Renting a Car in Europe: 3 Things You Need to Know

Europe is a fabulous place to rent a car and get off the beaten path. If you are considering renting a car in Europe to do a multi-country road trip, here are a few things you should be aware of before you go:

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1. You may not be able to legally drive into all the countries on your agenda.

Your rental car company will have specific countries within their insurance coverage, no matter where you decide to rent. This has nothing to do with the insurance you choose for your car, it has to do with company policy.

We recently rented a car in Munich, Germany and had planned to drive through the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, and Austria. As we were filling out our paperwork to rent our car, we were informed that we cannot legally enter Croatia with our German rental car. …um… WHAT!?

We rented from Europcar who said that most, if not all, of the other rental companies nearby share this same policy. For some reason Croatia was not covered by Europcar’s policies at the time we were traveling. Perhaps it is a bigger liability, as Croatia has only been part of the EU since July of 2013.

This may have since changed in Croatia’s case, but always double check your intended itinerary with the rental company.

Rather than scrapping our plan to rent a car, we changed our plan to exclude Croatia. We could have run the risk of entering the country anyway, but if we got pulled over and had our documents checked (which did happen to us a couple of times), we would have faced a huge fine and possibly further problems.

Remember: Read all the fine print and run your agenda by your rental car company in order to be sure that you may enter all the countries you wish to visit without problem.

Touring Europe in a VW Van
Check out this family’s adventures with their VW van in Europe

2. One-way trips are incredibly expensive and not recommended.

You might be hard-pressed to find a rental car company that will allow you to complete a one-way trip and remain within your budget. A one-way trip in this case is renting a car in one country and returning it in another country.

This can be done, but you should be prepared to pay upwards of 1,000 euros to make it possible. No kidding. Considering the fact that our rental car cost us 300 euros total for a 10-day trip, adding 1,000 euros or more did not make sense for our budget. It ended up being cheaper (and actually quite exciting) to return the car to Germany where we had originally rented it. We even returned it to a different city within Germany for just 20 euros more.

Remember:  One-way trips will cost you much more than they should. Change your itinerary to round-trip whenever possible. Many countries in Europe are small and close together, making it easy to come full circle and return it to your original location.

Related: 10 Unique Road Trip Gifts and Packing Ideas

Lonely Planet Europe

3. You will need to buy “vignettes” to pay highway taxes in many countries.

European vignettes for cars
Vignettes we bought on our Eastern Europe road trip.

Vignettes are stickers proving that you have paid your highway taxes and have the right to be driving the roads. They go in your windshield, and they can be found at gas stations.

They range in price usually within 10-15 euros each, and they must be purchased individually within each specific country. The only country we didn’t get a sticker for on our recent trip was Hungary, because their vignettes are electronic. We still had to pay, and they put our license plate into their system and we were good to go.

We got away without one in Slovakia, because we weren’t using the highways. Bratislava is just inside the border from both Austria and Hungary, so we slipped in and out without needing a vignette. You can view a good list of countries and listed prices for vignettes here.

Vignettes are not a scam. You do need to buy them.

If you do not buy a vignette and get pulled over, you risk paying a fine for not having one. The fine could vary around 150 euros depending on the country. For a 10-15 euro sticker, you may as well pay it and have your peace of mind.

It is not a tourist trap, it is simply a regulation. There are signs at every border, usually very big, prominent signs. If you “don’t see them,” you’re on your own for playing dumb tourist.

Related: Best Road Trip Apps for Your Next Adventure

 5 Budget Tips for Renting a Car in Europe

Portugal rental car
This is our VW Up! that we appropriately named Giddy
  1. Use a travel credit card that includes rental car insurance to rent your car. It can save you hundreds of dollars in extra insurance fees.
  2. Avoid renting an automatic. Cars with automatic transmissions are harder to come by in Europe and will cost you more to rent.
  3. Do not rent directly from an airport whenever possible. By doing so you will end up paying a number of airport taxes that are unnecessary. It could be cheaper to take a train to the next town rather than pay all those extra fees. You can always look into renting in a nearby town and returning to the airport if you need to. Do some comparison searches and you will quickly see how much money you can save by cutting these corners.
  4. Be sure to ask your rental agent for a final amount to be paid, including all taxes and fees. Even though this is technically an estimate, as long as you return the car when promised with no problems, this will be the amount you pay.
  5. Upon returning your car, ask the agent to confirm (and even sign your receipt) that the amount noted will be the final amount charged to your card. A verbal confirmation is nice, but written is better.

Related: One Week in Portugal in a Rental Car

Europe Rental Car Companies

Auto Europe Car Rentals

I have had great experiences with Europcar, Hertz, and Enterprise in Europe, and you can compare all of these rental car companies and more with Auto Europe:

If you have any tips to add about renting a car in Europe, please comment below. Bon voyage!