One of the most common questions I get from friends coming to Montenegro is – should I rent a car?
You can absolutely see a lot of the country by public transport (I’ve written all about how that works here), but to see the best of the national parks and to get away from the crowds, yes – you will need to rent a car.
However, there are a few things to be aware of first.
Driving Culture in Montenegro
Driving culture in Montenegro is probably different to what you’re used to.
Roads are narrow and winding and local driving can be erratic, tending to dangerous. It’s extremely common to see people on the phone or texting while driving (if you’re wondering why that car is front is doing 30kmh in a 60 zone and veering slightly out of their lane, that will be why).
Overtaking is also done in a highly optimistic fashion. On blind corners, in the passing lanes for the other side, or attempting to overtake three or four cars at once are all common. You’ll see a car coming in the opposite direction and in your lane heading for you — and it’s up to you to brake and give them the space to get back into their lane.
Likewise, if someone behind you is overtaking and they misjudged exactly how many cars they could overtake at once, give them space as they will try to duck back into the correct lane right in front of you.
If you get stuck behind a truck on a winding road, the driver will often try to help the column of traffic behind by indicating when it’s safe to pass. Right indicator on means it’s safe, left indicator on means there is oncoming traffic so keep waiting.
Many rural roads are one lane only. It’s safer to stick to the right instead of the middle of the road, even if the road seems empty. Mostly you’ll only meet a farmer in a Golf 2 coming the other way but occasionally you’ll get surprised by a youngster in a BMW going way too quickly so always be alert and checking what might coming around the next bend.
On these back roads, also watch out for herds of sheep or goats. It’s better to wait and let them pass, but if you’re impatient you can usually slowly nudge your way through without damage to you (or them).
Cows can also be a hazard in some rather unlikely places. In the winter, the main road between Budva and Petrovac, right above Sveti Stefan, is also the road home for a herd of cows.
Basically, always have your wits about you when driving in Montenegro as you never know what might be ahead. Cows, randomly parked cars, rockslides, pedestrians on their phones – it’s always an adventure.
The Roads in Montenegro
Major roads between cities are two lanes (one lane each way) with frequent third lanes for passing if it’s very steep. Minor roads are often one lane, but usually there is enough shoulder to pull over to let oncoming traffic to pass. All roads are paved and generally in decent condition unless you are really out in a rural area or it’s someone’s driveway.
If it’s your first time in the country you probably won’t encounter any of the really bad roads. (Caveat: there is one major exception: the road to Korita that is part of the scenic tourist drive, the Korita Ring. Approaching Korita the asphalt is very badly damaged – almost non-existent – and the potholes are metres wide. Don’t try it in a car with low suspension.)
In the winter, the mountain roads can get icy in spots or even be under snow. Roads in the north and even around known tourist regions like Žabljak can be cut off by snowfall for a day or two, or even the whole season in particularly isolated spots.
In the summer, traffic on the coast or at the borders can be horrendous (two hour plus traffic jams). Make sure you have water and plenty of time up your sleeve if you’re trying to make it to the airport.
There is one highway that runs between Podgorica and Mateševo (near Kolašin in the north of the country) and the toll is 3.50 euros. There is one other toll road that runs from Podgorica to the coast, and the fee is 2.50 euros. Cash payment is fine for both, you don’t need an electronic pass.
Google Maps mostly works for directions. It doesn’t always know the difference between an actual road and a hiking path for some more northern and isolated locations, but between towns it will be fine. Besides, if you get lost, there is almost always a helpful local around to tell you where to go.
Legal Things to Know
Montenegro drives on the right-hand side of the road.
Seatbelts are required.
It’s a legal requirement to have headlights on low at all times (even during the day).
Don’t drink and drive as the blood alcohol limit is very low (0.03%).
You don’t need an International Driving Permit if your licence is in English or written in the Latin alphabet.
In the winter, you will need special winter tires if you are driving outside the Podgorica region.
How to Rent a Car in Montenegro
There are some of the usual large companies in the country, like Europcar, Avis, and Sixt but there are also many smaller companies and even individuals renting cars to make some extra cash. A couple of times I’m pretty sure I’ve had grandma’s car for the week.
These smaller companies come with recommendations from my friends and other expats…
PS Rent a Car (Herceg Novi)
Automatics are rare (as is typical in Europe) so you’ll be better off if you can drive a manual. You don’t need a big SUV or 4WD here, in fact a small hatchback will be way easier to drive and to park.
Finally, don’t assume you can just cross the border to Bosnia or Albania with your rental car – make sure you tell your agency your plans so they can organise the correct papers and insurance for you.
Drive safe, and enjoy your trip!