Things You Should Know Before Renting a Car in Ireland
Prepare for the Road Ahead with These 7 Tips!
I knew I wanted to self drive part of our vacation to Ireland, but it took some convincing to get my mom on board. While we love travel and take quite a few trips internationally, we hardly do road trips. Ireland is one of the few countries that drives on the left so she was doubly hesitant!
It took a little pressure on my part but eventually we decided to rent a car in Ireland and I’m really happy we decided to commit to it. I love planning my own travel itineraries and Ireland is such a scenic country that I think it really makes sense to rent a car and have some freedom to choose your own sights and stops.
Here are some tips we figured out about how to rent a car in Ireland. For the most part, the process is straightforward!
1. Pre Book Your Car for the Best Rate
During the planning process, we looked at Auto Europe to get an idea of all the car rental agencies available in Ireland and also to get a general idea of pick up options and costs. Then, we went direct to the car rental agency websites and found that this ended up in a slightly cheaper rate.
There are a couple options that you’ll want to pay attention to:
- Age: At minimum, drivers need to be at least aged 21 in order to drive in Ireland. But, if you’re between ages 21 – 24, you will pay ka surcharge. Ireland also has age restrictions on the upper threshold and charges a bit more if you’re over 75.
- Automatic or Manual: We knew we wanted to stick with an automatic rental and made sure to check this box. If you can drive stick, you’ll save significantly on cost!
- Number of Drivers: We put both of us down as drivers, to split up the driving time. Typically car rental agencies charge more for additional drivers.
2. Plan Your Itinerary Before Booking
The nice thing about car rentals is you can pretty much cancel up to the day of and not be charged. Take advantage of the flexibility and try to plan your route, stops and days before booking.
Things to keep in mind about an Ireland itinerary:
Pick up and Drop offs
When renting a car in Ireland, you have the option to pick up your car in any major city center or major city airport. We found that airport pickups were cheaper and realized in Dublin that this must be because all the car stock is located at the airport.
Compare against airfare
You can pick up in one city and return in another, which for our dates resulted in no change in price! But, when we checked flight prices, round trip airfare from Dublin was cheaper. Other major airports in Ireland include Shannon in the southwest and Cork in the southeast, but likely involve stopovers. We ended up booking round trip airfare from Dublin because it was not only slightly cheaper but offered direct routes home so committed to a full circular drive around Ireland.
Make Sure You Have Enough Time: In order to have enough time to fully circle the Republic of Ireland in a leisurely fashion, make sure you have enough time. We did it 7 days but rushed a bit because I already had two prior weeks to explore Ireland. Budget at least 10 days and ideally 2 weeks!
Read more: 7 Stops to Include on the Perfect Ireland Itinerary
3. Choose a small car (but not too small!)
There were 2 of us on the trip and we ended up booking the smallest car possible, “the mini” category. On the day of, we found out it was a Kia. This ended up being great for us because we’re not the most comfortable drivers and found navigating Irish roads with as small a car as possible, easier. Larger Irish cities require parallel parking so that was also easier to navigate with the mini car!
The downside is that although it’s a 4 door car, it only comfortably seats 2 people. We brought just 1 large suitcase (my Calpak one that has proven quite durable for the price!) and to fit it in the mini car, we had to fold down the back 2 seats. If you each bring large luggage.. I don’t think it will fit. We did have some extra room for small bags like duffels, backpacks, shopping bags etc.
Irish roads are much narrower than roads in America. Basically, what we might consider a one way road, Irish people will happily drive in opposite directions as a two way road. You can get an idea of what local roads look like in the photo below, highways are roomier but have more traffic. Buckle up!
If you’re visiting Ireland with 4 or more people, consider a compact or midsize car. This is slightly more expensive but run on diesel so you could end up saving on the fuel cost. Gas prices in Ireland during our trip in October 2017 were roughly 1.329 euro per litre.
4. Use Your U.S. License
It’s totally fine to drive in Ireland with your US license – no need for anything additional!Read more: How to Master Driving in Ireland (as a tourist!)
5. Make Sure to Have Rental Car Insurance in Ireland
When looking at car rental rates online, they usually show you the lowest possible base rate, and don’t include the necessary upgrades like insurance and excess collision damage waiver (CDW) insurance.
If you have an American credit card, the good news is you may already be covered with insurance. Check the fine print and then double check with a customer service rep at your bank to make sure – lots of credit cards cover CDW coverage except for Italy and Ireland. I’m not quite sure why, but luckily our credit card did cover the extra insurance.
If you’re American and have travel friendly credit cards:
- Visa credit cards normally do not provide insurance coverage in Ireland
- Only Mastercard credit cards and not all Mastercards offer it, they have so many different branded cards and types. I have like 13 credit cards and luckily, one credit card was a no foreign fee card with a decent credit limit and offered car rental insurance coverage. Eureka! I hit the jackpot!
- Call your credit card company (try the number on the back of your car) and ask what type of car rental insurance is covered and specify that you’re traveling to Ireland. The rep may ask a few questions and then will let you know what coverage is included, if any
- Then, make sure you ask your rep to send you an email confirming coverage because at the car rental desk in Ireland they will want to see coverage spelled out in writing. Make sure to print this and bring it with you to Ireland.
Only then will the car rental representative waive their coverage! Whew!
A couple other things:
- Make sure you waive the car rentals’ coverage, otherwise Mastercard won’t cover you
- The way it works is car rental coverage takes precedence over Mastercard’s coverage, but the car rental coverage is a) expensive and b) carries a high deductible (for us it was €2700)
- Car rental coverage does not cover damage to the entire car. Notably excluded are the tires and under car, along with some other miscellaneous things.
- Meanwhile, the insurance coverage offered by my Mastercard credit card completely covered collision damage protection, car theft and the entire car. There was no deductible whatsoever. It was quite a handy benefit!
I was really impressed by my credit card and would go so far as to recommend signing up for it purely if you are planning to visit Ireland. Obviously, review your own finances and do what you’re comfortable with, but for us the card really came in handy!
6. Be Prepared for Extra Charges
Check your receipt carefully, as you’ll typically see some additional charges. These can include:
- Admin Fee: In an example of a complete money grab, car rental agencies charge you an administration fee if you have your own collision damage waiver insurance. We were charged 30 euro.
- Credit Card Fee: We were charged an extra 5 euro just for using a credit card. I guess I’m too used to being able to charge everything in the US – it’s illegal for businesses to charge credit card processing fees here!
- Credit Card Holds: This isn’t an outright charge but car rental agencies will place a large hold on your credit card if you use your own insurance coverage. This is to cover any potential accidents which can happen. For our Irish car rental, we had an additional $5,000 hold plus the estimated cost of the car rental. I think the hold is likely more expensive if you pick a larger car. If you can, bring along 2 credit cards for your trip, one for the rental and the second for trip expenses.
- Gas: You have the option to bring the car back with a full tank or without. Definitely opt for the former because they charge you double the price of fuel and as I mentioned in my Driving in Ireland post, fuel is already expensive in Ireland! Also, car rental agencies won’t give you a credit for left over gas in the tank.
- Taxes: Ah, the dreaded tax man. Car rentals are subject to a (very high) tax rate of 13.6%. Yikes!
Even with all the extra charges, we thought renting a car in Ireland was quite affordable and well worth it. Most of the country’s beauty lies in scenic drives and you won’t be able to experience the landscape without your own car rental.
For reference, our “base” price car rental was about 70 euro for 8 days. Our credit card covered the extra insurance and we paid gas as we went. We visited in the off season, in October, so I think that helped with the rate. I have heard it can be quite expensive in peak season (as with all things) and if you have to pay for the extra insurance. Hope that pricing info helps!
7. Ditch the GPS
Instead of purchasing a GPS, I highly recommend getting travel cell service instead. There are many ways to get cellular service while traveling but my personal preference is to use Know Roaming, so that I have access to cell service and can use my iphone.
A GPS unit is only as good as its last update and most GPS devices in Ireland operate by GPS coordinates, not by address. For my Ireland trip, I knew I wanted to use Google Maps on my phone instead. It’s how I plan my trips, its what I use on a daily basis and is always up to date.
I’m a huge fan of Google Maps for so many reasons:
- You can plug in multiple destinations and it will plan the best route. So you can put in say attraction #1, stop #2 and your hotel and it will remember it all
- You can find information on nearby essentials, like gas stations, restaurants and grocery stores. Just hit the magnifying glass and what you want. Then, the app will plan out your best route for you.
- It lets you have control over your route – you can avoid toll roads, avoid ferries and/or avoid highways.
- It speaks to you to help you drive, even if you’re alone (although I recommend having a buddy to help with navigation). After you enter your destination, hit “start” and Google Maps will start directing you.
- It gives you a heads up where you’ll encounter traffic. Routes are normally highlighted in blue. If there is a section of the road ahead with traffic or congestion, you’ll see the section highlighted in yellow for medium traffic and red for full stop congestion.
- Finally, Google Maps isn’t a data hog. Just turn on cellular to plot the route, then turn your phone to airplane mode. It will still talk you through the route and remember your route so long as you don’t close the app (you can toggle to different apps, just don’t completely close out of Google Maps)
That gave our Irish road trip lots of flexibility and enabled us to modify our itinerary if we found we wanted to linger at a destination or leave another attraction early. Given how unpredictable the weather can be in Ireland, this was really helpful. It also meant we never scrambled to find gas!
Know Roaming Cell Service
To have cell service throughout Ireland, we relied on Know Roaming. The company provides a global SIM card. If you’re traveling throughout multiple countries, and therefore cellular zones, Know Roaming is convenient because their one SIM card can automatically connect to each country’s local network. No need to waste time finding a brick & mortar store and no need to hunt for a paper clip to swap out your phone’s SIM cards! I’ve used them previously throughout my Italy vacation and really like how convenient and fast their service is.
KnowRoaming offers different data plans for travelers:
- Purchase a set amount of data – for example, if you only plan to use data to text and use WhatsApp to call for free. KnowRoaming offers 1GB, 5GB and 10GB packages, which provide flexibility depending on where you’re traveling to!
- Unlimited data – the unlimited data package starts at $7.99 per day.
A couple notes about using KnowRoaming:
- Check if the unlimited is offered in the country you are traveling to, as it’s not currently supported worldwide. I used the pay as you go plan, which offers slightly stronger signals but obviously can get expensive if you use it as much as I do. For Google Maps, use cellular to pull up the route then switch to airplane mode to save on data usage – it will still guide you and “speak” to you!
- To save on cellular usage, don’t use Instagram stories or Snapchat when traveling. Those features download videos to your phone and are a sneaky bandwidth hog!
- KnowRoaming doesn’t support text messaging, but you can use WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger to message for free instead. If you have an iPhone and so do most of your friends and family, you can still iMessage each other for free.
- Know Roaming generously provided me with credit throughout my Ireland road trip, and I couldn’t have done the road trip without staying connected. To keep track of my usage, I have the Know Roaming app downloaded on my phone, which monitors usage in real time and let me know how much I was spending. You can also top up directly within the app once your prepaid usage runs out. Talk about convenient!
Decided Not to Rent a Car?
If that sounded like way too much work or risk for you, then I would suggest basing yourself in Dublin and taking day tours to the popular places in Ireland.
Compare the tour prices with Irish car rental prices to get an idea of how much more or less you’ll pay. They’re surprisingly affordable! Also, the benefit of taking a tour is that you’ll get a knowledgeable local guide to show you the sights.
You Might Also Enjoy:
Ireland Vacation Planning Articles
Itinerary, Tips & Advice for How to Plan the Perfect Ireland Vacation
For Foodies: All the Best Food We Ate in Ireland
How to Master Driving in Ireland (as a tourist!)
10 Enchanting Castles in Ireland – You Can Actually Stay In!
Packing Checklist: What to Wear in Ireland
Irish Sights, Activities & Tours We Especially Enjoyed:
Co Galway: Visiting Kylemore Abbey, Ireland’s Most Beautiful Castle?
Co Kerry: 7 Can’t Miss Sights in Killarney
Co Waterford: 8 Reasons You’ll Love Waterford, Ireland’s Oldest City!
Co Wexford: Don’t Skip Wexford – Here’s Why!
Co Kilkenny: Exploring Kilkenny Castle, in photos
Restaurant & Hotels We Loved:
County Clare: Gregans Castle Hotel
County Wexford: The Strand Inn
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