How to Rent a Car in the USA


4 minutes

In big cities, many people tend to avoid owning a car because they can rely on public transportation. However, in the suburbs the situation is quite the opposite. In most cases, you would need to have a car even to go grocery shopping. If you choose not to buy a car while interning or training in the U.S., you may need to rent one from time to time.

If you happen to live in a major city, you might also consider renting a car for weekend getaways. Traveling by car might be cheaper and more convenient than using buses and trains. It is also a great way to explore the country and visit other states.

The American car rental industry is one of the biggest in the world. Every USA airport has a free shuttle bus that takes you to a rental car lot. It is better to do research in advance to get an idea what kind of car you are planning to get and what company is right for you. Some of them are bigger than others, but all have different deals and conditions.

Top 5 USA rent-a-car companies:

To rent a car you must have a valid driver's license. If you do not have an American Driver's License, you can typically use one from your home country, but you may want to consider getting an International Driver's License that will allow you to rent and drive a motor vehicle in the U.S.

Even if you are ready to pay in cash, your request will be declined.  In nearly all cases, you must have a credit card to rent a car in the U.S. It is not only your payment method but also serves as a proof of your identity. Many credit card companies will also include a limited amount of rental car insurance – check with your card issuers in advance to see what types of insurance they may offer.

Car rental rates primarily depend on the type of car you choose. The cheapest cars will cost at least $25 a day with an additional $25+ for insurance. In the USA, car insurance coverage relates to a person rather than a car. To find out more car insurance click here.

When completing your payment, keep in mind you must have enough available funds on your credit card, according to the rental company's policy. That amount may vary from $200 to $350. Even if you are renting a car only for a day, you must make a deposit. The company will put a hold on your deposit amount and you can access these funds only after the car is returned.

Most of the cars come with a filled gas tank. Make sure to refill it again when you are returning the car unless your rental agreement does not require you to do so. Keep in mind you can find better deals on gas in the areas at least 20 – 30 miles away from airports.

You should also be aware of other surcharges that may apply. Most states require drivers to be at least 21 in order to rent a car. If you are under 25 many companies will charge you underage fees and offer you a smaller choice of vehicles. A surcharge for a second driver may range from $5 to $25 a day. You should also remember another important rule – never be late. Return a car just one hour late and you might be charged for an additional day.

Recently, more and more people are choosing Zipcar, which has monthly and annual memberships and charges $9 an hour or $83 a day depending on the plan selected. You can easily reserve a car online for as many hours as you need, making this a good option if you just need to run a few errands. Zipcar also uses only eco-friendly vehicles, and each car consumes 219 less gallons of gasoline per year than a regular car.

Last but not least, review an American Driver's Manual (you can download it for free from any Motor Vehicle's Department website) to make sure you are aware of all the driving rules and regulations that might be different from those in your home country. Speed limits in the USA differ state by state, road by road.

If you realize that you need to rent a car frequently, you might want to consider buying one. For more information please read last week's blog about How to Buy, Insure, Register, and Drive a Car in the U.S.

Drive safely!

InterExchange Career Training USA is a top J-1 Visa sponsor for university students and young professionals who have already secured internships or training programs with companies in the U.S. If you still need to find an internship or training program in the U.S., check out our resources and start the J-1 Visa sponsorship process early.

Ani Kington Ani Kington

Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Ani is a fan of exploring new places through photography and the local cuisine. After earning her BFA in photography from NYU and gaining communications experience at International Planned Parenthood Federation, she joined InterExchange in 2012, and worked as the Marketing Producer until 2016.

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