FAQ: Driving & Car Rental in Argentina
Argentina is a huge country with many out-of-the-way scenic areas that lend themselves to car travel, particularly in Patagonia, Mendoza‘s wine country, and throughout the pampas.
Among the popular road trips for visitors is the Vuelta A Los Valles through Salta, with stops at colorful natural rock formations and the ghost town of Alemanía. Virtually everyone who goes to Bariloche or San Martín de los Andes does Patagonia’s Seven Lakes Route, whether they take a tour or rent a car to do the trip on their own.
If staying in Puerto Madryn, the best way to visit the penguin reserve at Punta Tombo is by renting a car, in order to not be limited by the time constraints of a tour.
Here are some frequently asked questions about renting a car in Argentina:
• What kind of driver’s license is required to rent a car in Argentina?
-Anyone with a valid license from their home country can rent or hire a car in Argentina, as long as they also have a valid tourist visa and a credit card. Those who have overstayed their visa might encounter problems. You do NOT need an international driver’s license.
Almost all cars have a manual transmission, so those who don’t know how to drive a stick shift (or those from the U.K. not accustomed to shifting with the right hand) better learn quick — hopefully before you go — doing it for the first time in frenzied Buenos Aires would be quite a steep learning curve!
• Can you rent cars at the Buenos Aires airport?
-Yes, you can rent a car ready for pick up in the international airport of Ezeiza (EZE), or the domestic airport, Jorge Newbery (AEP) as well as at most other airports in major cities throughout Argentina.
Make sure to make your car rental reservation in advance in popular destinations or during high season, or there may not be cars available.
Be aware that Buenos Aires has pretty aggressive, or, if we’re being generous, chaotic driving. Remember there are a lot of Italian descendants who aren’t interested in formalities such as car lanes, and who like to loudly express their life’s frustrations via gratuitous honking.
These daredevils, particularly in Buenos Aires, enjoy pretending they are ‘the maestro‘ Argentina’s most famous race car driver, Juan Manuel Fangio. (Interestingly, Fangio who people claim to see apparitions of in Chacarita cemetery, himself famously never had a driver’s license to drive on public streets his whole life — he said he was scared of the other drivers!)
Considering this, those thinking of renting a car at the airport should consider if they will feel comfortable driving from the international airport (32k from downtown Buenos Aires) after a long flight.
While it will be slightly more expensive, you can always get a ride to your hotel and pickup the rental car downtown the following day after a good night’s sleep.
If you do rent a car in Buenos Aires, be sure that your hotel has parking, as finding a parking spot can be an exercise in frustration in the center of Buenos Aires.
Those parking on the street in Buenos Aires should also be aware that they will also likely be approached by trapitos, the less-than-savory characters who request tips to ‘guard’ your car.
• What type of cars are available?
-Rental cars in the most popular destinations range from compact, low-budget options to sedans and SUV’s, almost all with manual transmission (stick shift). Those who don’t drive a standard will have to make a special request for automatic car, which will cost more as they are rare in Argentina.
• Is it safe to drive in Argentina?
-Driving always involves risks, and Argentina doesn’t have a great record of road safety. Luckily, this is an area where Argentina is quickly improving. In 2009 Argentina had an average of 22 road accident fatalities per day throughout the country. Ten years later, that number is down to 15 fatalities per day in a country of 45 million.
Enforcement and driving education has also improved in Argentina in the last decade. But for all the inroads Argentina has made in public education about the importance of seat belts and the dangers of drunk driving, it’s been overshadowed by the alarming number of drivers who use their cellphones while on the road.
The most challenging driving in the Argentina is in the capital, Buenos Aires, where driving is rather aggressive, such as in New York City or Rome. In Buenos Aires particularly, it is important to be aware of reckless drivers — often on motorcycles — and distracted pedestrians crossing the road.
In other regions of the country far from the capital, driving tend to be less stressful. In relaxed Patagonia people are more civilized drivers, but the curvy mountain roads can be a bit tricky and it is important to look out for wildlife.
In some provinces such as Salta and Chubut, the drivers are mellower than those in the capital, but some roads may have potholes or flying gravel. While highways throughout the country are generally in decent condition, driving on two-lane highways at night requires extra care.
• Are there any special laws about driving in Argentina?
Argentina doesn’t have any particularly unusual laws regarding driving but low beams need to be on at all times. All passengers need to wear seat belts at all times. Children under five require a car seat. All children under 12 are required to sit in the rear of the car. As of last year, kids between the ages of five and twelve need a booster seat. This inflatable travel booster seat is a good compact travel option.
Turning left can only be done at a light with a green turn arrow, which virtually don’t exist. This is why even passengers in Buenos Aires will notice taxis or Uber drivers will take three right turns to go around the whole block to reach the destination.
Taking a right turn at a red light is also prohibited.
Drive with care when approaching intersections with a four-way stop signs. Generally no one stops — at the most they may slow for a ‘California roll.’
Crossing the intersection becomes a game of chicken, with whomever has the biggest vehicle ‘winning’. Also be aware that, although it is law, no one seems to pay attention to the fact that the person on the right has the right-of-way.
• Which side of the road do they drive on in Argentina?
-While the British did try to invade River Plate region in what is now known as Argentina, they only got as far as San Telmo before they had to retreat. (Learn more about this on our Free San Telmo Tour!)
The drivers seat is on the left-hand side of the car in Argentina, so any British weirdos 😄 used to driving on the right-hand side and using a stick shift with their left hand will need to adjust quickly. Only on the Falkland (Malvinas) islands, a British overseas territory, do they drive on the left. (As an aside, make sure to never use the ‘F word’, Falklands, when speaking to an Argentine — it’s a touchy subject.)
• Can I leave the country with the car to visit neighboring countries?
-Not likely, but you can discuss this with the rental agency in their office. If possible at all, this will most likely involve a lot of extra fees. To avoid headaches, it makes more sense to cross the border and then rent another car.
• Renting a car in Argentina is more expensive than I expected.
-Just like air travel, car rental is on the expensive side in Argentina. Those who have the time often take flights or long distance buses to various locations and rent a car in the area they are visiting.
The main reasons to rent a car are for flexibility, to get off the beaten path and to accommodate time constraints.
• What if I get pulled over? Do the police bribe in Argentina?
If you are decent driver it is unlikely you will get pulled over in Argentina, but there are police checkpoints along some roads.
When pulled over or stopped at a checkpoint, it is necessary to provide your driver license, insurance papers and the legal documents for the car provided by the rental car company, usually kept in the glove compartment.
It is not likely, but possible, to cross paths with a police officer trying to supplement their income by requesting a bribe. Generally they will hint or suggest you pay a fine on the spot or they will have to write you a ticket. If you are sure you did nothing wrong you can stick to your guns, ‘play dumb’ or say you don’t have any cash on you.
If it begins to seem like a corrupt officer is dead set on ruining your vacation and you just want to go on your way, slipping a 500 or 1,000 bill into the paperwork will probably do the trick. While this is uncomfortable for people who are from countries without much low-level corruption it is a ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’ scenario.
• What else should I know about renting a car in Argentina?
-The companies that work with rental car network are well-established and credible but experiences can still depend on the individual franchisers. Always check the interior and exterior of the car and make a note — or even take photos — of any dings or damage to ensure there are no surprises upon returning the car.
Another reliable option to book online is Sixt Rental Car.
Because of the limited availability of cars in some areas, it is recommended to make reservations in advance and to get the full liability insurance in addition to travel insurance.
You can also compare rental car prices here with those offered by Cheapo Air.
*Some of the above links are affiliate links, by using the our link you get 15% off your car rental and also help Wander Argentina to continue to provide free travel information. Thanks!
Argentina Driving Tips Roundup
• Low-beam headlights are required to be on at all times — day or night, in a city or rural area.
• Seat belts must be worn at all times. Children under 12 need a booster seat (this travel booster seat is pretty nifty for travel) and children under four must travel in the backseat, secured in a car seat.
• A license from your home country will work, no need to have an international driver’s license.
• The driver’s seat is on the left in Argentina and most cars are manual transmission.
• The acceptable blood alcohol content level to not be considered an impaired driver is .02% for motorcycles and .05% for non-commercial car drivers, which is lower than the U.K. and most of North America.
• Use of a mobile phone while driving is strictly prohibited, aside from a hands-free system.
• You must be 18 years-old to drive in Argentina and some rental agencies may only rent cars to those 21 and older.
• Highways are often privately owned and have tolls, so make sure to have smaller bills on hand when on the road in Argentina.