Planning a trip where you're going to drive a rental car across the border into Canada? Maybe you'd like to test drive a certain make of car, or perhaps you'd rather not put hundreds of miles on your own car. Whether the reason is for business or pleasure, it's much easier to find rental company that allows Canadian border crossings than one that allows Mexico border crossings.
Want to pick up and return the car in the U.S.? Not a problem. What is more difficult is finding a rental company that will allow a one-way rental, where you pick up the car in the U.S. and return it in Canada.
Requirements to Cross the Canadian Border
Have your papers in order. Any time you cross a border into a foreign country, everyone in your group will need valid ID, which for American citizens means a passport book or passport card. The same rules apply whether you're in your own vehicle or a rental car.
Have your rental car contract handy. Look in the glove box and find the car's registration and insurance documents, just in case you need them. Getting turned back at the border or pulled over without being able to lay your hands on the proper documentation is very unpleasant.
Have proof of insurance. Of all the major companies, Budget is the only one that refers to the need for a Canadian Non-Resident Insurance Card on rentals. (In contrast, Hertz's rules for my home state of Tennessee state that these cards are unnecessary.) To be safe, ask the rental car agent at the counter to provide this basic document, which shows Canadian authorities that you are insured.
U.S. auto insurance is allowed in Canada, so long as the person driving is a tourist and not a resident of Canada. If you are relying on your auto insurance company for coverage, make sure your policy extends into Canada. If not, you may have to pay for supplemental coverage through the rental agency.
Will Your Rental Car Company Let You Drive into Canada?
Avis: Top-tier Avis is designed for business travelers and 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: Avis's sister company, 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: Inconsistency and Payless go hand in hand. Don't be surprised to learn that driving across the Canadian border requires a permission slip from the rental station manager and is subject to undisclosed additional requirements. We're wary enough of Payless's 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.
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 umbrella company has no corporate-wide published policies. Rules vary state-by-state but note that they are published in the rules of the reservation accessible during the booking process. (In the case of my home city of Nashville, these are the 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: Vehicles rented in the state of Washington can travel to the Canadian province British Columbia only. Vehicles rented in other states are generally restricted to neighboring states and are not permitted into Canada.
Can You Return Your Rental Car in Canada?
While rental car companies sometimes allow picking up a vehicle in one country and returning in another, it's hit or miss. Not all locations are equipped to initiate cross-border rentals. This means that a gateway city is often needed, typically at major airports very near the U.S. and Canadian border. For instance, no rental car company will give you a quote for a pickup in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories and a return in El Paso, Texas. Yet you might be able to pick up and return a car in different gateway cities on either side of the border.
- Call ahead. The rental car company takes your reservation and issues a confirmation based upon the rules at the time of booking. If you want to drive across the border, it's best to confirm in advance that it is allowed.
- Be ready for a limited choice in cars. While it might be awesome to drive a convertible from Miami to Halifax, the rental car company will not get much use out of a convertible returned in chilly Halifax. In addition, a law may restrict some vehicle types. For example, 15-passenger vans are considered commercial vehicles in Canada and will be stopped at the U.S./Canada border.
- All bets are off if you're heading to Alaska. We've never seen a valid rate quote for a reservation from the Contiguous 48 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.
- Follow the rules. Do you have dreams of driving a gravel highway or an ice road in Canada? Taking a vehicle on unpaved or icy roads violates every traditional rental car company's basic agreement, and rock chips in the windshield are really easy to spot at the time of return.