Leasing a Car in Europe is Easy (& Cheap)!
Leasing a car in Europe for six months wasn’t something we planned. Like many of our travel choices, it was a last minute decision ignited by a transport snafu. We did what Travelin’ Stiles does best…improvise. When life gave us lemons and we made lemonade…cheap travel lemonade sweetened with total freedom! Our lease with Renault USA could not have been easier or more cost effective. Plus, it allowed us to see Europe exactly how we wanted to…with absolute freedom!
It was June and Europe’s high season was about to swoop down on our bank account like a hawk on a small rodent. We had planned to spend the remainder of the year traveling Europe, but were quickly realizing Europe’s constraints. Sure, there are plenty of budget airlines, and amazing train and bus systems, but none of them are cheap when making last minute decisions like we tend to do.
We had been spoiled by cheap last minute travel in Asia and Africa, and found ourselves waisting far too much time researching the most economical way to get around. Complaints starting spilling out of us. “Last minute plane tickets to Barcelona are how much? The train to Madrid takes how long? A 14 hour bus for €150 each?!?!” As much as we love public transport we found ourselves saying “No! Non! Nein! Nada! NOOOOOOOO!!!” There had to be a more affordable and less time consuming option.
How Leasing a Car in Europe Solved Our Problems!
After our dreams of cheap flights and easy train rides were sadly crushed, we were forced to make a decision. We had to cut our trip severely short or find a more affordable way to get around spontaneously. Yes, we love travel, but only if it’s affordable and on our terms. Travelin’ Stiles wasn’t going to let the summer hordes and high prices strip us of that. We simply didn’t want to spend time researching various options or standing in lines when we could be out exploring, and we certainly weren’t willing to shorten our trip to cover the cost of overpriced bus/train/plane tickets.
We began looking into buying a car, just like we did when we were in Australia. Turns out, it’s more or less impossible if you’re not an EU citizen. While you may find someone to sell you a car, no company is going to insure you without a proof of address or residency. And without that insurance, you can’t cross borders.
Renting a car was an idea on the table. It is possible to find affordable long term rentals. However, there are mileage caps and restrictions on where you can legally take the car. If you want to take it out of the country…that’ll cost extra.
This is when we were reminded of a conversation we had with a friend in Morocco. He mentioned that the French car companies (Renault, Peugeot, Citroën) have leasing programs that allow customers to lease a BRAND NEW CAR and take it throughout several European countries.
We had never heard of leasing a car in Europe. We looked into it and sure enough, we found companies offering leasing programs for brand new cars to drive just about anywhere in Europe. In addition to the freedom to go wherever whenever, the price includes zero deductible insurance and 24/7 roadside assistance. This was either too good to be true, or we were on our way to an awesome European road trip!
Why we chose Renault when Leasing a car in Europe
The Renault Eurodrive program has been around for over 50 years. The program offers citizens of non-EU countries the opportunity to lease a car, duty free. This is what is known as a temporary transport vehicle. For us, the Renault Eurodrive website laid it all out there – options, costs, included benefits, etc. Renault’s easily navigable website allows you to choose vehicle models and denote the length of the lease to see exactly what the check different rates. The user-friendly site delivers all the information you need, plus they have English-Speaking customer service reps available via phone or e-mail.
We looked into the other companies with leasing programs for Americans, but they had more restrictions, worse customer service, and higher costs. Was Renault’s leasing program too good to be true? After first contact with a Renault sales representative to make sure we were understanding everything correctly, we realized just how awesome Renault Eurodrive really is. It was an easy decision…we were leasing a car in Europe for the next six months!
Our New Travel Mate – ‘Patty’
We chose a Renault Clio, 3 cylinder, diesel hatchback. We wanted the cheapest fuel (diesel is much cheaper than unleaded gas throughout most of Europe), the best gas mileage and a car that would easily fit on Europe’s tiny roads. The car was the perfect choice for us. It was great on fuel consumption, easy to park…a little short on power, but it never held us back. The Clio is at the lower end of the cost spectrum in the Renault lineup of vehicles, but we loved out little Clio. We named her ‘Patty’…like Cleopatra…get it? Clio-Patra…’Patty’.
You can rent a variety of cars from a basic European hatchback, like we got, all the way up to full size SUVs. The cost of your lease agreement will vary based on the type of vehicle and length of the lease. The longer you lease, the lower your daily costs will be. Since we had a long term travel plan, we opted to lease for the maximum length allowed, 165 days (just shy of 6 months).
So, this meant, for the brand new car, unlimited mileage, multiple drivers, zero-liability multi-risk insurance, 24/7 roadside assistance, and paperwork allowing us to cross almost all European borders with the car, the cost came to approximately $23USD per day. That’s a pretty damn good deal for 2 travelers to have transport and total freedom to roam the open roads.
Freedom of the Open Road
Freedom to go wherever we wanted, whenever we wanted was exactly why we choose to lease a car. From the second we picked up our “Patty” at the Lisbon airport, Europe’s highways and byways were ours to discover. “Patty” was a baby, as brand new as they come. Only 4.9 kilometers on the odometer when we met that first day. After 21 countries and nearly 6 months, we dropped her off at the Basel-Mulhouse Airport, the odometer read 24,888 km. That’s a pretty productive summer and fall if you ask us!
Our favorite little silver hatchback took us into the nooks and crannies of Europe. Exploring the Algarve, Portugal’s picturesque southern coastline, was our first taste of the freedom and discovery we would enjoy for the next 6 months. We were able to explore at our own pace and stay if we really liked a certain beach, campsite, city or town. Conversely, if we found ourselves in a destination where the weather was bad or something wasn’t as great as advertised, we would just jump in the car and be on our way. We didn’t have to organize tickets or wait for the next available transport. We simply climbed into “Patty” and cruised to our next destination. Being able to move freely from place to place was key for us.
Getting Off the Beaten Path
With the car, we could easily make our way to the most popular tourist destinations, as well as the most remote “off the beaten path” locations. For example, we tackled one of Europe’s great roads, the Transfăgărășan Highway in Romania (pictured above). Since public transport doesn’t really go there, it’s hard to experience this incredible place without your own wheels. You would need to hire a guide or join a tour to see it, and then you’re at the mercy of others. So, to truly enjoy this incredible stretch of road, you have to have your own wheels.
‘Patty’ also gave us great access to the countries that aren’t as well connected and easy to get around like The Balkans. With the exception of Croatia, getting around these countries is rather difficult and time consuming. Thanks to our last minute decision to get our own wheels, however, we were able to reach the untouched wilderness of Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Albania with ease. Because we could reach the countrysides, we often found lodging at homestay style accommodation. This gave us a more personal taste of old school, rural European life…which of course included a lot of home-cooked meals and home-brewed Rakija (aka Eastern European moonshine).
Camping Across Europe
Another huge plus of leasing a car in Europe for us was that it gave us the ability to camp. A lot of non-Europeans may not realize this, but Europe is full of really nice campgrounds – often with private access to the nicest beaches. Camping saved us a ton of money, but it also allowed us to stay amongst some awesome nature. Plus, we never had to book ahead. Even the most crowded campsites can always find room for one more tent. Car camping allowed us to spend 5 peak season weeks in Croatia, which would have otherwise broke our bank. Croatia is now one of our favorite countries we’ve visited. We stayed at amazing campgrounds and experienced stunning nature all along the Adriatic Coastline and up and down the Balkan Mountain Range.
The ‘Pros and Cons’ of Leasing a Car in Europe
Of course, there are ‘Pros and Cons’ to every situation. Looking back, there were plenty of times when the car was a blessing to have, but also a number of times when it felt like a curse. Like anything in life, you take the good with the bad and make the best of it. Most of this post is us gushing about how great leasing a car in Europe is. We definitely feel that overall, leasing was the right choice for us, but it’s only fair to share some of the bad along with all the good.
Let’s start with the “Cons”:
Toll Roads and Vignettes
Toll roads suck when they are unavoidable! They’re nice when you have money to spare or need to cover a lot of ground fast. However, toll roads often forced us to take a more scenic route, which we always love.
Vignettes are a little sticker you put on your windshield. They are essentially a road tax. They vary in length of validity and price from country to country. In Switzerland, a vignette costs 40 Swiss Francs and lasts a whole year. In Romania, vignettes vary in duration. A Romanian vignette for 30 days cost €7. Usually, vignettes are available at special shops or petrol stations near border crossings. Some countries, like Switzerland, sell the vignette right at the border crossing. If you drive in a country where a vignette is mandatory and you’re caught without one, you’ll receive a citation from authorities. Be warned – European countries love to ticket by camera too. So, don’t find yourself in a situation when you think you’re getting away with it, but actually have tickets already postmarked to you.
It’s Possible Your Car Could be Vandalized
Our poor ‘Patty’ was broken into in Sintra, Portugal…just one week into our lease. While nothing irreplaceable was stolen, we felt violated, and we pretty annoyed that we had to deal with the process of filing police reports and insurance claims. Renault and the insurance provider were super helpful throughout the process and made sure we were reimbursed accordingly for the damage and the stolen items.
Insurance Doesn’t Apply Everywhere in Europe
While the Renault Eurodrive Program allows lessees to take vehicles into 42 countries, nations like Moldova, Albania and Kosovo are not covered under the provided insurance policy. While the program can not offer a geographic extension, you can purchase Green Card Insurance which will insure the car during your stay in countries that are not part of the insurance policy. In case you’re not familiar with Green Card Insurance, it’s a temporary insurance policy provided by an agency within the country you are visiting that allows you to drive there legally with some basic damage & liability coverage. The cost of Green Card Insurance coverage varies from country to country.
Finding and paying for parking
Looking back, parking is probably the worst part about leasing a car in Europe…parking and Romanian drivers. It was the opposite of fun at times. Finding parking can be tough and finding free parking is even tougher. However, because apps like booking.com are so user friendly, it’s easy to apply a filter to show you accommodations that provide parking. Parking payment systems also vary from city to city and country to country. Because of this, it’s confusing on how to pay, where to pay, how much to pay…etc, etc. However, it was a small price to pay when you consider that we were able to experience some of the great off the beaten path places in Europe that only the most intrepid travelers get to see. You also get super good parallel parking.
Some of the Pros we haven’t mentioned:
Renault was Great
The most noteworthy aspects of the program, to us, are how easy it is make a reservation and the excellent customer service. This was a huge “Pro”. Picking up and dropping off “Patty” couldn’t have been simpler. You and a Renault representative do a simple inspection, sign some papers and that’s about it. The Eurodrive program offers 29 pickup/drop off locations in Western Europe (majority being in France). Seems like wherever you are on the continent, there’s a Renault location nearby. Because they have a huge fleet of vehicles to choose from…big or small, fast or economy, unleaded or diesel…there’s an option for each and every need.
When “Patty” was broken into, they helped us through the process. The insurance company was not very generous with their reimbursement. However, it was still nice to get some money back.
Can’t make it to your destination? Sleep in the car!
This only really happened to us a couple times, but it was nice to have as a backup option. There are times when you just have too much ground to cover or simply too much to see and do. Sometimes you find yourself in a place with no accommodation options. Other times, there are things out of your control (i.e. really slow border crossings). Therefore, crashing in your car can make life a whole lot easier (and save you a little money). It’s a nice back up plan!
The car is in your name
This is key when crossing borders. It makes you legit when your car papers and passport bear the same name. Because the car is in your name, in countries not under the insurance policy you are able to buy Green Card Insurance at border crossings. Having our name on the paperwork saved us hours at border crossings. In fact, when crossing into both Albania and Serbia, we were told we would not have been allowed entry we were driving a rental car.
Leasing a Car in Europe is a Great Way to Go!
As you can probably tell, we loved our experience leasing a car in Europe with the Renault Eurodrive Program. In hindsight, it was 100 percent the right choice for us and our travel style. If you crave freedom in your travel rather than being on someone else’s schedule, this is definitely the way to go. It’s an amazing way to experience Europe and get yourself ahead of and beyond the European crowds. Most importantly, you get to see the continent at your own pace, experiencing the total freedom of the open road.
Perhaps you like what you’ve read and want to explore leasing a car in Europe through Renault Eurodrive. If so, you can use one of the affiliate links in our post. What that means is, if you decide to lease a vehicle for your European Odyssey, and you book after clicking through one of our links, we receive a commission at no cost to you. Instead of all your money going to Renault, you help put a little money in our bank account. As a result, you help fund this site and future Travelin’ Stiles expeditions. Trust that we wouldn’t recommend it to our readers if we didn’t love it ourselves.