Rental Cars

Renting a Car in the US as an International Visitor Without a Credit Card

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My dad recently posed this interesting question. Can citizens of other countries rent cars in the US with only a debit card? The answer: It depends.

Some missionary friends were staying with him and needed a one-way car rental to get to their next destination. The problem? They had an international drivers license but no credit card, only a debit card from their home country.

Would they still be able to rent a car in the US?

Why a Debit Card Might Not Work

When renting a car with a debit car, the company will typically place a hold on enough funds to cover the cost of the rental plus a deposit and will also run a credit check. I quickly found plenty of articles covering what this entailed, but none that addressed the situation for international travelers.

Can you successfully pass a US credit check without any financial history or assets in the country? We weren’t sure. And the local car rental places I called weren’t either.  They’d just have to come and find out at the time of the rental. Since timing was an issue, scrambling for an alternate plan last minute if they didn’t pass wasn’t feasible.

And given the cost per day for a one-way rental, attempting to rent the car several days in advance wasn’t an option for their budget.

Could They Be Added As Additional Drivers?
The next thought was to have my dad or one of their sponsors be the primary driver and use their credit card, adding the others as secondary drivers. But according to the major rental car websites, the same rules would still apply to all drivers. Additional drivers would still need a credit card in their name or a debit card and successful credit check. Which we wouldn’t know the outcome until they tried. Not a great option.

Try Going in Person (Your Results May Vary)

While I was busy trying to find last minute award flights that could somewhat fit their schedule and not require a 3 hour drive, my dad made two visits.

First he went to the bank and kept asking until he found someone who could answer his question about credit checks. The bank used a different, more intensive credit check system than the rental car companies, but they had no trouble running credit checks on non-US accounts.

Then he drove to the local Hertz location and explained the situation. It was a small branch and he was able to talk directly to the manager who said there would be no problem adding them as additional drivers if my dad was using his credit card (his Chase Sapphire Reserve, if you’re curious).

I prefer doing almost everything online or over the phone if I can, but dad proved there’s still value in talking to someone face to face. I had called that location earlier, but had talked to someone who didn’t have decision rights, so they could only tell me corporate policy.

The Outcome
It sounds like there would have been no problem passing the credit check anyway, but with a primary driver with a major credit card everything went through smoothly, particularly since the location understood the situation in advance.

They did take the additional precaution of purchasing all additional coverage to limit my dad’s liability, but since the rental was just for a day the extra insurance wasn’t too expensive.

This isn’t a common problem most people will face, but sharing our experience for anyone with the same questions. If you have advice for how this would work with other rental car companies, or if you don’t have the luxury of going in person beforehand, please share in the comments!

 

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Living for the little (and big things) that make life so fun, especially mistake deals and crazy last minute weekend mileage runs across the world. www.twitter.com/klatravel

1 Comment

  1. everywhere_dude

    July 28, 2017 at 5:55 pm

    Before I became a resident of the US, I did rent a car in California with no issue using a foreign credit card and a foreign license (and absolutely no credit history in the US). Note that I’m not sure whether the rules on driving with a foreign license are consistent across states. If you only have a debit card, I think what they do is charge the amount of their guarantee on the debit card (so a big amount of money gets out of your account) and credit you back at the end of the rental. AFAIK, that kind of policy is similar in most countries where I’ve rented a car (at least Spain, France, Costa Rica, USA) and nothing exclusive to the US: you either pay for the extra insurance with the renter or leave a deposit; using a credit card simplifies things for the deposit part.

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