Renting a car in Spain offers visitors unmatched convenience and flexibility, especially when traveling outside of big cities and busy tourist areas. It's also quite straightforward to do, with most major international rental companies operating throughout Spain, and a booking process that's essentially the same as it is in the United States. There are a few considerations specific to Spain that renters should be aware of, and it's also smart to familiarize yourself with local road rules. Researching rates and making a booking in advance is advisable, but even a last-minute rental for a spontaneous Spanish road trip should be easy enough to arrange.
Requirements for Renting a Car in Spain
To rent a car in Spain, you need to be over the age of 21 and have a valid driver's license, a passport and a major credit card. The law in Spain requires non-EU driver's license holders to posses an International Driver's Permit, which you can obtain through AAA. This takes at least a few weeks by mail, so plan in advance. Note that the permit is legally required of U.S. citizens who are driving in Spain, and is supposed to be presented to the car rental company and – in the event you are stopped while driving – to Spanish police. Both Lonely Planet and Rick Steves say that in reality you are very unlikely to be asked to present an International Driver's Permit, but you should be aware of the law and take that advice at your own risk.
Price Checking and Booking
Finding the best and cheapest car hire in Spain starts with research at home, before your trip. You can of course arrange a car rental at the last minute, but are likely to pay a higher rate for doing so. Travel agents and AAA can help you book a rental car in Spain, but for most visitors Internet research is the easiest approach. Check the deals at major rental companies' home websites – Avis, Budget, Dollar, Hertz and Enterprise all operate across Spain, as do the top European brands, Europcar and Sixt. Also look at comparison sites such as Travelocity and Kayak, which show car rental deals from all brands.
Pay attention to the small print and understand what the prices you are quoted include. Most sites will show prices that cover the basic rental cost with unlimited mileage and third-party liability insurance (the minimum legally required). Spain charges a 15 percent tax on car rentals, so find out whether or not that is covered by the price quote you see online.
Remember to factor in additional costs generally charged by rental companies in Spain for the following:
- Young drivers (aged 21-24)
- Additional drivers
- Cars with automatic transmission
- Airport and train station rental locations
- One-way rentals with pick-up and drop-off at different locations
- Adding a GPS system
- Adding child safety seats
You'll usually have the option to pay for the rental up front or pay when you collect the car. According to Rick Steves, paying in advance is almost always the better deal. Rental companies often offer discounted rates for paying up front, and by paying in U.S. dollars you save on currency conversion and international transaction fees on your credit card. Either way, print out your prepaid voucher or confirmation showing the total price, and have it on hand when you pick up the car in Spain.
Collecting the Car
When you pick up your rental car in Spain, be sure to bring your printed voucher or booking confirmation, your driver's license, International Driver's Permit if you got one, passport and credit card. If you're paying upon pick up, decline any offers for "dynamic currency conversion," which means your card will be charged in U.S. dollars instead of euros. The conversion rate is usually not favorable. Also opt out of paying up front for a full tank of gas, which is usually a bad deal. Request a copy of your rental contract in English. During the vehicle inspection, be diligent about checking for scratches and dents. Make sure any existing damage is written in the inspection report before signing off on it.
Before you leave for Spain, contact your own car insurance company and your credit card company to see what coverage, if any, they offer on car rentals abroad. A car rental contract in Spain generally covers the minimum required insurance and you will have the option to purchase additional insurance. You can decline this, but before doing so find out what your liability is in the event of any accident.
Most cars rented in Spain can be driven anywhere in Western Europe, but if you plan to drive your rental across borders, check with the rental company first.
Ask about the grace period for drop-off times. You might be charged for an extra day's rental for being anything more than 30 minutes late to drop the vehicle off. Express highways in Spain, autopistas, charge a toll, but you can avoid them by taking alternative, usually slower, routes.
Before driving away from the rental office, ask how you can obtain emergency roadside assistance, should you need it.
When budgeting for your car rental in Spain, also factor in the cost of fuel – which is considerably higher in Europe than in the United States – and road tolls.