Before you commit to a driving trip in Europe, make sure all the drivers in your party conform to local requirements. Although those requirements are generally similar to what you find at home, a few—especially maximum age limits in a some cases—may surprise you.
Young drivers. The minimum age to rent a car (or drive a rented car) is 18 in Austria, Croatia, Germany, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Sweden; 19 in Estonia and Norway; 20 in Bulgaria, Finland, and Switzerland; 21 in Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France (but 18 for the buyback lease program), Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, and the United Kingdom; and 23 in Luxembourg. In all cases, at whatever minimum age, drivers must have a valid driver's license issued at least a full year before the rental (two years in Ireland and Sweden). Also, in all cases, rental agencies say that drivers under 25 (under 23 in Ireland) may be required to pay a surcharge—which can be quite hefty. In addition, Germany requires that drivers age 18 to 22 buy collision damage waiver (CDW) from the rental company, even if they have alternative coverage from a credit card.
Seniors. Travelers of any age over the minimum can rent cars in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, or Switzerland.
In several countries, however, some suppliers impose maximum age limits to rentals, generally, or to rentals of some models of cars:
- Denmark: Some rental agencies impose a maximum age of 80.
- Slovenia: Some rental agencies impose a maximum age limit of 73, and renters ages 70 to 73 may face surcharges.
- Czech Republic, Greece, Poland, and Slovakia: Some rental agencies impose a maximum age of 70.
- United Kingdom: Some rental agencies apply an extra fee for travelers age 70 or over; some rental agencies apply a maximum age limit of 69 on some car classes.
Rental agencies in Ireland (Republic) nominally bar anyone over 75 from renting a car, and agencies in Romania bar anyone over 70. However, some rental agencies can apparently get around these requirements: Hertz in the UK, for example, says that it accepts drivers age 75 to 79 provided they have good driving records and a doctor's statement that they're able to drive capably.
No matter what your age, individual rental agencies can refuse to rent to you if your driving record is bad or if you appear to be unable to drive safely.
As far as I can tell, age restrictions apply to renting, not driving. If you rent in a country without an age limit, you can drive into an adjacent country that does have a limit—provided your rental contract allows such cross-border trips. Check to make sure.
International Driving Permit (IDP). Austria, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Poland, and Romania require that you have an IDP to rent a car. However, I recommend IDP for anyone planning to drive anywhere in Europe outside the UK, France, and Switzerland. The IDP is not a license of itself; instead, it verifies that you have a valid U.S. license. They're issued by most AAA offices—$15, valid a year; have two passport-type photos when you apply.
When you book online, it's easy to miss the fine print on age—with Hertz, for example, the site doesn't ask your age and you have to click on "rental policies and rules" to catch the limits. If you're under 25 or over some age limit, either book by phone or double check an online booking before you commit. Alternatively, seniors should consider renting through Auto Europe, a wholesaler having contracts with many suppliers. Spokespersons tell me that it can usually arrange deals with agencies that will rent to older seniors.
Obviously, it's critical that you make sure you're eligible to rent a car before you make final trip arrangements. Nothing could be worse than arriving at the rental counter, planning to start a driving tour, only to be told; "sorry, you can't rent."
Have you ever encountered problems when renting a car in a foreign country? How did you get around any issues? Share your thoughts, experiences, and advice by submitting a comment below.