The road trip is an American institution… but have you ever thought about driving overseas? There’s a certain freedom in tossing your suitcase in the car, sliding behind the wheel, and hitting the road. If that’s the way you like to travel, you can do a car trip abroad with just a little bit of extra planning!
Do You Want to Drive Overseas?
The first question you need to ask yourself is if you really do want to drive during your international trip. Will renting a car be worth the expense and the hassle of navigating foreign roads and finding parking? If your itinerary has you staying inside major cities, you might want to consider skipping the car and using public transit, taxis, and your feet to get around. On the other hand, if you are planning to explore the countryside and travel in between small towns, being able to drive yourself around will give you the flexibility to travel at your own pace.
Another item to consider is how many people are in your traveling party. Solo travelers may find it more cost-effective to travel around their destination by train or bus, but a family of four may be better served to rent a car and not have to buy four tickets every time they want to check out a new town!
Top Tips for International Car Rentals
Once you’ve decided that you want to drive during your overseas adventure, your next step will be to rent a car. Renting a car can take up a major chunk of your travel budget, so follow our tips to rent smart!
- Book in advance. There are lots of options to book a rental car online in advance of your trip. You can rent your car through a major travel site that also sells air tickets and hotels, or directly on the website of the car rental company. Most of the major US car rental companies have branches overseas, so if you have a favorite rental company, check them out first.
- Pay for your rental in advance. You’re likely to get the best deal by paying for your car ahead of time, and you’ll avoid getting hit with foreign transaction fees on your credit card if you pay on a US-based website.
- Brush up on your stick shift technique. Outside of the US, automatic transmission cars are not the norm. Most rental cars will have manual transmissions (stick shift). Automatic transmission cars are available at most international car rental agencies, but you’re likely to pay extra if you don’t want to drive stick!
- Consider picking up your car outside of the airport. It’s often convenient to pick up your rental car at the airport, but you’ll pay a surcharge to rent from a location on the airport property. If you’ll be spending a few days in the city when you first arrive, it particularly wise to wait and pick up your car from an off-airport location right before you head out of town.
- Check if you need to buy extra insurance. Before you agree to purchase the rental company’s insurance, check with your credit card company, travel insurance policy, and car insurance provider to see what coverage they offer for rental cars.
- Read your rental contract thoroughly before you leave. Avoid last minute hidden fees by checking out your rental contract in detail before you travel.
Do You Need an International Driver’s Permit?
You’re a licensed driver in the United States, with a valid driver’s license issued by a US state. But is that all you need to legally drive in your destination country?
Many countries have signed treaties with the United States to allow US citizens to drive using their US driver’s licenses. For example, all you’ll need to legally drive in Canada, the United Kingdom, or Mexico is your valid US driver’s license. Other countries will require that you obtain an International Driver’s Permit before you can rent a car or drive in their country. International Driver’s Permits (IDP) are accepted in 180 countries worldwide, and are available to all licensed US drivers age 18 and over.
There are a few countries that don’t accept either US driver’s license or the IDP. Uruguay, for example, doesn’t accept the IDP – you’ll have to get an Inter-American Driving Permit instead.
Whenever you’re behind the wheel in a foreign country, you’ll need to make sure you have all the right documents on you. Make sure you have your US driver’s license, your passport, and your IDP or local driving permit (if applicable).
Crossing International Borders by Car
Are you planning a multi-country road trip? That means you’ll be crossing international borders by car. Your experience crossing the border will vary greatly depending on where you are in the world. Driving between European countries is seamless – crossing a European Union border on the highway is much like driving between states in the US. You’ll see a sign announcing that you’ve entered a new country, and perhaps the road signs will be in a new language. That’s it!
Other places in the world have strict border control, and you’ll have to stop and deal with immigration officials before you can enter the next country. Allow for extra time, as there may be lines to cross the border. You’ll need to make sure that everyone in your vehicle has their passports handy! If you are entering a country that requires a visa, make sure that your visa allows you to enter by car. For example, Myanmar e-Visas are only accepted for entry at three international airports, so if you’re planning a Southeast Asian road trip and you’ll be driving from Thailand to Myanmar, you’ll need to have a Myanmar visa issued at an Embassy or Consulate before you leave the US.
Which Countries Drive on the Left?
Are you ready to drive on the “wrong” side of the road? The majority of the world’s countries drive on the right side of the road, as we do in the United States, but quite a few countries drive on the left. Great Britain is the most famous example of a country that drives on the left, and many of the countries that drive on the left are former British colonies. You can check out whether your destination drives on the left or right at World Standards, which maintains a list and map of the driving standards of every country in the world.
Here are some of the most popular destinations that drive on the left:
- British Virgin Islands
- New Zealand
- Papua New Guinea
- South Africa
- United Kingdom
Driving With Babies and Small Children Overseas
Planning a family car trip in a foreign land? For most parents, the big question is whether or not to bring their own child safety seat. We’ll make it easy for you – yes, if you’re driving overseas, bring your child’s own car seat! Rental companies will often allow you to rent a seat, but you run the risk of the seat not being available when you arrive to pick up your car. Your child will also likely be more comfortable in his own seat, and you won’t have to struggle with unfamiliar straps and buckles.
It’s easy to bring your child’s car seat on the plane. If your child has their own seat on the plane, you can use the car seat on the airplane seat. Just about every car seat sold in the US is FAA-certified for use on aircraft. If your baby doesn’t have her own seat on the plane, but instead will travel on your lap, you can still bring your car seat as carry-on baggage. The air stewards will stow the car seat in a special compartment in the cabin. Best of all, most airlines don’t count car seats toward your carry-on baggage allowance!
Before you leave home, make sure you know how to install the car seat correctly using just the seat belts, as your foreign rental car may not have the LATCH system for car seat installation.
What’s your ultimate road trip destination? Tell us in the comments!