Overseas rental car tips

Hitting the open road in a rental car is one of the best ways to explore overseas. Whether you’re planning a month-long road trip down Route 66, or just looking for an easy way to get around a new city, rental vehicles offer freedom, privacy and an alternative to stressful public transport.

However, renting a car overseas requires research and some planning ahead. In this article, we look into the basics of vehicle rentals, documents you’ll need to provide, how to get a great deal and what to know about rental vehicle insurance.


How to rent a car overseas

Renting a car can be a stress-free process if you come prepared. Here are a few tips on choosing a rental company, finding a good deal, understanding key terms and preparing your documents.

Choosing a hire company

Just like when you book your flights, accommodation and tours, it’s best to do some research to find the right rental company. Websites like Expedia and Webjet allow you to compare prices, vehicle types and available dates from a range of popular rental companies. They also allow you to read customer reviews, filter by price and model, and book your car once you’ve made your choice.

The price of your rental car will depend on a few factors, including:

  • The age of the driver(s)
  • The duration of your trip
  • Whether you drop the car in a different location to where you picked it up
  • Whether multiple people will be driving the car
  • What fuel policy you select
  • Whether you select a limited mileage or unlimited mileage policy
  • Whether you require extras like child seats and roof racks.

It’s important to familiarise yourself with these factors when choosing a rental vehicle to avoid paying for what you don’t need, or being surprised by unexpected fees.


Key terms to understand

Car rental companies sometimes sound like they’re speaking their own language. Here are some key terms to learn.

Rental agreement: The contract between yourself and the hire company, outlining the terms of the vehicle rental. Typically, you’ll be required to sign this agreement.

Excess: The amount you’re required to pay if the vehicle is stolen or damaged. Our International Comprehensive policy may be able to cover this cost, up to a maximum of $10,000.

Young driver surcharge: An additional fee for drivers under a specific age, usually 25-years-old.

Full to full: A fuel policy option whereby the car will have a full tank of fuel when you pick it up, and you’re required to drop it off with a full tank. This fuel policy is often the most cost-effective.

Pre-purchase fuel: A fuel policy option whereby you agree to pay for the fuel in the tank when you pick the car up. Any remaining fuel in the tank will not be refunded.

Tips for getting a good deal

When you understand the many terms used by hire car companies, you’ll be better placed to get a great deal. Here are five tips to save on your rental car:

  1. Choose your fuel policy wisely. Pre-purchase options may be convenient, but rental companies often charge a higher price for fuel than service stations.
  2. Be wary of unnecessary extras. Roof racks, unlimited mileage and ‘free tank’ fuel policies (where you get a free tank of fuel when you pick up the car) can end up costing you more than you need.
  3. Avoid airport rentals. Rental companies often charge a premium if you collect the vehicle at the airport. Consider using the same company but picking up the car at an alternate location.
  4. Research lesser-known companies. Big name brands are often more expensive, so keep your options open and research lesser-known agencies. However, it’s important to always book with a reputable licensed company. If you’re not sure whether a company is licensed, have a look on their website or contact them directly to ask for this information.
  5. Book carefully if booking online. If you book a vehicle online, ensure you enter your information correctly to avoid unexpected fees over the counter. Failing to nominate an extra driver, or lying about your age will cost you when you collect the vehicle.


Do you need an international driving permit?

Several countries require Australians to hold an international driving permit (IDP), as well as a valid Australian licence, to drive overseas.

These requirements can differ from country to country, state to state and even from rental company to rental company. If you’re renting a car in the United States for example, you’ll need a valid driver licence, as well as an IDP in some states. Even if you’re travelling in a US state that doesn’t require an IDP, your rental company may require one.

Travel insurance tip: If you’re driving overseas, you must adhere to any local driving laws or rules, otherwise we may not be able to cover you for rental vehicle excess. That’s why it’s important that you have the licences required by your destination.

Where to get an international driving permit

Some countries, like the USA, do not issue IDPs. If you’re renting a car overseas, it’s best that you obtain an IDP from the Australian Automobile Association by applying online. Your application may take some time to be processed, so don’t leave it to the last minute.


Overseas car rental: are you insured?

If you’re planning to rent a car overseas, it’s a good idea to protect yourself with comprehensive travel insurance that includes cover for rental vehicle excess. While your rental agreement may outline some public liability insurance, it’s likely you’ll still be required to pay an excess if the vehicle is damaged or stolen.

At SCTI, our International Comprehensive policy includes rental vehicle excess cover of up to $10,000.

If you borrow a car from a friend or family member, it’s important to know that it won’t be classed as a rental vehicle and you won’t be covered under your International Comprehensive policy for it.

Important things to remember:

  • Always wear your seatbelt, even if it’s not a legal requirement of the country you’re in.
  • You need to hold a valid driver’s licence for both the type of vehicle and the country you’re in. You should also carry it with you at all times when you’re driving.
  • Never drink and drive, regardless of the local law. Our International Comprehensive policy won’t cover you if you do. Be aware that many countries also have open-bottle laws, where it’s illegal to have any open bottles of alcohol in the vehicle.
  • Never drive under the influence of drugs.
  • If you need a GPS, hire one from the rental agency instead of using your phone. It will have more up to date local maps, plus it is illegal to use a cellphone while driving in many countries.
  • If you’re travelling with kids and you need a car seat, make sure the rental company knows this ahead of time. That way, you don’t have to worry about whether they’ll be available.
  • Don’t pick up hitch hikers, even if your rental agreement doesn’t specifically prohibit it. Your safety is important and picking up strangers is risky.
  • Make sure you stay on formed or paved roadways and carparks.
  • Only those named on your International Comprehensive policy and on the rental vehicle agreement will be covered by your International Comprehensive policy for rental vehicle excess.
  • Your International Comprehensive policy does not cover you for rental vehicle excess if you’re liable for any damages, compensation and legal expenses as a result of causing harm to another person or to property other than your own rental vehicle.


How to research overseas road rules

It goes without saying that your rental agreement and travel insurance require you to follow local road rules while driving overseas. But how do you find what these are?

The government roads and vehicle authority of your destination will have a website that details local driving laws, like these Californian driving laws published by the DMV.

Researching local laws is your responsibility and a must-do if you’re renting a vehicle overseas.


Making a claim under you International Comprehensive policy for rental car excess

You can make life easier for yourself when picking up your rental car by simply stopping to check it over for any existing damage and taking photos where necessary. It’s also a good idea to check that the tyres are up to pressure and that they have enough tread left. If you’re not comfortable with the tyres, request a different vehicle.

Make sure you point out any damage to the rental vehicle company on initial inspection, so they can take note in the vehicle file. That way, you can ensure you’re not charged for any damage to the vehicle that you’re not responsible for. In the event of an accident, it will also provide proof of exactly what damage occurred to the vehicle.

In order to submit your claim online, you’ll need to provide us with the following documentation as soon as reasonably possible after the event has happened:

  • Confirmation of who the registered drivers were on the rental vehicle.
  • Documentation which confirms the damage liability excess on the rental vehicle.
  • Documentation to confirm how much you were charged for the damage.

The first two points above can usually be found in the rental vehicle agreement.

With some rental vehicle agencies, it is standard practice to charge the full damage liability excess, regardless of the level of damage that has occurred to the vehicle. If the cost of repairs is less than the amount you have paid, they will refund you the difference.

If you get charged the full damage liability excess, we’ll also require the following:

  • A copy of the final repair report, showing the final cost of repairs; or
  • Confirmation of any refunds received (such as a copy of your bank statement showing the refund).

Renting a car can be a fantastic way to explore your destination, but as you can see, it does require some research and preparation.

Ensure you protect yourself with comprehensive travel insurance that includes cover for rental vehicle excess. Get an instant quote today so you can drive with confidence overseas.


The content of this article is general and provided for information purposes only. Southern Cross Travel Insurance (SCTI) doesn’t guarantee or warrant the accuracy, completeness or currency of the articles.

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