How to rent a car abroad for the first time

Car rental

There are plenty of destinations in the world where it's just not the same without a rental car. Whether you want to explore the natural wonders of the USA, venture across New Zealand or South Africa, or simply want to be free and independent of timetables, your steps will surely head to a rental car.

How does it actually work when renting a car like this and what to be sure to keep in mind? There's no need to worry, we've written a basic guide for you, and nothing will surprise you after reading it.

Where to book a car

There are dozens of booking portals. Choosing a car works much like choosing a flight. You can use search engines to compare the offers of all available rental companies, or you can book directly on the websites of the individual rental companies.

Through search engines

In most cases, it's most straightforward to book through search engines. is one of the most popular and most transparent, and we use it a lot ourselves.

When you book through a search engine, you will always know which rental company you are renting from, and the terms and conditions of the rental should also be detailed. Avoid comparison sites with tempting prices where you won't find similar information, for example we don't recommend using

Booking through a similar search engine has the advantage of comparing most offers from cheapest to most expensive, so you don't have to search through individual rental company websites. In addition, booking through similar sites is usually cheaper than booking directly through the car rental company's website.

Book a car with

On the other hand, one of the disadvantages is the need to read the rental conditions in detail and twice. It often happens that after selecting a particular offer, the conditions are updated and differ from the original text. So read them again before paying.

When you book, you pay the money directly to the site and any changes or cancellations are dealt with through them.

Through the car rental company's website

Each rental company, of course, operates its own booking systems through which the car can be booked. In most cases, this option is more expensive than the aforementioned search engines, but this is not always the case. We always recommend comparing offers.

Particularly in premium locations, i.e. very touristy places or remote areas, it may be cheaper to book directly through the rental company's website. Some of the best known companies operating worldwide include Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Europcar, Sixt, Hetz, Alamo, Thrifty and others.

Rental companies to avoid

Not all companies are reputable and, despite the tempting price, end up charging ridiculous fees or trying to invent various damages and charge your card after you return the car.

Traditionally, the worst rental companies include Goldcar, Centauro, Firefly, Record and InterRent.

At the airport or in the city?

Always check rental rates at the airport branch and in a nearby city. Prices can vary by as much as tens of percent at an off-airport branch (but they don't have to), so compare whether it's worth making one short trip from the airport using local transport. For information on transport from more than 600 airports, see our guides.

When to book and how much car hire costs

Generally, the earlier you book your car, the less you pay. Most car rental companies and booking sites like allow free cancellation 48 hours before the rental, so there's nothing stopping you from booking well in advance to be on the safe side and checking prices from time to time - even car rental companies may have various discount promotions.

Moreover, as with flights, it's not just how far in advance you book the car, but also on what dates.

In holiday destinations, you'll pay the most during the summer holidays, while in winter prices are often absurdly low in the low hundreds of crowns a day (for example, in Ireland, Spain or Portugal).

Book your car rental in advance

It even depends on the days you're hiring the car. If you're heading to a tourist destination, weekend rates will be the most expensive (usually starting at noon on Thursday and ending at noon on Monday), while weekdays will be the most expensive in big cities where cars are hired for work.

Each time you book, you fill in the date and exact time of pick-up, which plays an important role. The rates are calculated for each day. If you rent a car on Friday at 10:30am and return it on Saturday at 10:30am, you'll pay for 1 day, but if you return it at 11:00am, you'll pay for 2 full days.

Also, the longer the rental period, the less you pay per day. For example, if you rent a car in the US for 14 days, you'll probably be under 30 usd per day.

What to look out for when ordering

There are several tricky things that can happen when you're looking for the cheapest deals, some of which can be bad for your wallet. In short, when renting a car, more than anywhere else: read the terms and conditions.

Insurance, deductible and deposit

The three magic words you'll probably read most often when renting a car. They are closely related to each other.

You can arrangeinsurance either through a third party, for example when booking through, or completely independently with another company, or directly with the rental company.

The third-party insurance option is cheaper, but on the other hand, the "paperwork" in case of a problem is a bit more complicated. If you take out insurance through a third party and something happens, the car rental company will charge your card and you will then claim from the company where you took out the insurance.

On the other hand, if you are insured directly with the rental company, you do not have to deal with anything and the rental company handles all the paperwork for you. On the other hand, such insurance is considerably more expensive and in some cases exceeds the rental price itself.

The basic price will almost always include CDW (Collision Damage Waiver) insurance, but this only covers damage to the bodywork up to a certain amount. It does not cover damage to the interior, windows, undercarriage or tyres.

You can always add individual components to the price, or you can opt for a complete car insurance policy with zero deductible (usually referred to as LDW or FDW). Prices vary depending on location, type of car and length of rental.

They usually range from around 25 usd per day when set up through a "third party", or from 25 usd to 60 usd when set up directly through the rental company.

Thedeductible is the maximum amount the rental company can charge you in case of damage or theft of the car. Amounts can range from hundreds to thousands of euros (the maximum we encountered was 2,500 euros).

If you buy full insurance with a zero deductible, you pay nothing if your car is damaged or stolen, but again, with third-party insurance, the rental company takes the money first and you then claim the damage from your insurance company.

Beware! If you do not pay for full insurance (LDW or FDW) and only basic CDW insurance is included (i.e. usually only bodywork), the excess amount will only apply to that insurance.

If you have a rental car without full insurance with only basic CDW and you destroy the engine, clutch or other part of the car, you will pay the full amount of the damage, not just the maximum "deductible" amount.

Thedeposit is the amount that will be blocked on the day of the rental and unblocked when you return the car if you return it safely. Please note, the money is not automatically unblocked on the day of return, the whole process can take up to 3 weeks.

Again, the amount of the deposit varies widely across rental companies and can range from 100 to 2 500 eur. Often the deposit is equal to the deductible, but this is not the rule.

How much money the rental company will lock up depends again on the insurance policy. If you take out full cover directly from the rental company, there will be little or no deposit, if full cover with zero excess is taken out through a third party (for example, or a traditional insurance company), you will not avoid the deposit.

Either way, keep enough funds on the card that you won't need immediately during your vacation or for a few weeks afterwards.

Credit or debit card?

Related to the deposit is the eternal question about the type of credit card. You need a credit card to borrow. This is what most car rental companies require to block your deposit.

While there are exceptions where you can get by with a debit card, it usually means having to buy expensive insurance with zero deductible. Cases where you find out on the spot that they won't lend you a car just because you don't have a credit card are commonplace.

Credit cards are more trustworthy for rental companies than debit cards, they have more confidence that the client will actually have enough funds if needed. Borrowing with a credit card is also better for you - if a large deposit is blocked, you will "miss" the bank's money and not yours directly.

Beware of the fuel policy

The fuel policy should already be clearly declared when booking the car. The most common and transparent is the so-called "Full - Full". You rent a car with a full tank and return it with a full tank, paying for petrol exactly as you drive through.

A cheaper rate can be offered by rental companies with a "Full - Empty" policy or also "Prepaid Fuel", i.e. "Full - Empty", where you rent a car with a full tank and return it with an empty one. Avoid such offers. It does not mean you will get a free car with a full tank of gas.

You pay for the petrol in advance, but you can return the car with an empty tank when you return it. Firstly, the rental company will charge you the highest possible rate for petrol, and secondly, you will be constantly watching the fuel gauge at the end of the rental period to make sure you don't overpay and return the car "empty".

Mileage limits and area of movement restrictions

Pay attention to the "Miles/kilometres" item. Not all rental companies will allow you to drive your car unlimited distances. They will, but you will pay for exceeding the free limit.

If it says "unlimited", then you can drive the car as far as you want. If not, there is always a maximum number of kilometres you can drive for free (per day) and an amount for each extra kilometre, usually around 1 usd.

It is also common for car rental companies to prohibit travel to other countries. If you want to head outside the country where you are renting a car, always make sure in advance that this will be possible.

Number of drivers

Each time you make a booking, you fill in whether you want to add an additional driver. If you do not add this service, it is automatically assumed that only the person for whom the car is hired will drive.

If the car is driven by a driver other than the one on the contract, this is not illegal. However, if there is any problem with the car or if there is an accident, whether caused by fault or not, and the car is driven by someone not on the contract, the entire cost will be your responsibility. This is even if you have paid full insurance with zero excess.

Age of the driver or young and old pay extra

If you rent a car and you are under 25 or over 65, there is a young driver's surcharge, which is unavoidable at any rental company anywhere in the world.

It is a statistical fact that young and older drivers are more prone to accidents and car rental companies know this. In some countries, even higher compulsory liability insurance must be paid if a young driver is driving.

The amounts are really high and not infrequently exceed the full rental price.

If you are under 21, most countries will not rent you a car at all - even for a fee.

Type of car

When you book, you can of course choose from different sizes and classes of car. However, remember that the rental company will not guarantee a specific make and model. Always note "... or similar", which means that they will rent you the same or a similar car in that class.

Also bear in mind that manual gearbox cars may not always be available, especially in the USA, Australia or New Zealand.

One-way car rental

While it's tempting to plan an epic road-trip across the country, it's less practical to go back to the place where you rented the car. The vast majority of major car rental companies will let you return the car at a different branch (but always in the same country). However, check the final price very carefully and check the items with information about what is not included in the price.

Book a one-way car rental

One-way car rental fees can be very high, often many times more than the cost of the rental itself. Less reputable car rental companies will not include this fee in the total price, they will just mention it in small print in the information about what is not included in the price.

There are, of course, exceptions where the one-way fee is not staggeringly high, typically in smaller countries, islands, but also some rental companies in the US, South Africa or European countries.

Expensive additional equipment

If you're travelling with children, you'll probably book a child car seat along with your car. However, take a good look at how much it will cost. Typical prices for a week's rental are around €1 and you may be better off taking the seat from home, as most airlines carry them for free.

Avoid paying extra for GPS altogether, with prices often reaching absurd levels of around 100 eur per week.

What I'll need

We've mentioned the main pitfalls you may encounter when booking the car itself. But what do you need to bring with you to get a car rental at all?

First of all, you need a credit card in the name of the driver you booked the car with. We mention the issue of debit versus credit cards above.

Another essential item is an international driving licence. There are exceptions, of course. For example, if you have an EU driving licence and are travelling to another EU country, an international driving licence is not needed.

You must also carry your regular licence, without which the international one is invalid.

We also recommend that you download offline maps to your phone at home and don't spend unnecessary money on GPS equipment.

How it works on the spot

When you pick up your car

When picking up, you may encounter 3 types of pickup. At the biggest airports, the car rental counters are usually all together in a special building with clear signage, or you can take the local shuttle bus or train to them yourself, which is always free.

Smaller airports have counters right in the arrivals hall, and at the smallest airports you can get a person with a sign to take you to the branch.

At the counter you will then hand over all the necessary documents (passport/ID and international driving licence) and refuse any extra services the rental company may offer. Usually this is an offer of LDW (i.e. full insurance with zero deductible) or a prepaid tank.

You usually have the insurance taken out upfront and a pre-paid tank is not usually cost effective.

You then present the credit card used to pay the rental fee, and they usually block a deposit of the pre-determined amount on it. This is always indicated in the terms and conditions of the rental.

After that, there is nothing to prevent you from taking possession of the car. You will always be given a template, which either you or the rental company employee fills out in front of you, in which places and how badly the car is damaged. Don't underestimate the inspection and fill in any visible damage, from small scratches to dirty interior.

You can then hand the template to the employee or drop it in the boxes provided when you leave the car park (this is common in the USA, for example).

When the car is handed over

Before you hand in your car, make sure it is not extremely dirty and if it is, take it to a car wash and vacuum it. It will work out cheaper than the soiling fee the rental company would charge (usually around 60 usd).

Returning the car itself is usually a quick formality. You arrive, hand over the keys and you're done. In some rental companies, an employee will inspect the car right away and tell you what, if anything, is wrong, in others you don't even meet a live person and drop the keys in a prepared box.

While picking up a car outside the rental company's opening hours is either not possible at all or is subject to a special surcharge, returns outside opening hours are usually free. You drop the keys in the box at the counter.

It's a good idea to check your credit card statements regularly for at least a few weeks after you return. Most reputable rental companies will notify you by email if they find a problem (or even if you're paying a fine) before taking the money off your block, but there are some rental companies that don't bother to notify you.


Renting a car can make travelling much easier, and also extend your trip to new places you wouldn't otherwise be able to go. However, it's important to know and study the rental terms and conditions well, and most importantly, understand them.

More than anywhere else, the seemingly cheapest deal may not really be the cheapest in the end. As there are more things to look out for, we will conclude with a short summary.

Compare car rental prices

  • Insurance is not usually included in the basic price. You can set up a cheaper one through a third party, with the caveat that in the event of an insurance claim, you'll have to handle everything yourself and the rental company will lock in a large deposit. The other option is significantly more expensive insurance directly through the rental company. The advantage is that the rental company will handle the eventuality for you and you don't have to worry about anything, as well as a low or no deposit.
  • Expect to need a credit card and have a sufficient limit on it to block the deposit. Borrowing on a debit card is only possible with some rental companies and often comes with high deposits.
  • Don't be fooled by the fuel policy; renting and returning the car with a full tank is optimal.
  • When you return, check your credit card regularly, as less reputable rental companies may continue to charge additional fees.