Car renters may hit potholes when they cross borders

Kathie Baker has reservations about her rental car, and with good reason.

She’s flying to Halifax, Nova Scotia, in July to attend a conference with her husband and then taking a few days to explore Canada’s scenic Maritime provinces. But she’s heard about surcharges imposed on older drivers, mandatory insurance requirements and other unanticipated fees.

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“I’m concerned that we’ll be stuck paying for extras,” says Baker, a translator who lives in Pittsburgh. “Will we be fleeced because we’re Americans?”

Probably not. But she’s right to be cautious. Renting vehicles outside the United States is an experience that can have unexpected detours. They include age-related charges, special insurance requirements and potential paperwork problems, such as the requirement of an international driving permit.

Baker has heard about international car renters paying surcharges for being over a certain age and fears that her 72-year-old husband might have to shell out more, despite his clean driving record.

She needn’t worry about that, says Craig Hirota, a spokesman for the Associated Canadian Car Rental Operators, a trade group. If the couple rents from one of the major American car rental companies, then the company’s Canadian locations will operate similarly to their U.S. counterparts. In other words, no age-related surcharges.

But they’ll still have to pay attention to the terms of their rental, he warns: “There may be mileage caps and over-mileage charges applicable if the vehicles are driven out of the province, so prospective clients should inquire prior to committing to a rental.”

The Bakers might run into trouble if they were trying to rent in Europe, where it’s common to find restrictions on drivers older than 70. In Australia, there are restrictions on drivers older than 75, and in Morocco on drivers over 80.

Special requirements for older drivers can be extensive. For example, to drive in Ireland after you turn 75, you have to show your car-rental company a letter from your insurance company verifying that you haven’t had any accidents in the past five years. You must also show a letter from your physician confirming you’ve been in good health for at least a year and are fit to drive.

“The rules vary by country and by car-rental company,” says Nanci Sullivan, a vice president of marketing at AutoEurope, an online travel agency that specializes in car rentals.

Sullivan says auto insurance requirements are all over the map, too. When you rent in Israel, for instance, you’re required to carry insurance with a deductible of between $500 and $1,800, depending on where you rent. Israel also has a maximum age for renters of 75.

If you’re driving in Italy, your insurance may have a minimum deductible of about $1,220, but there’s no maximum age. Jamaica’s maximum age is 75, and your insurance deductible could be between $750 and $2,000, based on your location and the rental company.

The best way to avoid an insurance- or surcharge-related misunderstanding is to ask your car rental company about this before you make a reservation. A company such as AutoEurope rents cars with various insurance options and in most cases offers a “zero-excess” policy that removes your liability for hefty deductibles. But some rental companies, in an effort to make their rates look cheaper, don’t include required insurance in their quoted prices.

That isn’t the only driving obstacle you might encounter when crossing the border. The International Driving Permit (IDP) can also be a source of confusion. The permit, a photo ID with your American driver’s license information translated into 10 languages, is sometimes, but not always, required for car rental. In Europe, for example, the IDP is “recommended” for rentals, except in Greece, where it is required.

“All renters from non-European Union countries must present an International Driving Permit in addition to their national driving license when renting in Greece,” says Hertz spokeswoman Paula Rivera.

The U.S. Department of State authorizes AAA and the National Automobile Club to issue IDPs. Anyone else who offers you an IDP may be trying to sell you an expensive knockoff. But as a practical matter, you probably won’t have to worry about a permit if you’re visiting a popular tourist area. I’ve been driving overseas for years, and no one’s asked me to show an IDP. If a car-rental company insists on the paperwork, you can always cancel your reservation and take your business elsewhere.

It’s true that car-rental companies sometimes see foreign drivers as an easy mark for so-called “upsells” on expensive insurance or other extras, like fuel-purchase options (which allow you to prepay for a tank of gas and return the car without filling it up). In destinations with lots of international visitors, it’s not unusual to find unscrupulous rental agents who claim insurance is required when, in fact, it isn’t.

It goes both ways. When international renters come to the United States, they, too, can be stuck with unnecessary fees or daunted by seemingly arbitrary restrictions.

That happened to Wim Jessurun, a sonographer who has a home in the United States and reserved and paid for a car while in the Netherlands. An Avis agent in Miami refused to rent to Jessurun even though he had a Pembroke Pines, Fla., address and an American driver’s license. He was asked to show a passport, IDP and airline ticket with his rental voucher. He couldn’t.

“My printed paperwork did not ask for these documents,” Jessurun says. Sure enough, the AutoEurope site in the Netherlands, through which he booked the car, didn’t display the paperwork requirement. Avis balked at refunding the prepaid voucher.

I contacted AutoEurope on Jessurun’s behalf, and the staff there updated the site to show the requirements for inbound travelers. They also refunded his $321 voucher.

When it comes to international rentals, you don’t have to end up carless at the end of a long flight. Do the homework on your paperwork requirements, and you’re less likely to get broadsided by an additional insurance bill — or an outright rejection.

Do car rental companies take advantage of international visitors with bogus fees and insurance?

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63 thoughts on “Car renters may hit potholes when they cross borders

        1. Actually, it sounds more like the uneducated American than the ugly one. What we suffer from is a lack of knowledge about the rest of the world. Obviously, travel helps a lot, but that may be too expensive for many people, especially young ones. That’s not really the individual’s fault as much as a terrible educational system. It’s really a shame….

          1. No, my comment was in relation to the lack of knowledge regarding the rest of the world (geography, customs, traditions, etc.). Actually, asking a question – about pretty much anything – is an indication of a desire for knowledge, not a lack of education. Does that clarify?

          2. Do you really think that people from other countries are not ugly-travelers when visiting international destinations?

          3. What’s your point? In fact, I’ve seen the same here by non-Americans. However, we can’t influence the behavior of all of civilization, so I sort of focused on the “Ugly American” stereotype. I’m not ashamed when someone from another country does something rude; I am when it’s another American. And I still attribute much of the “ugly” to a lack of education rather than a basic personality defect.

          4. Why do you take responsibility for anyone’s lack geographic or cultural knowledge? Why wouldn’t you take umbrage if a Canadian or a Mexican traveler was rude?

          5. When we travel (and are obviously Americans – language, etc.), it’s a little embarrassing when another American comes across loud or ugly. I don’t “take responsibility” for them as much as simply hope the natives understand that we’re not all like that. Everyone tends to make generalizations, and I just hope those native folks don’t do that with us.

    1. Most americans can’t help themselves, they don’t know any better. There are still a majority of people who think they need a passport to go to Hawaii.

      1. I actually had someone ask be about a passport to Hawaii. I gave her the benefit of the doubt as she was young and she said that since she would be flying for hours over the ocean, that maybe it would be required. BTW, airline reservationists, who are off shore, have told people that they would need one when flying from the mainland. Geez….

          1. US Citizens require a passport to visit Guam, though photo ID and proof of citizenship may be accepted on a per case basis.

            Guam is not a “state” it is an incorporated territory. Hawaii is a “STATE”.

          1. To be fair and somewhat understanding, people think that because they will be flying over water for hours, that maybe that is considered leaving the US mainland to get to Hawaii, that they know is a state. Having had clients ask about the need for a passport, this is what raises their concern.

          2. Is the holidays making you apologetic? Why would flying over water have anything to do with domestic travel between STATES?

          3. Because it is ‘international waters’ so they think they might need a passport to get into Hawaii after leaving the mainland. Again, the questions have come from those young and those never having traveled.

  1. I always rent from Hertz (if possible) in Europe and I make the reservation here as a Gold member. It almost always works out — except for the time I got a 2.5hp Fiat Panda (I may have exaggerated slightly).

    I think Hertz values my custom and would avoid doing anything that would end up as a subject in this blog.

    1. I agree about renting through the U.S. with a major agency when traveling overseas. I worked in Italy for 6 months and had to rent a car several times. I always called Hertz (I, too, am a Gold member) in the U.S. via Skype and made my reservations. It always worked beautifully. By the way, Frank Clarke, I always got the Fiat Panda and loved it. Economical on gas and small enough to make it down those narrow village streets. I’m considering buying one in the U.S.

        1. I would have loved using a scooter, but the need to travel the length and breadth of coastal Tuscany required either a bullet bike or a Fiat Panda. I chose the Panda. 🙂

  2. I am going to visit Manhattan, New York for the holidays. I will be fleeced because I am an American (residing just outside NYC) 🙂

        1. Why? When I visit NYC, I usually walk from Penn Station to wherever I have to go, even up to the American Museum of Natural History. But when the weather is really bad, I’ll hop on a bus. Then again, I get the senior half-price discount and I don’t come in during the Christmas rush, when traffic is nearly impossible. Subways, of course, are much faster than the buses and don’t sit in traffic.

          1. Just was in NYC and we walked everywhere except two subway rides, one to the 9/11 Memorial and back to Penn Station at the end of the day. Great time!

          2. Where am I gonna put all the stuff I buy? I need a chauffeur with my rental luxury. A limo is fine, too.

    1. My son tells me to quit looking UP all the time when I’m there. He says that everyone will know I’m from out of town and I might as well hang a sign around my neck saying, “Tourist! Fleece Me!”

      I do so love embarrassing my grown children. 😀

      1. Well, looking at what my son has to pay for rent for a tiny room in Williamsburg (hipster capital in Brooklyn) then I have to stay they fleece local New Yorkers, too.

  3. As a dual citizen of the US and Canada, and a frequent traveler in both, I can assure the OP that renting a car anywhere in Canada is very easy. You do NOT need the International Drivers License if you have a US license. Most of the rental companies are the same brands that you find everywhere.

    The picture shown, of a soldier/ border guard at an international border, is somewhat misleading. No Canada- US border crossing looks like that!

    1. Thank you for your info. I just finished up visiting all 50 US States and 51 Capitals, and am now in the process of planning to visit *all* of the Canadian provinces and their Capitals. I’ve never seen anything quite so antiquated at the US-Canadian border (as shown in the picture). I don’t have the problem of age referenced in today’s article, but am a little concerned about inter-provincial rentals. Is that a real problem? I hadn’t even considered that in heading out to the Maritime Provinces. Thanks in advance!

      ETA to add what I thought was antiquated.

        1. Can’t get to Iqaluit other than by flying. 🙂

          Some of the others, especially in the east and the far northwest – a little faster to fly, then rent a car. Others – we’ll just drive and entertain the border security folks. “Purpose of visit?” “To walk in Regina.” “No, really, what is the purpose of your visit?”

          1. Yes, we can.

            No rental companies we would know exist there (yet) but it seems fairly easy to rent. Most rentals companies charge a $200 refundable deposit and $50 – $70 a day for a car like a Hyundai Atos. Advice is to go for the maximum insurance they offer, which is around $10 a day.

            Of course everything has to be paid in cash if you are from the US since none of our credit/debit cards will work there (yet).

            Personally, I would rather hire a driver.

      1. Just tell them where you want to go with the car and stick with mainstream rental agencies.

        Since this is an advice article, a Canadian cannot legally drive an American licensed car in Canada. It is against customs regulations. So if a Canadian were to, for example, rent a car in Buffalo NY and drop it off in Canada, they have to make sure to have a vehicle with Canadian plates.
        BTW, those lunatics in Florida enacted a law that people from outside the USA had to have an international driving permit, so Canadians had to get one to drive in Florida, until they came to their senses and changed it.

        For the record, I have rented from Hertz in the UK lots of times with no problems. I get more problems in the USA where I’ve had:
        -People insist the tank was 7/8 full when it was 3/4.
        -People insist that there was no damage when I rented the car when in fact there was.

        The worst place for car rentals has been the good ‘ol USA.

      2. Depending on the car rental agency, if you rent from a Canadian province that borders the US, it may not be allowed to cross the border. Or in some cases, the rental car is only allowed to be driven in a few states that are on the border. For example, a car rented in Vancouver, BC cannot be driven beyond WA, OR, ID, or MT.

      1. The 3rd. one? Yes, it seems to be a Lada Laika (my parents had one, when Brazil opened its borders in the 90’s. They don’t have good memories about the car…)

    2. It is the border between Ukraine & Moldova:

      www .shutterstock .com/pic-181478927/stock-photo-odessa-april-customs-border-checkpoint-ukraine-moldova-inspection-of-citizens-and-the-car.html?src=nyhJ_cngnNC_g77hKUfZrA-1-15

    3. My fiance has gotten me into this Canadian show called “The Border”, best procedural crime drama I’ve seen outside “Law and Order: UK”.

  4. It’s my considered opnion that nobody over 50 should be driving in Ireland! Driving on the left and meeting a huge bus in a hedge-bordered lane barely wide enough for your tiny rental car is quite the experience.

  5. I once rented from Hertz in Toronto, I planned to drive back to New York so I know I couldn’t take the car across the border. At the time I was still living in the UK so I wasn’t American then. Anyway, I drove from Toronto to Niagara with Hertz, the very nice local Hertz office picked me up and if I remember correctly took me to the bus station where i got a bus from to Buffalo where I picked up another Hertz car that I drove to New York. Both Hertz rentals were excellent. I remember there being some issue with the bus regarding the fare, maybe currency related, although I can’t remember the details. I’ve also rented in Israel, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa with Hertz and Avis. I remember there was an issue with the rates quoted not matching what they wanted me to pay in New Zealand, I think it was related to the length of the rental, but in the end I got it sorted.

  6. Mexico is another one with hidden insurance fees. Even if you have insurance through your credit card, it doesn’t include leverything and they will kill you with pricing for it. A $49 car rental can turn into a $400 rental there.

  7. I’m traveling in Europe now and rented my car from Avis. I selected the option of paying for the rental in advance, so I was able to see all of the taxes and fees when I made the original reservation. I don’t know if other rental companies offer the same feature, but it may be an easy way to avoid surprises.

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