It’s understandable that US employees on assignment and driving in Europe may forget making a “right turn on red” is illegal in most countries. However, a bigger concern is the lack of automatic-shift rental cars and, if available, the extremely high prices.
The Automatic Blues
Employees heading to Europe on assignment who require a rental car are strongly encouraged to consider all options well ahead of time because fleet inventories are lower than in years’ past and automatic-shift vehicles are rare compared to manual-shifts.
When automatics are available for rent there, not only do they cost more, but they are frequently compact or economy size cars: maybe adequate for a single employee, parking and navigating small roads, but not for families.
Consider a recent US employee going on assignment to Ireland who needed an automatic-shift rental car since he had no experience driving manual-shifts. The lowest quote for an automatic was over $5,000 per month, which is about $1,500 over the price per month for a standard-shift. NEI researched all transportation options and the client decided they would reimburse all Uber rides for the entire assignment.
Pro-Tip: If an employee has little to no experience driving a manual, don’t allow them to start practicing in Europe. If using a vehicle is a “must”, consider all transport alternatives, but strongly suggest that the employee secure a more costly automatic if a rental car is absolutely required.
NEI recommends researching and booking ahead to secure the best rates and have the most vehicle choices – ideally avoiding popular destinations or peak moving / vacation seasons. The best chance to secure an automatic in Europe is by booking 30-to-60 days before travelling if there’s flexibility.
Isn’t Driving There Similar?
While there are similarities, drivers on assignment should familiarize themselves with a country's road rules before hitting the road and realize that each country in Europe has their own rules to follow.
For instance, many EU countries require drivers to carry a first aid kit, warning triangle and reflective jacket, but again…rules vary by location. Also consider that car seats certified “FMVSS” cannot be used legally in Europe and each country may have laws on top of the other laws. Renting car seats is not recommended unless no other options exist.
A driver’s age is also important there: those over 25 shouldn’t have a problem, but those younger must pay a fee or purchase special insurance. Drivers over 70 may have trouble renting cars in countries like Czech Republic, Great Britain, Greece, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Turkey, according to Matthew Karsten of Expertvagabond.com, and rental companies in Ireland may charge extra for drivers over 69.
International Driving Permits
Employees going on assignment may think they need a special driver's license when renting or using a car in countries other than the US, but Americans usually only need a valid driver’s license and passport to rent vehicles in Europe.
However, AutoEurope.com states International Driving Permits (IDPs) are required for US licensed drivers in Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, and Spain. IDP enforcement may also vary based upon rental supplier and each country.
Available from the American Automobile Association, IDPs cost about $20, are valid forms of identification in 150 countries and translate one’s information into 10 languages. They can be used for one year from date of issue and must be accompanied by a valid US driver's license.
Border and Water Crossings
Unlike in the US where driving across state lines with rentals is no issue, each European car company has their own rules for what countries they permit drivers to take their cars. Examples of countries known to have these types of restrictions include eastern or southeastern Europe locations such as Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, and Montenegro.
Taking rental cars aboard ferries may also be prohibited in rental contracts. It’s important assignees check before booking a rental as any included insurance protection (or extra insurance bought) may become void if the contract terms are broken. If something happens to the rental on an island or ferry that isn’t cleared in the contract, the driver would be liable for all costs.
Before renting or driving a vehicle, assignees are encouraged to read their insurance policies’ fine print and, to be safe, talk with their company’s insurance representative to check if their current policy extends to driving a rental car in other countries. Not all policies are created or treated equally. It’s wise to determine one’s insurance coverages and responsibilities before travel. Don’t assume that “comprehensive coverage” is the same in all countries. For instance, in the US it may cover everything while in the UK it may only be equal to third-party fire and theft.
According to the US Department of State, rental companies overseas can provide auto insurance, but in some countries, coverage may be minimal. In Europe, employees should consider purchasing additional coverage at least equivalent to what they carry in their home country.
Some nations may require third-party liability policies issued through local insurance firms. If so, employees might consider physical damage and excess “worry free” liability coverage beyond any locally required coverage. Often, these worldwide policies can be researched online and paid by credit card.
The Open Road
Though popular European assignment locations often have public transport options to eliminate employees needing a vehicle, not all are so lucky. Just as employees become familiar with a country’s language, culture and currency, those who rent vehicles should be familiar with host country road rules, limitations in securing automatic-shift rentals and today’s high costs.
Driving abroad can be a rewarding experience, allowing for independence and freedom. Stress and assignment costs can be minimized with proactive awareness and NEI Client Relations Managers work with each client to discuss the most cost-effective options available.
If you would like to discuss policy changes or cost-saving options on international assignments, please reach out to your NEI representative or Mollie Ivancic, NEI VP, International Services.