spend more as a navigation system is an absolute must-have for travelling.
- Age: Drivers under the age of 25 will be charged extra.
- Debit card: Some companies don’t even accept debit cards, and some charge extra should you want to use it. So if you have a habit of using debit cards then be careful.
There are a few more trivial factors that might increment the price. Such as airport pick-up, cross-border fee, additional driver, airport pick-up, duration, child seat, fuel, parking, etc.
This magnificent European view will be yours. Photo by luengo_ua - stock.adobe.com
Rental Car Insurance
The most vital part you should be looking at when renting cars in Europe would be insurance. This is your safety net in case the worst happens. Be sure to carefully examine as well as learn about the basics of car insurance when travelling.
While most car rental companies will cover standard insurances, sometimes they are overpriced. Moreover, the giants of the industry know how to cajole you into buying their services and to simultaneously minimize the coverage, if need be. If you don’t like being overcharged, third-party insurance companies are worth considering.
Most people gloss over this but driving laws vary between countries. For example, the vast majority of countries in Europe drive on the right side of the road, except Malta and Cyprus.
One thing you should keep in mind is to be defensive in traffic. What we mean here is, unless you’re extremely familiar with the traffic rules of every country you visit, drive very carefully to avoid any potential mishaps. Should anything happen, it’d be extremely troublesome and could easily ruin your entire trip.
As open and as accessible Europe is, there are still some countries that are a bit reserved. These countries have certain policies preventing rented cars from entering the country.
Montenegro, Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Croatia are some of the places that don’t allow rented cars. In fact, the list goes on the more luxurious your rented car is. Also, the more eastward you go the tighter the restrictions will be.
All big car rental companies have certain restrictions and policies for their high-end cars, which limit the countries you can enter.
Tips on minimizing your expenses
The earlier the better
If you have set your sights on a destination, or if you have the itinerary down and ready, ideally book your car as soon as possible. Some companies offer lower daily rates for early bookings. Additionally, some even offer free cancellation, within a certain time limit of course, so you can freely plan and adjust your trip. But do check the cancellation limit!
Say no to upsell!
Car rental is a business, and business equals upsell! Every staff is taught to upsell, in fact it’s a part of their responsibility. It’s on you however, not to fall for such appalling traps.
That being said, don’t hold any grudge against the staff, they’re just doing what they’re supposed to. Most of the time, the extra offers aren’t entirely scams, most of the time they just overlap with what’s already been covered.
Best Car Rental Companies in Europe
There are local companies, and there are large corporations that specialise in car rental. It might be tricky to pick your European car hire.
If you’re looking for a long term car rental companion, Hertz, Avis, Europcar, Sixt, Budget, Alamo, and Enterprise are some of the megalodons of the car rental industry in Europe. Among these, Sixt is the most popular.
Founded in 1912, spreading over 105 countries and more than 2,200 locations, Sixt is one of if not the most influential car rental companies in the world. With years of expertise and connections to all car companies, Sixt is your safest bet if you’re downright struggling with car rental. You practically don’t have to do anything once to work with Sixth. All you need to do is sit back and wait. And pay, of course!
Sixt is the absolute master of catering. They offer cars from the fanciest to the most common brands of car like Ford, Toyota, to the most recent coupe of BMW or Audi. Their cars are well-maintained, and their customer services are excellent as well.
However, much like most other services companies in the world, with a great reputation comes great cost. While Sixt has done an incredible job keeping the price down, the fact remains that their services are still higher than the average.
Established in 1957, with roughly 1.5 million vehicles across 85 countries, this US-based maestro stands as one of the largest car rental companies in the world.
What catapults Enterprise to the top of the car rental industry is their outstandingly flexible car rental service. Despite the multifaceted nature of car renting, they’ve been able to streamline and thus offer some convenient and flexible services, namely one-way rental, long-term rental, and limited-term rental.
One-way car rental in Europe might just be the most favourable service. It allows you to pick up your car at one branch and drop it off at another, without having to worry about extra fees. Remember how we said different pick-up and drop-off locations might be a bit of a hassle? Yeah, Enterprises, with ubiquitousness in large tourist hotspots around Europe, just makes it hassle-free for you.
One of the most well-known and well-trusted car rental companies, Alamo is a great inexpensive option for budget travellers when it comes to renting a car in Europe.
The thing that makes a name for Alamo is its reasonable rates. The earlier your book is, the better the rates get. This makes it perfect for blue collars who need to plan out their trips far in advance to avoid schedule conflict. Their prompt service, and their good car qualities are big pluses, too.
With more than sixty years of experience, Europcar boasts as one of the best car rental companies in Europe.
Being a veteran in the industry, Europcar is compassionate with the needs of customers. Their cars come in clean, well-maintained, and have unlimited mileage. They also offer a wide range of cars from minivans to SUVs to accommodate any customers.
This company is great at catching the frequency (get it?) of their clients. If you’re a frequent traveller, Hertz with its amazing reward programs.
Herts has done a great job of finding its forte and standing out amongst a jungle of companies in this car rental sector, and that is to reward customers for recurring use of their services. Non-European who must traverse the continent often will enjoy concessionary prices, as the more often you use Hertz’s service the less you must pay.
But some may say that it’s a bait though. Hertz’s original pricings aren’t the best, but then it’s arguable that the perks for long-time customers more than offset the initial investment. It’s your choice, ultimately, but as it stands, Hertz still offers some of the best Europe car rental services there are.
Another well-reputed car rental company in Europe, Avis is well-trusted for its decent pricings and good cars.
The company offers a generous reward program, but it does require a bit more than other companies to really reap the benefits. You could still end up saving a ton compared to other companies, but it’ll take a while before getting there.
Avis really shines with their weekly rates. Their daily rates are average, but their weekly deals are quite great. Avis is such a middle ground company, offering good services for at a reasonable price point, a great fit for those who seek a well-established company but don’t want to go all the way and pay extra.
Here comes the saviour of the shoestring travellers. With its name being a testament to the company’s core value, Budget works best with people travelling with budget in mind as they offer cheap car rental services in Europe.
Budget really carved a niche for themselves as one of the few companies capable of competing for the lowest price on the market. Unlike the aforementioned companies, Budget doesn’t offer fancy cars, they just offer the best, most convenient deal that any gallivanting average Joe could comfortably take.
Aside from that, Budget also has a great rewards program. Stick with Budget for a long time and you will surely enjoy all its nice perks. Budget is also known for having quite a few offices around the world, which help reduce the time to rent a car and reduce potential surcharges.