I was in line for a rental car at Cancún airport—it was a franchise of one of the big-name companies from the U.S. I watched the couple before me walk to the counter clutching their printed out reservation. Minutes later…gasps of disbelief…tears…expletives hurled at the clerk, who had an apologetic half-smile… And then the couple stormed out, slamming the door.
The price on their reservation had just doubled. It wasn’t a scam but rather the mandatory insurance—something that isn’t well-publicized, to say the least, when you make a reservation online.
Renting a car abroad can be tricky. And issues with insurance are just one thing to keep in mind.
But whether you’re on a vacation or a scouting trip to check out a place for your retirement, renting a car is one of the best ways to really get to know the place. You can explore at will. You stop when you want to inquire about a “Se Vende” (for sale) sign on a beautiful home…or when it’s time for lunch and you spy a hillside restaurant with the perfect view.
You can make the car rental process as hassle-free as possible. Here are three tips that I’ve learned:
1. Your car insurance from your home country probably won’t be valid so you’ll have to buy insurance from the rental agency. This is where most people run into problems.
You see, when you reserve a car directly from an agency or travel booking site online, most of the time only the daily rental rate is included. But when you pick up the car, the mandatory insurance—the “hidden fees”—could double the actual price you’ll pay.
There are many insurance categories, including the collision damage waiver and loss damage waiver…sometimes even supplemental liability insurance. I always call the rental company myself directly to get details on the required insurance and the price.
By all means, call your credit card company to see if they offer coverage. But make sure to explore all the caveats. My father-in-law’s credit card insurance coverage, for example, was voided if he drove on dirt roads—which is a given in most Central American destinations.
2. Yes, it costs extra—but get the GPS. When I lived in Costa Rica, I heard the same horror story about a dozen times. A couple rents a car near the airport in San José. This is a sprawling city of 1.5 million people with inadequate signage, a maze of one-way streets, and horrible traffic. These couples took one wrong turn leaving the airport and headed into downtown where they spent the next four or five hours hopelessly lost. With a GPS they would have been sipping margaritas on the beach all that time.
In many countries, streets, even major roadways, lack adequate signage—sometimes there’s no signage at all. So save time and hassle by springing for the GPS. And, by the way, if you ever get lost—ask a local—people are friendly. Or you can stop at a taxi stand and offer to pay the fare so you can follow a driver to your destination.
3. Another thing to keep in mind: Don’t rent more car than you need. Unless you plan to get out into the countryside, into the mountains, or in a region known for dirt roads…go for the less expensive compact car or sedan instead of a four-wheel drive, whatever will fit the members of your party and your luggage.
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