Scotland Driving and Car Hire Info

The research for this website was carried out mainly in 2011 and 2012. Therefore there is a good chance that much of the information may now be out of date. This is particularly true of countries in the developing world, especially Asia, Africa and parts of South America where conditions can change often. Also, the political climate in many countries has changed a lot in recent years. Therefore the information on this website should be treated with caution. You should always check with your Government’s website or the UK Foreign office travel advice website before finalising plans to drive abroad.

Driving in Scotland-

Visitors from most countries can drive for up to 12 Months on their own countries licence. Use this tool to check eligibility –

The main concern is likely to be driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road if you’re from USA or Mainland Europe. As in England, Scotland  drives on the left and the steering wheel is on the right of the car. The gear stick will be on your left. (If you prefer an automatic car, you’ll need to specify that when renting as the majority of cars in Scotland have manual transmission/ stick shift). As with Brits driving abroad, you’ll find that you adapt pretty quickly. The main difference you’ll notice is that at roundabouts, you’ll give way to the right. Also at a red light, in the USA you can turn right at a red light. No similar rule exists in Scotland .Also on a multi lane road, you can only overtake to the right of the vehicle you’re passing. i.e you can’t do what the Scots call ‘undertaking’.

Roads in Scotland are generally in good condition and in most cases the driving standards are high and rules of the road are upheld. Drivers used to Southern or Eastern Europe , Asia or Africa, will probably find that the speeds are slower than they’re used to and that driving style is quite polite. i.e tailgating and even use of the horn are frowned upon. Drivers may also flash their lights at you at junctions- this generally means they’re giving you the right of way, though proceed with caution if this happens. On isloated roads sheep are likely to roam free so proceed with caution when you see them by the road- they are liable to panic and run in the wrong direction if you surprise them. Winter is liable to bring snow, especially in the North of Scotland so if renting a car in the winter months, ask if you’re likely to need winter tyres.

Speed cameras are prevalent throughout Scotland and are generally indicated by a white sign with a black camera symbol, and the cameras themselves are generally painted yellow and are situated by the side of the road. Average speed limits are a new development on UK roads,and are starting to appear in Scotland, particularly through road works on motorways. The average speed is clearly quoted and you’ll find that drivers generally abide by the speed limit in these areas, unlike on other roads with cameras where you should expect drivers to break the limit then slam on their brakes just in front of the camera! Police officers may use hand held speed cameras on motorways but its the fixed cameras which catch out most Scottish motorists.

As with most countries any major problems are likely to involve negotiating City Centres, particularly large Cities such as Edinburgh and Glasgow. If you can pick the car up at the airport you will find it easier to get onto the motorway or into the open country. Glasgow International Airport is just off the M8 which provides easy access to the West Coast and to the North across the Clyde. Prestwick airport is 30 miles South of Glasgow Centre, on the coast just North of Ayr and again is a good place to pick up a car, well away from the City Centre.  Edinburgh airport is just off the M9 around 8 miles West of the City, again providing easy access to roads to the North and West to Glasgow.If you’re staying in a hotel in the centre and having the car delivered to your there, see if the car rental company will drive the car out of the centre for you.

If driving on the Islands roads are generally in good condition though are small and often winding in the Orkneys and on smaller Islands. Many will be single track with passing places should you encounter a vehicle coming in the opposite direction. Always proceed with caution on these roads -even though traffic is light you should always assume another vehicle WILL be coming towards you on a bend or on the brow of a hill.

For car ferries between Orkney and Shetland and to Aberdeen, check this website-

Theres  a bridge to the Isle of Skye from the mainland or this company run a car ferry between April and October-

This company run car ferries between Oban on Scotlands West Coast and the Isles of Lewis, Skye, North Uist, Harris, Barra and South Uist.

Some road and travel distances from and within Scotland –
Glasgow to Edinburgh 80km – 1 hour
Edinburgh to Dundee 95km – 1 hr 15
Dundee to Aberdeen 112km, 1hr 20
Aberdeen to Fraserburgh 65km ,1hr
Aberdeen to Inverness – 170km, 2hr 30
Inverness to John o’Groats – 193km ,3hrs
Inverness to Fort Willam -105km, 1hr 30
Fort William to Glasgow – 173km, 2hr 20
Glasgow to Oban- 156km, 2hr 15
Glasgow to Stranraer – 138km, 1hr 45
Glasgow to Carlisle – 155km, 1hr 40
Edinburgh to Newcastle Upon Tyne -195km, 2hr 20

Scotland Car Rental –

Sixt, Hertz, Europcar, National, Alamo, Avis,Budget, Thrifty are all represented in the major towns and Cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Inverness, and Perth. Europcar and Avis have branches in Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands and Lerwick and Sumburgh in the Shetland Islands (though I was unable to book online for either location with Europcar when I tried). Hertz have branches in Fraserburgh and Livingston. Scotland is also included on car rental broker sites such as Argus Car Hire. It will also feature on the main web discount sites like or Expedia

This is a local company with branches throughout Scotland in some smaller towns which don’t have branches of the big companies such as Elgin, Stirling and Kirkcaldy.

Local companies in the Orkneys –

Local companies in the Shetlands-

On the Isle of Skye, Kyle Taxi company rent cars-

Local options in the Outer Hebrides, these companies are based on the Isle of Lewis

Scotland Self Drive Rules-

A photo ID from your own country should be adequate to drive for up to a year in Scotland though if not written in Roman alphabet, eg Chinese, Russian, it may be advisable to get an International Driving Permit. The big companies should allow cars to be taken on ferries to or from the Islands (Europcar definitely do) but you should advise them at the time of booking if you intend to do this. I believe the outlets on the Shetlands and Orkney Isles are franchises so I was unable to arrange one way rental when I tried. Local companies based on the Islands will have varying rules about where their cars can be taken – For instance in the Outer Hebrides, Lewis Car Rental don’t allow cars to be taken onto Skye, or Mainland Scotland, however driving on Uist and Barra is allowed. You should check terms when booking.


  1. Victor

    I am going to visit Scotland this summer but have got a huge problem. Most car rental companies have a policy that they do not hire cars to druver below the age of 21, and seeing as I am currently 20 years old this means trouble.
    Do you know any company that allows a 20-year-old driver to hire a car (I have had my Driver’s licence for more than two years, these rules sounds horribly age-discriminating)

    Sincerely, Victor

  2. Driver Abroad

    Hi Victor-

    Have you checked my page on car rental for under 21’s?

    There is a broker on there, Car rental scout who say they can arrange car rental for under 21s in Glasgow.

    Let me know how you get on and good luck!


  3. David

    Great article thanks. Can you explain the insurance situation? I’m from Canada and for rental cars here, they often try to offer you additional optional insurance that runs almost $30 a day. Certain credit cards, like my gold MasterCard, offer rental insurance so i can waive the $30 a day option.

    Also, what kind of deposit do they take on your credit card? I think i read on the Avis website that they want a £1900 deposit on your credit card, or you can pay some kind of insurance. Is this true?

  4. Driver Abroad

    It really depends on the company David. Most of the big companies will offer an excess waiver to reduce your liability but you can refuse that if you have your own cover. Just check that your Credit Card cover as acceptable to them. Regarding a deposit, most companies will just take a blank credit card authorisation or ‘block’ a certain amount which is really just a surety in case you don’t return the vehicle. The only amount that will be charged is any excess that you’ve previously agreed on the rental policy.


  5. Very good information about driving in Scotland, next summer I want to go to Scotland and your information was very useful to me. Thank you.

  6. Linda Wallace

    Is it possible for a great driver/no cognitive problems man of 80 t0 rent a car in Scotland. I’m much younger – he’s a much better driver. So, “I” could rent a car, since I’m under 70 – but, I don’t think I could drive on the left and handle the challenges of driving in another country. He’d be the better driver!

  7. Driver Abroad

    You’ll need to check with the rental company Linda- most say drivers have to be maximum 70 or 75 years old but you may be able to rent a car but pay an older driver supplement, particularly if he can demonstrate he has a clean licence. If you’re driving out of cities, driving on the ‘wrong side’ isnt too hard, particularly if you rent an automatic car so don’t need to worry about gears etc. Have a look at my page on driving abroad.

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