ARE YOU PREPARED TO DRIVE IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY? | Published January 10th, 2021 | Last Updated September 30th, 2021

Iceland mountain reflected in the side view mirror of a car

So you’re ready to hit the open road with a rental car in a foreign destination. Driving gives you the flexibility of making your own schedule and the freedom to stop or stay longer in a location that interests you. Follow the steps listed below to ensure that the rental goes as smoothly as possible during your next adventure.

Are you in Over your Head?

1 - IS YOUR DESTINATION A PLACE YOU WOULD FEEL CONFIDENT BEHIND THE WHEEL? - If you’re a newbie to driving in a foreign land, it makes sense to know if you’re in over your head. Here are some ideas to see what the roads are like:

  • Search the internet for videos of people driving in the destination you’re heading to. Are there intersections where people make the rules up as they go, or does it seem safe to hop behind the wheel?

  • Use the Trip Advisor Forum or do online searches to get a consensus of the driving situation, especially for foreign travellers.

  • Take the advice of friends and family that may have already visited this destination.

Driving on the Left?

2 - WILL YOU BE DRIVING ON THE SAME SIDE OF THE ROAD? In Canada, we drive on the right so being behind the wheel for a solo trip to Scotland, was a bit worrisome.

Thankfully, I was given two rules to follow before my trip, and I survived 10 days without a single slip up.

  1. When you’re turning onto a street, always make sure your body is in the centre of the road.

  2. Always turn left when going into a roundabout.

Every time I made a turn or entered a roundabout, I remembered these two rules and realized that it was not nearly as challenging as I thought it would be.

The diagram below shows driving on the left. You can see the driver on the right side of the car; therefore, making a left turn means putting their body into the road's centre line and pulling into the left lane. In Canada, the driver would be on the left side of the car so to put their body in the centre of the road they would pull into the right lane.

Illustration of driving on the left side of the road

Illustration - Driving on the Left Side of the Road


3 - A GPS IS WORTH ITS WEIGHT IN GOLD, ESPECIALLY WHEN TRAVELLING SOLO - When driving without a navigator in the seat beside you, it can be daunting, especially in a foreign country. This makes a GPS incredibly helpful, and there are different options for acquiring one for travel:

  • You can get a Garmin or other navigational tool and download the maps before leaving for your destination. Once you purchase the device, it’s a matter of buying and updating the maps for future travel.

  • Add a GPS to the car rental price. It can be costly to do this, but most solo travellers will never regret doing so for the peace of mind it gives them.

  • Google Maps - You may opt to use Google Maps or other applications, but don’t forget about the data charges and the possibility of being in a remote area where you may not receive a signal.

  • Alternatively, if you are good with maps and navigation, you could do it on the fly, or go through the routes before leaving, and print out the turn-by-turn directions. It all boils down to what you're most comfortable with, and what's in your budget.

GPS mounted on a car window

A GPS is a Great Companion When Driving Solo in a Foreign Country

Insurance Options

4 - CAR INSURANCE - It’s a difficult situation to be pressured into buying insurance for your car rental on the spot; you’ve just arrived, possibly after a long flight, and you want to get into the car and go, not be tied up reading the fine print. Here are some options:

  • Look at the insurance policy when you book a rental online. It gives you more time to see if you'll be satisfied with the price and the coverage. Be aware that when you get to the rental company often they'll try to up-sell you if you haven’t chosen an all-inclusive package. One of the more common up-sells is protection to the windshield, and in some countries, they are quite aggressive with their tactics.

  • Look into your current policy. Will your car insurance in your home country cover you while you’re away? Be sure to ask if it will affect your insurance premiums if you make a claim while travelling; most likely it will.

  • Look into a company that specializes in rental protection while travelling. For example, covers many, if not all the extras, but at a lower cost than the car rental company itself. When you arrive to pick up your vehicle you can refuse all added insurance knowing that covers you completely (Disclaimer: policies and coverage change over time, so please look into all the details of or any insurance company before purchasing a plan).


5 - WILL YOU NEED AN INTERNATIONAL DRIVER'S LICENCE? - New travellers might not realize that many countries require drivers to have an International permit to rent a car. Without this document, they may not let you take the rental you have already paid for or reserved.

The process of obtaining this licence is relatively easy, and in Canada, it can be done in about a half-hour if you go into a CAA office. Here's what you need to obtain an International Driver's Licence from CAA:

  • Photocopies of your current licence. Bring the actual licence with you just in case there's an issue with the photocopy.

  • 2 Passport photos. They can take the photos for you if you don’t already have a set on hand.

  • A completed application form, which you can either download from their website or fill out in the office.

  • The cost in 2021 for the license is $25 plus tax.

You are also able to apply for an International Driver’s licence online. I have always used CAA, so I cannot comment on the reliability or speed of the process.

International Driving Permit

You May Need an International Driver's Permit

Know theSigns

6 - CHECK THE STREET SIGNS TO SEE DIFFERENCES FROM YOUR OWN COUNTRY - Taking a vacation shouldn’t feel like you’re going back to the classroom, but hear me out. It only takes a bit of time to do an internet search of the street signs in the country you're travelling to in order to see if they are vastly different from your home country. Not only is this a safety issue for both yourself and other drivers, it's also a matter of driving etiquette.

Collection of traffic signs

Know the Traffic Signs When Travelling to Another Country

Know the Cost

7 - MAKE SURE YOU'RE AWARE OF HOW MUCH THE RENTAL COMPANY WILL FREEZE ON YOUR CREDIT CARD - It’s quite likely that all agencies will hold a significant amount that will not be released until approximately 5 days after the rental has been returned. In 10 years of travel, I have had holds with every company I’ve used, and they have varied from $500 to $1400. This can get quite expensive when travelling through multiple destinations with multiple car rentals so ensure you have enough room on your credit card. All rental companies should have the amount they keep on hold listed in the fine print of the policy.

Black credit card with gold microchip

If you're on a Tight Budget, be Aware the Rental Company Holds a Significant Deposit on your Credit Card

So, are you prepared to drive in a foreign country? As a solo female traveller, it is often my favourite part of the trip. I can explore on my own time and stop whenever I see fit. If you're confident in your driving skills; follow the tips listed above so you too can book a rental to explore the lands in your next foreign destination.

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