Hoping to tour Europe in a rental car? Before you map out your route, it's best to check your rental car company's rental terms. European rentals often have restrictions on where you can go with a vehicle. Depending on which rental company you choose, it may be verboten to drive from Western Europe into parts of Eastern Europe with a rented car.
Also, there are often more restrictions for luxury car brands. If you want more flexibility about where you can go, strongly consider sticking to mid-range or budget vehicles.
Note that you probably need an International Driving Permit to rent a car in Europe, so be sure to apply for one if you don't already have one.
While researching rental cars in Europe, you may find many options with unlimited mileage. But while there may be no ceiling on the number of miles, there will likely be limits on where you can drive the vehicle. So a renter picking up in one country but driving to one or more other countries wants to ask a series of questions:
- Are some countries entirely off limits?
- Are some vehicle types restricted in specific countries?
- Are there any border crossing fees?
- Can the vehicle be loaded on a ferry?
Note that these rules are always available to renters before booking, and a renter has to accept those rules as part of the confirmation process. It's up to you to make sure you understand these rules before you head off in the car. Before you confirm your reservation, take a few minutes to read the rental policy and rules.
Rules About Crossing European Borders in a Rental Car
Some rental car companies declare where a rental can be driven, while other companies, such as Hertz, specify where vehicles cannot be driven.
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, Luxembourg, Monaco, Norway, Netherlands, Portugal, Poland, San Marino, Sweden, Slovakia, Slovenia.
Vehicles up to the executive class can enter Italy and San Marino.
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.
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.
Vehicles cannot be driven into and/or dropped off in Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Estonia, Georgia, Greece, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.
All 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.
Europe is 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. 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.
With Sixt, 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 cars rented from Avis, Enterprise, and Hertz.
Beware of Rental Car Border Crossing Fees
Some rental companies charge a fee for each border crossed. While a traveler can 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, Hertz at Berlin Tegel charges 47.60 euros for the right to cross over from Germany to another allowed country, while Enterprise charges a fee of 5 euros per day, up to a maximum of 50 euros, for trips originating in Germany but traveling to other permitted countries.
Beware of Rental Car Ferry Rules
The easiest way to get to many European countries is by ferry, but that can trigger high fees for rental car drivers. While rental 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 cost to repatriate the vehicle. For example, Avis and Hertz each address ferries in their rules.
You are allowed to travel on ferries, provided that you are allowed 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.
You are allowed to travel on all ferries as long as the vehicle and destination country are 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). If the vehicle is no longer drivable, 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.