Renting a Car Abroad: Don’t Get Taken for a Ride

“Throw the keys through the kiosk’s open window. We’ll get the car when we open later”: Those slightly unorthodox drop-off instructions I once received from a Hertz manager in Croatia illustrate some of the differences U.S. travelers might encounter when renting a car abroad.

It pays to familiarize yourself with the local policies and protocols ahead of time. Here’s what you need to know before you accept the keys.

You may need an international driver’s license

If you have a U.S. driver’s license, an international driving permit is officially required (along with your state-issued license) in Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Italy, Japan, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain and Thailand, although its use is not universally enforced. It’s also a good idea to carry an I.D.P., a booklet — slightly bigger than a passport — that translates a U.S. license into 10 languages, when renting a vehicle in a country whose language is not written in Roman letters.

An I.D.P. costs $20, is valid for one year and is issued to any applicant by a local AAA office (the only issuer in the United States authorized by the State Department). You must apply for one in the country that issued your regular driver’s license.

Familiar brands may be franchisees

Car rental brands familiar to Americans operate throughout the world; those include Alamo, Avis, Hertz, National, Sixt and others. You can reserve a vehicle through a company’s U.S. website or through a rental aggregator such as Autoeurope.com, to compare rates.

The overseas branches of U.S. companies may not always be owned by the parent company. The discussion boards on websites like Tripadvisor abound with commenters calling out franchise operations of major chains for not providing the service they expect from a U.S. operation.

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