13 Things to Know BEFORE Renting a Car in Scotland

If you’re planning to spend some time in Scotland, renting a car is a great option. A car rental in Scotland gives you the freedom and flexibility to travel how and when you want, but it also allows you to visit parts of this wonderful country that are difficult to reach any other way. Every time we visit Scotland, we opt to rent a car, and we absolutely love the absolute freedom it gives us while traveling Scotland.

The stunning panoramas seen so frequently in Scotland make driving in Scotland an enjoyable experience, as does the ability to stop off at small but incredibly gorgeous towns around the country.

But what do you need to know if you’re considering renting a car in Scotland? After driving around on a few epic Scottish road trips ourselves, we reveal all car rental Scotland tips.

Quick Search First - We like to see Scotland rental rates with Discover Cars!

North Coast 500 Stags

Renting a Car in Scotland

What do you need for a car rental in Scotland?


The answer to ‘what do you need to rent a car in Scotland’ is – surprisingly – very little! As long as you hold a standard Latin driving license, you can drive the same type of vehicle in Scotland without much other paperwork for up to a year.

If your license is not in English, it’s best to have a translation just in case. You also should be prepared to hand over your passport. Most of the time, you do not need to apply for an international driving license or have a special permit.

You are also required to have insurance, which can be organized by the rental agency (for a fee) or with a US credit card if you’re renting a car in Scotland as an American. There will be various options available to you, so you’ll have to decide what you want to add on. If more than one person intends to share the driving, you’ll also need that as an add-on.

Legally speaking, that’s it, although most Scotland car rental companies will have a few additional rules you’ll have to agree to. For instance, most companies limit their rentals to those over the age of 21, with people aged between 21 and 24 required to pay a surcharge (due to the increased likelihood of an incident). Likewise, those over the age of 75 might face a surcharge for the same reason.


Car Rental in Scotland Insurance

Lambs on th eNC500

As mentioned above, if you have a US credit card, you may already have CDW insurance for rental car coverage and don’t know it! It’s worth checking your documentation and calling your credit card to find out. It’s even worth considering signing up for a new credit card that does offer this.

Bringing me to my next point – credit cards with primary rental insurance. The Chase Sapphire Reserve is my favorite travel credit card for many reasons, but the primary rental insurance is one of its best perks (including Priority Pass membership). When you put your car hire on your Chase Sapphire Reserve card, you get primary rental car coverage around the world for up to $75,000.

Car rental companies in Scotland and around the world love to scare customers and upsell all their insurance packages. You need to make sure if you need it or not before falling victim to their trap. Call your credit card company and always find out before you get to Scotland.

If you don’t have a credit card that covers rental car insurance, it may be worth adding it to your package. That way, you won’t be stuck paying for car damages out of pocket if there is an accident.

Cost of Car Rentals in Scotland

car renting scotland
Car Rental Scotland Tips

It’s now so easy to compare rental car prices online; you’ll find most of the big rental car companies have rates that end up being pretty close to one another; they keep an eye on the competitor’s prices, so they remain competitive themselves. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do a little shopping around.

Be careful when looking online, as rental companies tend to use tricks to make prices look lower than they actually are. The main way they do this is by using a ‘from’ price, with the actual amount you’ll pay only revealed when you’re further into the booking process, and they reckon you won’t bother giving up and going elsewhere.

Another trick they have is to show the price excluding tax, which means you’ll have something in the region of a further 20% to add to the headline price on show.

Needless to say, the cost of a smaller car will be lower than renting a larger one. The fewer add-ons (extra drivers, GPS, etc.) you require, the cheaper it will be too. We will talk more about this later in this article.

We traveled around Scotland for two weeks in the off season and paid about $300 for a car rental in Scotland, which was a pretty decent deal. However, other times, we’ve traveled to Scotland in the summer and paid astronomical rates. With rental cars, often, the sooner in advance you book, the better rate you will get. I like to check comparison sites to get the best prices. If you book during the summer season, expect to pay higher rates as the demand is high.

My favorites to look at are:

Search and Compare Prices for Rental Cars

How To Book a Rental Car in Scotland

Drive well on the NC500
Car Rental Scotland

Nowadays, booking a rental car in Scotland is straightforward before arriving there. We think the benefits of doing this are huge. Not only are you ‘guaranteed’ the vehicle you’ve opted for, reducing stress levels, but you’ll be charged less for renting that same vehicle simply because you’ve pre-booked. Walking up and trying to book a car is one of the worst things you can do for your wallet.

If, for whatever reason, you are unable to pre-book, don’t worry! Rental agencies rarely run out of vehicles (and if they do, you can just pop next door to a competitor). However, it might mean there’s less choice – something worth bearing in mind if you have specific requirements, such as an automatic (not as common in Europe).

These vehicles go for a higher rate for the same car, and you’ll end up spending more time at the desk of the rental company rather than enjoying the start of your vacation. I always warn people to book a car rental at least 24 hours in advance. However, booking your car rental in Scotland is best as soon as you know you are taking a trip to get the best rate. You can always cancel later. You can see all my additional tips on renting a car abroad here.

Search and Compare Prices for Rental Cars

Hold Charge on Credit Card

Car Rental Scotland tips
Our Car Rental Scotland with Arnold Clark

Every single one of our fifty or so rental cars has put a hold on our credit card for the rental period. Holds can range anywhere from a few hundred bucks to $1000+ in some countries. The “excess charge,” as it is called, is typically stated in your reservation details, but it is easy to miss. The rate charged is usually dependent on the rental car agency.

We know that they must put this hold on our card, but it can be a huge shocker if you are unsuspecting and end up exceeding your credit card credit limit. These excess charges are for scenarios where you disappear with the car and are never seen again, or get in a crash and refuse to pay—stuff like that.

Pickup Locations For Car Rentals in Scotland

car renting scotland
We picked up our car rental in Scotland in Edinburgh

If you’re flying straight into Scotland on a direct flight (rather than crossing the border overland from England, for example), the best place to pick up your car rental in Scotland is at the airport.

One of my top car rental Scotland tips is to rent from major cities. Both Edinburgh and Glasgow Airports (those with direct flights from the US to Scotland) have good rental car facilities, with all the main companies represented.

This is the best place to pick up your vehicle because it saves you the time and expense of getting into the city center without your own transport (and probably some heavy luggage too). Even if there is an airport surcharge from the rental agency, I still generally find it worth it to rent from there.

However, should you need them (such as if you’ve traveled up from London by the Caledonian Express sleeper train), most of the main rental car companies also have offices in the city centers.

These city center offices are also a good option if you want to explore Scotland on a self-drive vacation before continuing your tour of the UK (Scotland, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland) by other means. Just be aware that picking up your vehicle from one location and dropping it off at another (even in the same city) will likely cost you more.

Choose the Right Car Rental in Scotland


Traffic Jam in Scotland
What happens when two large vehicles drive on a narrow road. Cars behind were stuck for hours while we waited for the police to come investigate.

It’s best to opt for a smaller car when renting a car in Scotland. Why’s that? For one thing, depending on where you’ll be coming from, you could be driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road – on the left-hand side of the road rather than the right. The steering wheel is on right side of the vehicle which may not be what you are used to, with the gear shift (in manual transmission vehicles) and parking brake on the opposite side to you as well.

So, the smaller the vehicle you have to control, the better! That said, the pedals are in the same order as in the US, with the clutch on the left (for manual vehicles), the foot brake in the middle, and the gas pedal on the right.

The second reason to choose a smaller car when driving in Scotland as a visitor is because some of Scotland’s roads are pretty narrow! Away from the highways (called motorways and denoted by an ‘M’ designation), you’ll be surprised how quickly roads become rural, meaning a smaller vehicle is definitely better.

In some places (such as some of Scotland’s many islands and the North Coast 500 route), routes even narrow down to a single lane for both directions of traffic. In this case, you’ll find ‘passing places’ in which to pass each other.


Car Rental Scotland Tips To Know BEFORE You Go
Driving with our car rental Scotland / We rented with Arnold Clark who we highly recommend

Another thing you should consider when deciding on what rental car type to opt for is how many people and how much luggage you’ll have. Nippy two-door cars are great for getting about (and really easy to park) but don’t offer much legroom in the back if those seats are going to be used for people, and obviously also have less space in the trunk (called the boot in Scotland) for luggage.

Transmission Type

Scottish Highlands - Getting Active and Healthy

Finally, you’ll have the option of a manual or automatic transmission vehicle. Manuals are by far the most common cars driven in Scotland, which means you’ll have a more extensive choice if you’re happy to drive one.

They also tend to be cheaper to rent as a result. However, automatics are also available if you’re not happy driving a manual transmission and shifting gears yourself. Just make sure you make this preference absolutely clear when booking.

What is the Age Limit For Renting a Car in Scotland?

highland cows

To rent a car in Scotland, you must be a minimum of 21, but you should expect young driver fees if you are under 26.

Fuel choices When Renting a Car in Scotland

Highland Coos

Fuel choice shouldn’t be a significant factor in deciding what vehicle to rent in Scotland. Unlike in the US, diesel is just as easy to find as petrol. All petrol stations sell diesel as well as gas.

You’ll find prices between the two pretty similar as well (and a lot more than what you’ll pay in the US).  So, unless you’re going to be driving vast distances (when a diesel vehicle becomes a little more economical, but something that is pretty difficult to do in Scotland in any case), there’s no real reason to choose one over the other.

At gas stations, gas is denoted by green pump handles. All gas in Scotland is now unleaded, meaning one less thing to worry about. Black pump handles indicate diesel. In cities and on the highways, gas stations are pretty easy to find and look similar to those in the US. You’ll pay more for the same amount of fuel at a highway gas station than elsewhere. The more rural your journey becomes, the harder it will be to find a gas station, so fill up when you see one.

Both gas and diesel are sold by the liter, and gas stations are generally self-service. Simply pull up beside a pump and begin filling up your vehicle to the approximate cost/volume you require (there’s no automatic cut-off). Payment comes afterward. To pay, you’ll need to pop into the on-site shop (they also sell snacks and drinks) and tell the cashier the pump number. You can pay by credit card, debit card, or cash (British pounds sterling only).

If you don’t return your rental vehicle with a full tank of fuel or where it was given to you at, you will be charged to fill it up. Rental car companies charge a premium to fill up the tank for you, which makes it well worth stopping off at a gas station before returning it.

John O Groats

GPS is brilliant for when you’re using a car rental in Scotland and driving along unknown roads. Having a GPS kit to focus on the navigation means you can concentrate on driving without having to read every road sign you pass.

Navigation systems are also useful because they can provide alternative routes, should they be needed, like taking you around congestion hotspots in the cities. The most modern versions will indicate the road’s speed limit, too – measured in miles per hour, just like in the US.

That’s not to say you need to get the GPS add-on with a rental car. If you have a cell phone with a local SIM contract or an eSIM, you’ll be able to access the data network, which means you can use smartphone navigation apps such as Google Maps.

Alternatively, if you don’t have a local SIM contract and don’t want to spend lots of cash on international roaming, you can download a Google Map to your phone while in WiFi. If you forget to do this, Edinburgh Airport has free (albeit slow) WiFi to download a map of Scotland to your phone, but make sure you have free space on your phone!

When driving in Scotland, it is not permitted to use a cell phone to make calls or send/receive SMS text messages. You can use your smartphone for navigation purposes, but it must be hands-free only (such as safely stowed on the windscreen), and you must not program navigation while the vehicle’s engine is running. I recommend getting a phone holder for your car dashboard for your travels.

Accept The Rental Office Assistance

Car Rental Scotland Tips To Know BEFORE You Go

The rental car agent will often ask if you’d like them to show you around the vehicle or whether you’re happy to do it yourself. It’s best to accept the offer of being shown around the vehicle so that you can mark any damages. The agent will generally start with the outside of the vehicle, pointing out any bumps or scratches that already exist, and make sure all the damages are noted. This will also assure you of the roadworthiness of the vehicle.

On the vehicle’s inside, ensure you know how to operate the headlights, indicator lights, and hazard lights before leaving the parking bay. You should also know the location of the windscreen wipers (an absolute must in Scotland) and the horn.

Make sure you know how to alter the position of the driver’s seat, how the parking brake works (is it a traditional manual one you pull up, or a newer electronic one), and how to engage reverse gear (which often requires you to push a button of some sort first). They will also help you set up the GPS if you’ve opted for one.

Remember that if you’re unhappy with anything you see, you should insist on an alternative vehicle. These must be noted before leaving the parking lot if you find cigarette burns, broken mirrors, or windshield cracks. Otherwise, you could be charged for the damages once you return the rental.

We always take photos before leaving the rental car lot of the vehicle, so that we have photo proof of what the vehicle looked like before we picked it up. That way, we won’t be charged for any damages prior to us renting the vehicle.

Distances and Speeds in Scotland

sheep on the road in scotland
Mind the sheep in Scotland!

One of my top car rental Scotland tips is to keep distances and speeds in mind. Distances and speeds are measured in miles, just like in the US. The speed limit is usually signposted on each new stretch of road or change in speed. Look out for round white signs with a red edge and a number in the center.

If in doubt about the speed of a particular stretch of road, you can use the following basic rules: motorways – the Scottish equivalent of highways – are denoted by an M. For instance, the M8 runs between Edinburgh and Glasgow. All motorways have a maximum speed limit of 70 mph, although over-road signage may reduce this given traffic or weather conditions. They are colored blue on maps and road signs.

The same speed limit is in force for dual carriageways (mini two-lane highways). Outside of built-up areas, the speed limit is generally 50 mph, while in more urban areas (anywhere with street lighting), the maximum speed is typically 30 mph – although, around schools, it can be as low as 20 mph.

Car Rental Scotland Tips To Know BEFORE You Go
Watch out for these guys with your Scotland car rental

Some rural roads may be single-lane (and roads tend to be quite narrow compared to those in the US, in any case). There will generally be passing places that allow cars to pull aside to allow vehicles coming in the opposite direction to pass. (Speaking of which, don’t park in passing places – only ever use dedicated parking spaces.

Speed limits are limits, not targets; only drive as fast as feels safe. Try not to worry if locals who know the roads better than you pass you at a safe place on the road.

Drinking and Driving in Scotland

clynelish disterilly

If you plan to visit any famous Scottish distilleries, remember that drinking and driving in Scotland is a big no-no. The current limit is 22 microgrammes (mcg) of alcohol in 100 ml of breath, which is less than a beer for many people. If you are renting a car in Scotland and plan to enjoy a whiskey tasting on your trip, make sure to have a plan for driving and returning to your hotel afterward.

If you are a driver and visiting a brewery or distillery, just tell them you’re driving; they are well aware of the drinking and driving laws in Scotland and will be able to assist. Last time we visited Clynelish Distillery, they gave us little “to-go” tasters to enjoy at home!

Forget any worries you had about renting a car in Scotland! We’ve given you the lowdown on everything you need to help you have an amazing self-drive vacation in the home of Braveheart’s William Wallace, the Queen’s castles in Edinburgh and Balmoral, and the Loch Ness monster!

Now that we've covered these car rental Scotland, check out what you need to know for actually driving in Scotland! 
Search and Compare Prices for Rental Cars

Plan For Your Trip

About Natasha Alden

Natasha is the co-founder of The World Pursuit. She is an expert in travel, budgeting, and finding unique experiences. She loves to be outside, hiking in the mountains, playing in the snow on her snowboard, and biking. She has been traveling for over 10 years, across 7 continents, experiencing unique cultures, new food, and meeting fantastic people. She strives to make travel planning and traveling easier for all. Her advice about international travel, outdoor sports, and African safari has been featured on Lonely Planet, Business Insider, and Reader’s Digest.

Learn more about Natasha Alden on The World Pursuit About Us Page.

6 thoughts on “13 Things to Know BEFORE Renting a Car in Scotland”

  1. How on earth you’ve paid $300 for 2 weeks rental if lowest rate I can see is $1300, tell us, how? 🙂

  2. HI, how did you manage to get 300 euro deal for 3 weeks?? I search for this August and iI can`t get a lower than 800 euros offer for 5 days!!

  3. Unfortunately, due to the supply chain woes and many rental car companies selling off their fleets during the pandemic, car rental rates are setting new records for the summer. We’ve been struggling to find deals this summer too. It’s not the norm but will be a reality for the next year or two.

  4. Well of course it depends on the season! We were there in the shoulder season, car rental rates in the summer and post pandemic are out of control

  5. We just returned from Scotland and learned, the hard way, that rental cars do not come with a spare tire. This leaves you in a position of calling the rental company and they send a mobile tire repair/replace service. This can turn out to a wait of many hours on the side of the road. With the conditions of some of the narrow roads with potholes, a flat or even a total destruction of a tire, can be expected. Luckily, we had food and water for the duration of our wait as we were not in a populated area.

Leave a Comment