A guide to hiring a car abroad

Abbie Laughton-Coles
Abbie Laughton-Coles
Updated 3 October 2022  | 5 mins read

Hiring a car when you’re travelling seems like it should be simple enough, but often there are hidden charges, as well as confusing terms and conditions to look out for which can make it a headache.

In this guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know before you book your hire vehicle for your next holiday.

Key points

  • Book your hire car before you set off to get the best deals and avoid paying more than you need to
  • Make sure you have everything you need to drive in the country you’re visiting, which could include an international driving permit
  • Note down and take photos of all damage to the vehicle when you pick it up and drop it off to avoid disputes with the hire company
  • Familiarise yourself with the driving laws in your destination country to avoid getting into any mishaps

Plan ahead

Not only will planning ahead make your arrival at your destination airport less stressful, but it can save you a considerable amount of money.

Choosing your hire car and paying for it before you hop on the plane means you know exactly what is waiting for you. You can also thoroughly research what you need without getting bamboozled by sales tactics at the customer desk.

Arriving and choosing a car hire company at random with a grumpy family in tow at 3am will almost certainly result in overpaying and having a bunch of unnecessary extras added onto your policy.

What you’ll need

Before you’re able to hire a car, you’ll need to make sure you have:

  1. Full driving licence

    Some companies will require you to have held your licence for at least a full year

  2. Passport

    It must be valid and match the details on your driving licence

  3. DVLA licence check code

    The hire car company may need to see your driving records. You can do this by getting a code from the DVLA. It’s valid for 21 days and you can share it with the hire company so they can access your records temporarily

  4. Return flight information

    You may be required to prove that you’re leaving the country on a certain date

  5. International driving permit (IDP)

    Depending on where you’ll be driving, you may be required to apply for an IDP


Although what you’ll need will differ between countries, generally you’ll need the following to hire a car:

You’ll be required to have a valid passport and UK driving licence – which you must have held for at least a year.

You may also need an IDP if you’re travelling outside of Europe, although this could be the case within Europe if you still have a paper driving licence or a licence that was issued in Jersey, Guernsey, Gibraltar or the Isle of Man.

Insurance for car hire abroad

This is where it can get very confusing and stressful for customers, especially if you’re standing at the car hire desk with a long line behind you.

Your car hire company should give you basic car insurance called collision damage waiver (CDW) or loss damage waiver (LDW) as part of your contract. While CDW covers damage incurred through an accident, LDW includes theft of the car too. However, this varies a lot between countries and even hire companies, so always check the terms and conditions very carefully.

For instance, only certain parts of the vehicle will be covered for damage under this type of insurance. You may find that parts like the windscreen, tyres, and undercarriage aren’t protected at all, which are usually the parts of a vehicle that get damaged the most.

You’ll be expected to pay an excess if you need to claim for an accident or damage to the hire vehicle and this can be eye-wateringly expensive. So, think about purchasing car hire excess insurance, which usually costs a small amount - you’ll be reimbursed for any excess you’re required to pay, which could save you thousands. This can be done with the car hire company or from a standalone specialist insurer (which could be cheaper), so look at your choices carefully.

Compare car hire before you go so you can look at the insurance options on offer, decide whether you need them without being rushed, and call up the company if you’re unsure of something. You’ll often find that any insurance extras are much cheaper if you purchase them ahead of your trip instead of at the desk, too.

Fuel costs for car hire abroad

There are a couple of different fuel policies to choose from:

Full to full

You’re given a full tank of fuel when you pick up the car and you must drop it off with a full tank, too. Alternatively, this could be half to half, or quarter to quarter (depending on the company). Basically, you return it with the same amount of fuel it had when you picked it up. You’ll be charged an expensive fee if this is not done. Keep your fuel receipts and take photos of the fuel gauge in case there are any disputes from the car hire company

Full to empty

You’re charged for a full tank of fuel at pick up and return the car with a close to empty tank. You’ll receive no reimbursement for any fuel left in the tank when you drop it off

Pre-purchase partial refund

You get a full tank at pick up and are charged an administration fee. When you return the car, you’ll be refunded for any fuel left in the tank. It’s unlikely you’ll receive a refund that matches how much you paid for the fuel though and the cost of the admin fee will likely wipe out any refund you do receive

How to pay for your hire car

Most car hire companies prefer you to pay your deposit by credit card and some will even refuse to take payments from a debit account.

This is because if the company needs to recover money from the customer - for instance, if you damage the car, get into an accident or get a parking ticket - they can be more confident their charges will be covered if you have access to credit. With a debit account, they’ll have no idea whether you have enough money to cover the debt.

If using a credit card isn’t an option, you may be required to purchase the company’s excess insurance, which can be pricey. Always use a credit card, if possible.

Tips for saving on your hire car

Spending less on car hire means more money in your pocket for the holiday.

Always book it before you arrive at your destination

This is a must if you don’t want to pay way more than you need to. If you wait until you arrive at the airport, you may not get the vehicle you want and you might only have access to more expensive options. Plus, they may try and upsell you for things you don’t need, which you could be more susceptible to after a long flight

Skip the extras you don’t need

There’s always a ton of extras available when you book car hire but think carefully about whether you really need them. For instance, you may be able to use your sat nav from home while on holiday rather than hiring one and you can usually take your child’s car seat with you for free on your flight (just check with your airline)

Compare your options carefully

You’d think that the larger the car, the more expensive it will be, but that’s not always the case. So, it’s really important to compare and see what you can get, not only from one car hire company, but multiple ones. You want to get the best deal possible, after all

Always check the fuel policy

You want to get the most for your money, so if you’re only going to be covering short distances, a full-to-empty policy may be the right choice

What to look out for when hiring a car

Always make sure you look for additional costs and if you’re not sure what a charge is for, be sure to ask.

They could include charges for:

  • Crossing international borders
  • Cleaning
  • Being a young or senior driver
  • Refuelling
  • Admin and processing
  • VAT
  • Adding on extra days
  • Using toll roads and not paying


Always make sure to:

  • Take details of your car hire – Print off copies of your car hire contract if you’ve pre-booked it to take in your hand luggage, just in case there’s a mix-up at the desk
  • Ignore the pushy sales tactics – Usually car hire representatives get a bonus for upselling, but if you’ve researched and bought exactly what you need, you won’t be swayed by the scare tactics
  • Note all existing damage when you pick up the car – Make sure it’s written in the rental agreement and that you’ve taken detailed pictures
  • Do the same at drop-off – Take pictures for your records in case the company tries to charge you for damage you haven’t caused
  • Keep all your fuel and toll receipts - These should be kept as proof that you refilled the fuel tank, if necessary, and paid for the use of any toll roads
  • Check any mileage limits – If you go over the limit, you’ll be charged, so make sure it’s enough before driving off
  • Drive safely – Be extremely careful because you can be charged a huge amount for the smallest scrapes and scratches
  • Make sure you have adequate insurance – If you’re getting confused with all the insurance jargon, you can contact the hire company and ask what exactly it covers
  • Get comfortable with the car – Before you drive off, make sure you know how everything works in the vehicle. That goes for lights and switches, but also car seats if you’ve hired one
  • Know what to do if you break down – The hire company should let you know what you need to do if the car breaks down and who to contact
  • Research local driving laws – Before hitting the road, you need to know any local and national driving laws. For instance, in France, you’re required to have a warning triangle and reflective jacket in your car in case you break down on the road