An international students’ guide to renting a car in the UK

driving in the uk
A customer prepares to charge his Tesla electric vehicle (EV) after parking in a bay for electric vehicles at a supermarket in north London. Source: Daniel Leal/AFP

If you’re planning on taking a trip with your uni mates, you might have considered driving in the UK. This will give you and your friends the convenience of exploring areas (think secluded and majestic spots!) that are not as easy to travel to with public transport.

If that’s the case, you might want to consider renting a car, which is incredibly common in the UK

It’s also a better option if you’re travelling with a group of friends or with a large family as it can save you time and money. 

The best part? You get to travel at your own pace! 

If you’re thinking of renting a set of wheels, you will first need to know that the driving rules and regulations generally apply to all countries — Great Britain, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland — in the UK. 

There are minimum age restrictions for driving in the UK. While it is legal to drive from the age of 17 (or 18 for some countries) in the UK, some car hire companies may set a higher minimum age requirement or charge additional fees for drivers of a certain age. 

These rules are there due to insurance policies, which usually charge a higher premium for young and older drivers. 

Another thing to note is that the UK accepts all valid foreign driving licences for 12 months from when you last entered the country. For EU drivers, there’s no time limit as long as your driving licence is valid. 

Plus, you can drive any type of car or motorcycle listed on your driving license. You can also drive a minibus, but it comes with an additional set of requirements: you must be 21 or older; have had your driving licence for at least two years; and are driving voluntarily. 

Now that you’re aware of the requirements for driving in the UK, you’ll need to understand the nitty and gritty part of the car rental process, from booking the car to returning it. Fret not, the process isn’t as complicated as you think.  

driving in the uk

A vehicle travels past a “Welcome to Wales” sign on the Wales/England border near Hereford in Herefordshire, England. Source: Geoff Caddick/AFP

Driving in the UK: The A to Z of renting a car

When you book the car

There are countless car hire companies to choose from in the UK. Some of the popular ones include Europcar, Hertz, Car Flexi, and Economy Car Rentals. 

What you need to know is that the rental fees at most car hire companies depend on how far in advance you’re booking, the season, the type of car, driving distance and any other added perks and benefits. 

Do note that it is a legal requirement to get unlimited Third Party Liability insurance, which is usually included in the car rental price. 

Additionally, you’ll need to submit a deposit fee (online or over the counter) when booking the car. The deposit amount varies according to the car hire company — it can cost as much as 250 British pounds. 

Do note that car rental salespersons will often try to get you to purchase additional insurance coverage, which may not be necessary. Getting unexpected charges are also a common occurrence. 

As such, always go through the booking form to ensure you’re getting billed accordingly. If you’re confused by certain charges or terms and conditions, go through them with the salespersons before making a payment. 

Pro-tip #1: Opt for a car with a GPS included as it can be hard to get data coverage on certain roads and in rural areas in the UK.

When you collect the car

When you collect the car, you’ll need to present the following documents: 

– Booking confirmation

– Passport 

– Driving licence 

Once you make your payment and collect the car keys and car, check the vehicle thoroughly and take as many pictures as possible of its condition for documentation purposes.

If you notice any defect or damage — no matter how minor — make sure to point it out immediately to the person in charge. The last thing you want is to get charged for a defect or damage you didn’t cause. 

Pro-tip #2: Petrol is expensive in the UK. Rent an electric car or a car which uses diesel — a cheaper and longer-lasting alternative.

 driving in the uk

A four-wheel-drive vehicle is driven along an icy road in Hartley Wintney, in Hampshire, 40 miles west of London. Source: Adrian Dennis/AFP

When returning the car

The process of returning the car is much quicker than collecting it. 

Most hire car companies require you to return the car with a full petrol tank so remember to fill your tank at a gas station nearest the car hire company. 

Also, ensure that none of your belongings is left behind when you return the car. 

That’s it! Safe travels when driving in the UK!