Renting a car when traveling abroad isn’t always the simple process it is in the U.S. From the often-times confusing insurance choices to international driving permits and mandatory equipment requirements, there are several things you need to be aware of when “hiring” a car overseas. Because making the wrong decision could end up costing you dearly, here is what you need to consider when renting a car abroad.

Plan Ahead

As with the other parts of your trip, the best advice is to book online, well in advance of your travel date, and then confirm your booking the day before you head to the airport. This will give you plenty of time to go over the rental contract and understand all the charges and options. If you wait until you are overseas, currency exchange rates, unfamiliar rental terms and language barriers can all cause problems, and you will have no idea if you are paying too much.

Comparison shop by checking the websites of several different rental agencies and perform searches for similar vehicles for your travel dates. Check for weekend specials or long-term discounts, depending on how long you plan to need the car for. Be sure you fully understand the drop-off policies and late penalties, as some agencies will bill you for another full day if you are even a few minutes late.

Always save the promotional code whenever you see an ad for a special rental-car rate and inquire about discounts for AAA and seniors. As airport fleets are usually made up of larger cars, to get a free upgrade book a car a size or two smaller than what you want. However, be aware that European cars are smaller than American vehicles.

International Drivers License

You will be able to get by with just your regular driver’s license in most countries, but others will require a IDP, or “International Driving Permit.” The IDP is recognized in over 150 countries and is essentially a written translation of your driver’s license information into 10 different languages. IDPs can only be issued to drivers over 18 and, e.g. the U.S. only AAA and the National Automobile Club are legally authorized by the U.S. government to issue the permit. A good policy is to check with the embassy of the host country and ask about their policies for international drivers.

Insurance

Expect to be offered a somewhat confusing array of insurance options. Before taking out any additional insurance, check with you own insurance carrier to see if and what they cover when renting a car abroad. Also, many credit cards offer damage insurance at no additional charge, if you use that card for the rental, so check your documents. Just be sure that whatever coverage you use meets the country’s minimum insurance requirements. Here are examples of the three main types of rental-car insurance you can expect to see while abroad:

● Additional Liability Insurance and Liability Insurance Supplement: Refereed to as ALI and LIS respectively, these provide a flat-rate increase in liability coverage.
● Collision Damage Waiver: Known as a CDW, provides coverage for comprehensive damage with a reduction in liability. This may vary between countries.
● Loss Damage Waiver: Called a LDW, this is comprehensive damage insurance with liability waiver to cover damage to the rental car as well as for vandalism and theft.

Emergencies

Contact the rental agency and the police immediately if your rental car is stolen or in an accident, as insurance coverage may be tied to reporting the incident within a certain time frame.

Local Laws and Policies

Like the U.S., most overseas agencies have a minimum age to rent a vehicle. If you are under 25, or over 70, check to be sure you understand the laws and policies.

Some countries may require certain safety items to be carried in the vehicle, such as a fist-aid kit or warning triangles, and provide fines to the driver for not complying. Check local laws and inventory the rental car before leaving the lot.

Rules of the road will be slightly different in each country, so take the time to familiarize yourself with local traffic laws.

Refueling

Typically, there are two options for how fuel charges are handled:

● Supplied Full; Return Full: This is the option most America car-rental agencies use, where you pay only for the fuel you use. The tank is full when you pick the car up and if you fill the tank before bringing the car back and there are no additional fuel charges. As a warning, if you don’t refill the tank, refueling surcharges can be quite high.

● Supplied Full; Return Empty: This option charges you for a full tank up front and you use as much, or as little, gas as you need. This can be an expensive option if you only plan to do a little driving.

Either way, be sure you have a realistic idea of how much fuel will cost in the country you’re visiting.