Last updated on January 29, 2024 by Stefano Ferro, founder of MEL365, travelling and renting cars In Spain

Spain Car Hire Without a Credit Card > How Can You Do It

It can be tricky to hire a car in Spain without a credit card, however, there are car rentals that accept debit cards. But is it a good idea? And how does it work?

In this article, you will discover all you need to know to secure a vehicle without needing a credit card and a convenient workaround I have been using for the last two years to minimize bank fees.

But let’s jump into the details.

Taking photos and videos at pickup and drop off time
Taking photos and videos at pickup and drop-off time

Spain Car Hire Without a Credit Card – Key Points

These are a few quick points on the different forms of payment, something to know before entering into the juicy stuff.

Payment OptionProsCons
Credit CardUniversally accepted, easy to use, potential for extra insurance, no deposit requiredRequires a solid credit history, high interest rates possible if not paid in full
Debit CardImmediate fund access, no interest chargesInfrequent acceptance, may require a significant deposit, can impact travel budget, and limited insurance coverage
Prepaid CardUseful as an alternative if traditional credit or debit cards aren’t available, provides a number for reservationsVery limited acceptance, typically high fees, slow and complex refund processes
CashHandy for those without cardsRarely accepted by rental agencies, exhaustive approval process, substantial deposit, limited options

Based on my experience, pre-paid cards and cash are almost never accepted.

The Necessity of a Credit Card for Car Rentals

When hiring a car in Spain you’ll quickly notice a common requirement across most suppliers – the need for a valid credit card. This condition is often non-negotiable, and it can be a huge disappointment during the car hire process.

In fact, one of the most misleading things is that you may be able to book online a car with a debit card, however, you will be required a credit card at the pick-up desk. As frustrating as that!

So, why do most car rental companies don’t offer debit cards. The primary reason is security. Credit cards provide a safety net for suppliers against several uncertainties.

In cases of damages to the vehicle or theft, the company can easily place a hold or charge the requisite amount from it. This process is more straightforward and less risky compared to dealing with cash or debit cards.

Driving through a Spanish village at siesta time
Driving through a Spanish village at siesta time

Another critical role is in handling security deposits. Upon renting a car, the company blocks a certain amount of money as a rental bond.

This amount varies depending on the car type, the rental duration and your insurance choice and is meant to cover potential damages or additional charges incurred during the rental period. Once the car is returned in its initial condition, the deposit amount is released.

It must be said that, for your benefit, credit cards sometimes come with complementary rental car insurance, providing additional coverage for collision damage.

This can be a significant advantage, potentially saving you from purchasing additional insurance from the supplier, though it’s always advised to check the specifics of your card’s insurance coverage. Sadly, most of the time these insurances still leave a big deductible (500 Euros or more).

In true honesty, renting a car without relying on a credit card is not going to be easy, but it can be done. Some car hire companies accept other forms of payment, albeit with stricter conditions, possibly higher deposits and hiring costs.

I was also in this position after the pandemic, when my scoring was awful following 2 years of poor income and I found another possibility that I will explain later.

Driving south from Madrid
Driving south from Madrid

How to Hire a Car in Spain Without a Credit Card

I recently hired a car in Malaga without a credit card. It has been a bit of a challenge, but with the right approach, it’s definitely achievable.

For some reason, my credit card stopped working (I will investigate that once back home) and I have been left without as many possibilities if not using my debit card. I thought that it was over for my Spanish road trip but I eventually made it.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to book your car without a debit card (by the way, cash was never an option with any of the rental cars I checked)

Driving through the east coast of Spain
Driving through the east coast of Spain

Research Rental Companies

Start by identifying the car hire suppliers that accept alternative payment methods like debit cards. Websites often list their accepted payment options, or you can contact them directly for clarification.

I usually rent my cars through a rental aggregator called DiscoverCars. I like the interface and they have very competitive prices besides a great range of available cars. They work in a similar way to Airbnb, which means they collect the actual renters’ feedback to rank the rental companies with a 10-star rating scale.

Another thing I really love is the possibility of filtering and sorting the results. I started using this filtering possibility to look up the rare providers accepting debit cards at the pick-up desk. Other aggregators may have this facility but just to give you an example, this is what you would have on DiscoverCars.

Payment card at pick-up

In the above example, if you tick on Debit Cards, you would have all the providers that accept that type of card for the security deposit.

Choose Your Car

Once you’ve filtered the rentals accepting debit cards, select the car that meets your needs.

Make the usual considerations like the size of the vehicle, fuel efficiency, and rental cost.

Understand the type of insurance that you want when hiring in car in Spain. This is an important step. Personally, I go for full insurance which on DiscoverCars goes for only 8 Euro/day, a real peace of mind deal.

Consider as well that age plays a role when renting a car in Spain. If you are younger than 23, sometimes even 25, you may have to leave a bigger deposit. Some companies do not rent to under 21 or over 70 years old.

Lastly, you may need an International Driving Permit (IDP) in Spain if you do not have a European or UK Driving License. I suggest checking out my extensive post on how to get an IDP for Italy. It’s exactly the same process for all of Europe.

Check rental terms and Payment Policies

Before booking, thoroughly review the company’s payment policy. Understand the conditions associated with using a debit card and how it works with the security deposit.

If you use DiscoverCars you will find this information in the “Rental Conditions” under the provider’s name.

Once you click on the Rental Conditions, you will have all you need to take a decision in clear letters.

Let’s check a couple of examples:

Payment Policy example when renting a car in Spai

In the above case, the provider accepts debit cards and even cash, although you need a credit card for the deposit if you pay cash, which defeats the purpose.

Make sure to verify the Security Deposit section to avoid falling into the same problem that they will require a credit card at the pickup time. Here is an example.

Debit cards are accepted for the security deposit, they have to be, however, under the driver’s name.

In this other case, they accept debits however they need you to book and pay with the same card.

In the past, I had an occasion where the supplier required me to have full insurance if not paying by credit and they could luckily offer me full insurance on the spot for just 35 Euro/day.

The full insurance typically covers the deductible for the CDW (Collision Damage Waiver). For example, in the case below it covers A$1,800 (I am currently in Australia and I get all prices in Australian dollars).

Since then, I decided to acquire full insurance directly on DiscoverCars for just 8 Euro/day. Besides saving me on one occasion (I had a 3,000 Euro damage), it gives me so much peace of mind.

Book the Car

Reserve your car online, this is usually where you can get the best prices.

Prepare for Higher Deposits

Be prepared for possibly higher deposits when using a debit card.

I know, this is very annoying, but I do understand also the car suppliers that need to limit any possible trouble.

Ensure your account has sufficient funds to cover this. And of course, make sure you will have enough money after these funds are taken from your card for your actual holiday.

The deposit is always stated in the Rental Conditions, however, in case of any doubt, you can always book the car and contact the company and in case of anything fishy or unanswered questions, you can always cancel the booking which is typically free of charge till a few days before the rental start.

Just a tip here. There are plenty of providers in Spain, but be aware that the closer you get to the holiday the harder and more expensive it will be, especially if travelling in peak season.

40 kmh speed limit in the winding roads of central Spain
40 kmh speed limit in the winding roads of central Spain

Preparing Necessary Documentation when booking a car

When looking to hire a car without a credit card in Spain, preparing the necessary documentation in advance is crucial. Here’s what you typically need:

  • Valid Driving License: Ensure your driving license is valid and recognized in Spain. If it’s not European or British, an International Driving Permit may be required in Spain.
  • Identification: A valid passport or national ID card is necessary for identity verification.
  • Proof of Address: Some companies may require proof of address, such as a utility bill or bank statement. It is usually on the driver’s license, which is enough.
  • Debit Card Details: The debit card used for booking should have the name of the main driver on it. It’s also essential to ensure that it’s accepted by the rental company. Visa or Mastercard are typically accepted. American Express is a bit of a hit-and-miss.
  • Travel Itinerary: You may need to present your return travel tickets or itinerary, especially if you’re not a resident of Spain.

To ensure your documents are accepted, check the rental company’s specific requirements beforehand. It’s always a good idea to carry extra identification and have digital copies of your documents readily available.

This preparation will help avoid any issues at the rental desk and facilitate a smoother car rental process.

Streets of La Goleta in Malaga
Streets of La Goleta in Malaga – I loved the painted roundabout

Car hire with a debit card and a cheap credit card

From my experience, it can be quite a hassle if you don’t have a credit card. It often turns out to be an expensive and time-consuming affair.

Let me be honest with you, I usually tend to steer clear of credit accounts during my travels. My reasons are straightforward:

  • Yearly Fees: I prefer using a debit card to avoid annual charges that come with a credit one.
  • Exchange Rates: Credit accountss often apply an unfavourable exchange rate for every transaction (known as the International Transaction Fee).
  • ATM Withdrawal Fees: Retrieving cash using a credit plastic incurs a higher fee (International Cash Advance Fee).
  • Risk of Fraud: There’s always a danger of a card getting cloned, and you might not realize it until it’s too late.

The fees associated with credit cards, especially when they pile up over various travel expenses like accommodations, local transport, flights, etc., used to cost me a significant amount every year. That was until I revamped my travel finance strategy.

I’ve now switched to a bank account with Wise and a cost-effective credit card without annual fees, which I reserve exclusively for my car rentals. For all other expenses, I rely on my Wise debit card.

The highlight of using Wise is its use of the Google exchange rate, arguably the most competitive rate available. Traditional banks typically tack on a 3% surcharge over this rate, sometimes with additional transaction fees.

Moreover, Wise also allows me to withdraw up to $200 per month from ATMs without any fees (a nominal charge applies thereafter).

This shift to Wise has enabled me to save substantially on every trip. Moreover, I receive instant notifications for all transactions, keeping me updated on any unauthorized use of my card.

For those interested, at the moment Wise is offering a fee-free transfer of up to £500 for new sign-ups through this link (which benefits me too, at no extra cost to you).

In addition, I use a local cheap credit plastic from Australia, linked to my Wise account for payments. For those in the UK and USA, there are similar options worth exploring.

CountryCard NameProsCons
AustraliaColes No Annual Fee Mastercard1. No annual fee. 2. Earn flybuys points on everyday purchases. 3. Up to 55 days interest-free on purchases.1. High interest rate of 19.99% p.a. 2. Cash advance rate of 19.99% p.a.
USAChase Credit Card1. Wide range of cards to choose from. 2. Many cards offer rewards, cash back, or travel benefits.1. Specific benefits and terms depend on the particular card chosen. 2. Some cards may have annual fees.
UKRBS Longer Balance Transfer Card1. 0% interest for 30 months on balance transfers. 2. 0% interest for the first 3 months on purchases. 3. No annual fee.1. 2.99% balance transfer fee applies. 2. Balances must be transferred within 3 months of account opening. 3. Representative 23.9% APR (variable).
UKNatWest Longer Balance Transfer Card1. 0% interest for 30 months on balance transfers. 2. 0% interest for the first 3 months on purchases. 3. No annual fee.1. 2.99% balance transfer fee applies. 2. Balances must be transferred within 3 months of account opening. 3. Representative 23.9% APR (variable).
No annual fee cards that work great to hire a vehicle in Costa Rica

My choice is to Coles No Annual Fee Mastercard which is ideal for car rentals, particularly for the security deposit, while the actual payment is more economical with my Wise Debit Card due to better exchange rates, although sometimes the hiring companies want the same card for both deposit and payment.

The drawback of these cheap credit cards is that they charge a harm and a leg on interest rates and that’s why I prefer using my wise account whenever possible.

Please note: I’m not affiliated with these cards or banks. While some of them come with high-interest rates not ideal for everyday use, they are suitable for specific purposes like car rental security deposits where they block your money but no charge is applied, unless you have car damage of course.

Great beach in Barbate close to Vieja
Great beach in Barbate, one of the southernmost villages in Spain

Final Thoughts and Recommendations

Car hire without credit card in Spain certainly presents its challenges, yet it’s far from being an insurmountable task.

Viable solutions do exist. Opting for debit cards stands out as the most straightforward alternative, though it often comes with the need for a larger deposit, along with the potential requirement for more comprehensive or even full insurance coverage.

Having a cheap credit plastic helps to bypass these hassles, however, pay attention to the high interest rates that usually come with it.

Please note that I am not a financial consultant and all I have written is purely based on my experience. This is how I organise myself when travelling.

Stefano Ferro - MEL365.com Founder and Editor

About the Author

Stefano is a seasoned travel expert and the visionary founder of MEL365.com, a leading travel website with traffic across 6 continents. With a rich background in the travel industry, Stefano spent four pivotal years at Amadeus Travel Distribution System, gaining invaluable insights into travel technologies and distribution.

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