Western Europe is more geographically dense than the United States and one of our favorite parts of traveling there is the ability to quickly and freely travel from one country to another. However, the close proximity to other nations means that a renter has to be acutely aware of the geographic restrictions that are placed on a rental car. While the U.S. is almost three times larger than Western Europe, we tend to have much more liberty when driving a rental car in the United States. Some companies (namely Sixt) have strict geographic restrictions but otherwise, the rental car companies tend to allow free reign as to where we can drive within the U.S. And while crossing over to Mexico is a challenge, Canada is normally allowed with minimal restrictions. Those restrictions are all listed in the Rules of the Reservation, and European rentals often have more rules than a U.S. rental. So what are the aspects we recommend reviewing when seeking to cross European borders in a rental car? 

A renter looking for a hypothetical rental -- we used Berlin, Germany's Tegel Airport for this article -- will find many options with unlimited mileage. However, there are limits even with those unlimited miles; while there's no ceiling on the number of miles a renter can drive, there are limits on where the vehicle can be driven. So a renter picking up in one country but driving to one or more other countries wants to ask a series of questions:

  • Are there some countries that are entirely off limits?
  • Are there some vehicle types that are restricted in specific countries?
  • Are there any border crossing fees?
  • Can the vehicle be placed on a ferry?

How to Find Rental Rules

First, it's important to note that the rules from the selected rental car company are always available before booking, and a renter has to accept those rules as part of the confirmation process. The Rules of the Reservation are always listed directly above the "Reserve My Rental Car" button. And the rules of a reservation may be voluminous; the Hertz rules at Berlin Tegel Airport are 23,320 words long according to MS Word's "Word Count" function.

Every rental car company provides rules before a reservation is confirmed.

Where Can Vehicles be Operated?

Renting a car from Berlin Tegel Airport? Some rental car companies declare where a rental can be driven, while other companies (namely Hertz) specify where vehicles cannot be. 

  • Avis: What countries am I allowed to take the vehicle to? You are only allowed to use the vehicle in the following countries: Austria, Andorra, Belgium, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark, Spain, France, Finland, Liechtenstein, Great Britain, Hungary, Croatia, Italy, Ireland, Luxemburg, Monaco, Norway, Netherlands, Portugal, Poland, San Marino, Sweden, Slovakia, Slovenia.
  • Enterprise: Out of country rentals are allowed into Andorra, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Gibraltar, Great Britain, Ireland, Lichtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, Norway, Austria, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and Spain.
  • Hertz has experience with "creative" customers, as they have found the need to declare that a rental picked up in Germany can't be returned to locations in Australia, New Zealand, North America, or South America:

Hertz vehicles cannot be driven into and/or dropped off in any African, American, Asian, or Middle Eastern country, nor in Albania, Armenia, Australia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Estonia, Georgia, Greece, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, New Zealand, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

Hertz's return policy reflects flying cars and other failed promises of the 1960s.

  • Sixt divides countries into three zones, then sets travel restrictions:

Territorial restrictions

The vehicle selection can restrict travel to certain countries. For a description of these restrictions on admission, the countries are divided into three zones.
Zone 1: Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain and Vatican
Zone 2: Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia
Zone 3: All countries which are not in zone 1 or 2.
Jaguar, Maserati, Land Rover and Porsche cars as well as all luxury cars may enter only in Zone 1 countries. Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen cars up to group L*** are allowed to enter only in Zone 1 countries as well as Poland and the Czech Republic, while X*** cars are only allowed to enter in Zone 1 countries. Vehicles of all other brands may enter only in the zones 1 and 2.
Trucks, vans, people carriers and minibuses of all brands may only be driven in zones 1 and 2.
Entry into any country in zone 3 is not permitted.

Off-Limits Countries by Car Type

The Sixt rule shows that special cars (X***), luxury cars (L***), and Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Land Rover, Maserati, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, and Volkswagen vehicles are largely limited to Zone 1 countries. Sixt includes Italy in Zone 1 but a frequent foreign traveler knows that most credit card damage waivers do not cover Italy. Italy is always a no-go for the fanciest cars one can rent at Avis, Enterprise, and Hertz!

  • Avis: Entries to I (Italy) and RSM (San Marino) are only allowed for vehicles up to executive class.
  • Enterprise: Out of Country rentals into Croatia, Italy, The Vatican, San Marino, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Czech Republic and Hungary are allowed excluding rentals of the following brands – Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Volkswagen, Land Rover and Jaguar. 
  • HertzAll Mercedes and BMW models, Convertibles and SUVs, as well as all Hertz Prestige Collection and Fun Collection vehicles cannot be driven into or dropped off in Italy.

Also, note that none of the major rental car companies allow a vehicle rented in Germany to be driven to popular tourist destination Greece (ever).

Border Crossing Fees

We've seen examples where companies charge a fee for each border crossed. While a traveler might be able to freely cross from one country to another in the Schengen Area, there might be an additional fee for doing so in a rental car. For instance, the rules for Hertz at Berlin Tegel show a 47.60 euro fee for the right to cross over from Germany to another allowed country, while Enterprise discloses in their rules a fee of 5 euro per day, 50 euro max, for trips originating in Germany but traveling to other permitted countries. 

Then there are Ferries

Many interesting places to visit in Europe require ferries to get there. But based upon the geographic restrictions already noted, there's no sense in trying to get to the Greek Isles (off-limits). Yet Corsica (region of France) is an example of an allowed country if the rental car company permits ferries. Avis and Hertz each address the concept of ferries on their rentals but there's potentially a high cost to a renter.

  • Avis: You are allowed to travel on ferries, provided that our travel restrictions allow you to drive the specific vehicle in the specific country. However if you have a breakdown or the vehicle is not roadworthy or ready for use due to any other reason, you will have to pay for the costs of repatriation of the vehicle.
  • Hertz: You are allowed to travel on all ferries as long as the destination country/vehicle is allowed in the driving restrictions. Any damage to the vehicle, either in transit or in the destination country will be covered by CDW/TP/SuperCover (if purchased) in accordance with the rental agreement. If the vehicle is no longer driveable, you are responsible for the cost of repatriation of the vehicle to the original pick-up country/island, unless you are entitled to compensation based on the statutory rules that apply in the pick-up country/island.

While the companies allow a renter to take the vehicle on a ferry, a breakdown (for any reason) on an island is going to result in a hefty tag to repatriate the vehicle. Like everything else, it's right there in the rules ... 


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