Thinking of driving from the U.S. to Canada (or vice versa)? Whether the reason is for business or pleasure, it's much easier to find a rental that allows U.S. / Canada border crossings than a rental that allows U.S./Canada to Mexico border crossings. Like any other rental car policy, there are stumbling points -- it's much more difficult to find a rental that can be returned in the other country than finding a rental that can be driven across the border and then returned in the original country.
Why did I want to drive a rental car to Canada? The short answer was to escape Tennessean summers and use my free 150th Anniversary Parks Canada pass while singing the Canadian Railroad Trilogy. Rather than putting thousands of miles on my personal car, I instead opted to put thousands of miles on Hertz's car (Canada, like the U.S., is a very big country). My personal vehicle might just last forever if most of my miles are placed on cheap AutoSlash rentals and it's definitely nice to have a Hertz car a short walk from my home!
One way to escape the summer's heat in the southern U.S. is to keep driving north!
A Few Notes of Caution
We're not the United States Department of State or the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) but we know there are requirements to travel abroad, such as proper identification for all occupants of the vehicle. Those rules apply for individuals in any vehicle (not just rental cars) and won't be addressed here.
When travellng abroad, a renter must follow the instructions posted by the rental car company to ensure that proper documentation is issued with the rental. Getting turned back at the border or pulled over without the proper documentation are both very clearly unpleasant experiences! Of all the companies, Budget is the only one that refers to the need for a Canadian Non-Resident Insurance Card on rentals, while Hertz's rules for my home state (Tennessee) declare that these cards are unnecessary for rentals from Tennessee.
Border Crossing - Return to Same Country
This corporate parent is the least consistent in terms of allowing U.S. / Canada border crossings.
- Avis -- the top-tier company designed for business travelers -- only allows a limited set of vehicles to cross the border.
With advance arrangement and consent from Avis, certain cars may be rented from the United States and driven into Canada by U.S. residents. A Canadian non-resident insurance card may be required and is available at the Avis rental location. Please call 800-230-4898 for more information.
- Budget is far more lenient.
If you are a U.S. resident, you may drive a Budget car into Canada. However, when you pick up a U.S.-registered vehicle in the U.S., you must advise us that you plan to drive to Canada so that, for insurance purposes, we may issue a Canadian Non-Resident Insurance Card. This card, to be kept inside the vehicle, is provided at no cost and it serves as simple documentation that the vehicle is insured in the U.S.
- Payless is maybe, maybe not but requires a permission slip from the rental station manager and is subject to undisclosed additional requirements. We're wary enough of Payless' disclosed requirements, so we can't recommend subjecting oneself to additional rental qualifications!
Rentals originating in the United States (USA) are not permitted to cross the borders of Canada or Mexico without written authorization from the renting location. If permission is granted by the renting location, additional rental qualifications may apply.
Of the three major firms, Enterprise Holdings (Alamo, Enterprise, National) is the most consistent on their policies.
Vehicles rented in the US can be driven throughout the US and Canada.
Vehicles rented in Canada can be driven throughout Canada and the US.
Hertz Global Holdings (Dollar, Hertz, and Thrifty)
The company has sites that allow rentals to cross the border but don't have corporate-wide published policies. The rules vary state-by-state but are published in the rules of the reservation a renter has access to while in the process of booking. In the case of my home city of Nashville, Tennessee, I'm presented with the following rules for airport-based rentals:
The renter will need to advise the rental counter if they intend to drive into Canada.
You must have a valid license and rental record. Rentals from this city do not require presentation of Liability Protection Letters, Certificates or Stickers at Customs for driving into Canada.
Canadian law does require that everyone entering the country have a passport, so everyone in the vehicle must have the proper identification.
Additional and/or different restrictions may apply in certain states. See your Rental Agreement for additional information, at the time of rental.
Sixt has state-by-state rental terms and Canada is not allowed from any of the states.
Border Crossing - Return to Other Country
While the rental car companies frequently allow picking up a vehicle in one of the countries and returning in the other, not all locations are equipped to initiate those cross-border rentals. This means that a gateway city is often needed, and the gateway cities are generally at major airports very near the U.S. and Canada border. For instance, no rental car company will return a quote for a pickup in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories and a return in El Paso, Texas. Driving hundreds of miles out of the way, it would be possible to set up three different reservations to make the trip, driving: one car from Yellowknife to Vancouver, British Columbia; a second car from Vancouver to Seattle, Washington; and a third car from Seattle to El Paso. The allowable gateway cities aren't always clear but we're happy to help if a request for quotes from the U.S. to Canada (or vice versa) fails!
Other Helpful Tips
While it's difficult to rent a car to drive from the U.S. to Mexico and back (and impossible to rent a car in the U.S. for a return in Mexico), there are plenty of options available for renters in the U.S. and Canada to explore each other's countries! However, the AutoSlash team always wants to help renters avoid unexpected surprises, so here are five basic closing tips.
- Call the rental station in advance of the rental: The rental car company takes your reservation and issues a confirmation based upon the rules the same company provided at the time of booking. If a drive across the U.S. and Canada border is required, it's best to verify with the desired rental car company well in advance of a rental (rather than scrambling at the last minute to find an alternative).
- Understand that the rental companies will restrict car types: While it might be awesome to drive a convertible from Miami to Halifax, Nova Scotia a few weeks during the year, the rental car company will not get much use out of a convertible returned in Halifax!
- The law will restrict some vehicle types: Thinking of taking a 15-passenger van from the United States to Canada? Don't even try, as 15-passenger vans are considered commercial vehicles in Canada (and will be stopped at the U.S./Canada border).
- Some rentals are just not possible: We've never seen a valid rate quote returned for a reservation from the Contiguous 48 U.S. states to Alaska, despite being a U.S. to U.S. rental. The rental fleet in Alaska is tricky, with cars intentionally brought in for the four-month peak travel season and sent away for the winter.
- Remember that the rental car company's rules are still in effect: Do you have dreams of driving a gravel highway or an ice road in Canada? We can't lie -- we think about those types of activities. However, the use of the vehicle on non-paved (or ice) roads does violate every traditional rental car company's basic agreement and hundreds of rock chips in the rental car's paint (or windshield) are really easy to spot at the time of return!
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