It was a great feeling when my wife and I sold our car three years ago and got on the plane for a one-way flight to Salinas, Ecuador. Living without a car has been a wonderful experience, and it’s one of the ways that expats are able to keep their living expenses so low. However, it can create a problem if you want to rent a car locally once in a while to do some exploring, or when you visit family and friends back in the States.
The main problem is insurance. When we lived in the States we didn’t think about it much. Wherever we rented, we were covered under our own auto insurance policy. Now that we don’t have that monthly expense, we have to take steps to make sure we have the right coverage…preferably without paying an arm and a leg for it.
If we visit the U.S. and rent a car at a U.S. airport from one of the chains, they want to see our insurance card. Since we do not have one, they want to charge for their insurance and liability coverage. This daily fee can double the cost of your rental. Similarly, in Ecuador, if we rent a car using our Ecuadorian license, since we do not own a car or insurance here either, they also want to double the rental fee to cover insurance.
Fortunately, there are ways around this. When you’re heading back to the States you just need to do a little advance work. Check with your old insurer, or look online for an insurance carrier who will sell you a non-owner’s insurance policy. We were able to find one who sells us one month of coverage, then cancels and reimburses us for the time it was not required. For instance, on our last trip to the U.S., we rented a car for 11 days. The rental agency would have charged us an extra $39.95 per day on top of the rental fee for full coverage, but our non-owner’s policy costs us less than $12 for the entire trip.
There are also ways to save money on insurance in your new home overseas. Instead of going directly to the rental agency, reserve your car using a third-party online service like Expedia, Kayak, or CarRental and use your U.S. driver’s information. Before checkout, you will be offered “third-party insurance.” This typically costs between $7 to $11 a day, much less than the agency’s fee. You will get an email with an insurance document you can print out and save in case you need to file a claim. You will also get an insurance card you can print to show when you pick up the car.
You can also minimize your stress when renting a car overseas with these simple tips:
Make sure you know exactly what documentation and licenses you will need to present at the counter. If you are just visiting check to see if they offer discounts if you have an International Driver’s License.
Ask if the agency requires a deposit on pick up. Most agencies in Ecuador, for example, will want to put a $5,000 hold on a credit card until the car is returned.
Keep in mind that if you request a GPS device, it is probably programmed in the language of that country. If you’re not fluent, this can be confusing on the road. There are apps like Waze and Maps that you can use on your smart phone to navigate just about anywhere. In fact, Maps will let you download maps for the country before you travel, so you can even use it when internet or phone service is not available.
Take a picture of the back of the car and the license plate before you leave the lot. It’s easy in a foreign country to walk into a mall and return to the parking lot unsure of which car is yours. This little trick has helped me more times than I can comfortably admit.
Plan your next road trip with these hints in mind, and enjoy the pleasures and freedom of exploring the open road while still enjoying the peace of mind of insurance coverage at a reasonable rate.
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