Is Renting a Car or Motorcycle in Another Country a Good Idea?

So you’re heading to another country and want to rent a car to see the sights? No problem. Many countries and rental car companies will allow you to rent a car, motorcycle, or another vehicle to hit the road. Still, is a motorcycle or car rental in another country a good idea, or should you stick to public transportation and touring options? 

Can I rent a car in a different country?

You can rent a car in a different country relatively easily, depending on your age, citizenship, and license. However, some countries, like Australia and Japan, require an International Driving Permit (IDP) or International Driving License (IDL) in addition to your state-issued license and official passport to drive a car.

Many travelers rent cars from rental companies in Germany to drive on the Autobahn.
The Autobahn is a frequent pilgrimage for traveling drivers | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand, picture alliance via Getty Images

According to Auto Europe, drivers with a US license need an IDP to drive in the following countries: 

  • Australia
  • Japan
  • Italy
  • Poland
  • Spain
  • Austria
  • Bulgaria
  • Czech Republic
  • Estonia
  • Romania
  • Serbia
  • Slovenia
  • Slovakia
  • Thailand

Fret not; licensed American drivers can apply for an IDP at their nearest AAA branch office. 

The AAA office can issue Americans an IDP for traveling.
AAA office | Smith Collection, Gado, Getty Images

Does my car insurance cover rentals in other countries?

Most US-based car insurance providers won’t cover you renting a car in another country. Instead, renters should consider opting for insurance through their rental car company. The U.S. State Department recommends you get similar coverage to what you have domestically. 

However, Progressive says renters should be mindful of host nation coverage requirements. For instance, Italy requires theft protection for renters. Moreover, travelers should check with their rental car companies, insurance providers, and credit cards to see if they have any existing coverage for driving abroad. You don’t want to be on the hook for replacing a car or repairing damages that otherwise would have been covered by your insurance carrier. 

A car crash in a rental car could cost you money from a rental car company if you don't get insurance.
You could pay for damages without insurance | André März, picture alliance via Getty Images

Can you rent a car in one European country and drop it off in another?

Many rental agencies offer “one-way” rentals, which means travelers with passports and valid licenses can rent a car in one European country and drop it off elsewhere. For example, you can rent a car in Germany and return it in France. Still, IDPs are mandatory to drive in certain countries. 

Consider some specifics before you try to drive in another country

Before you head off on your international trip with the intention of renting a car, consider a few specifics. First, what side of the road do vehicles drive on in that country? If you’re heading to some English-speaking countries, you likely won’t need an IDP, but you’ll need to pay attention to driving on the left side of the road. Also, many countries use roundabouts to control and direct traffic, which can be a shock for many Americans traveling abroad. 

Renting a car from rental companies in other countries is a great idea, but Americans should be mindful of roundabouts like this.
A European roundabout | Jeffrey Greenberg, Universal Images Group via Getty Images
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However, driving on the other side of the road, navigating roundabouts, and even local traffic signs aren’t challenging to understand. Consult local traffic laws and guidelines before you take to the streets. Additionally, local rental car companies will likely have literature to act as a reference for local regulations and signs. 

Can you rent a motorcycle in another country?

If you are a licensed motorcycle rider with a valid driver’s license, chances are you can rent a motorcycle in another country. However, some countries might require an IDP or additional credentials to secure your two-wheeled tour machine. Check with local rental companies before assuming you can rent a motorcycle instead of a car. 

Still, it will be worth it. For instance, I rented a Suzuki SV650 in Scotland, and it afforded me a Highlands driving experience unparalleled by a car or bus. Better yet, renting that motorcycle from a rental company in Cupar only required my license and passport. Furthermore, in the case of Scotland and other European countries, streets are often more narrow, and parking is limited compared to the majority of the United States. On a motorcycle, negotiating narrow streets and finding parking is much easier. 

Have you ever rented a car or motorcycle overseas? Tell us about it in the comments below!