Friday, September 01, 2017

Driving in Hokkaido - Renting a Car with "Budget Rent A Car": Collect from New Chitose and Return at Sapporo @ Japan

My first time driving in a foreign country resulted in a car accident and that should have put me off from taking the wheel again when i am overseas but it sure didn't as i embarked on another self-driving journey in my recent visit to Hokkaido

It just made better sense to rent a car for the following reasons; i learnt an invaluable experience through the car accident and would definitely be more careful, i had Alex who also applied for the international driving permit and our itinerary required us to traverse across long distances that would be extremely time-consuming using public transportation. 

I was deliberating if i should cover the same three steps that i shared in "Renting a Car in Jeju Island - Experience with KT Kumho @ Korea" although it does make better sense to repeat as it had been a few years. 

Step 1 - Preparation
Apply for the international driving permit (IDP) which is required for all foreigners driving in Japan! In Singapore, the approved authority is the Automobile Association of Singapore and the rate is S$25, valid for a year. 

You don't have to purposely bring along a passport-sized photo as they could take instant photo of you using their tablet. Check out the details here. Please note that you are required to bring along your driving license, the IDP and the passport when you collect your car in the land of the rising star. 

Next up which would reserving your car via the numerous car rental companies! Rental rates differ from company to company with various promotions! I didn't want to think too much and follow whatever Alex's friend suggested which was Budget Rent A Car; love the name by the way as i am on a budget. 

Another headache appeared - which car to choose!? I always like to drive a smaller vehicle (ease of maneuverability) but even then, i was stuck between standard car and eco car. You know what really matters? The rental price of course!

Remember, the actual brand / model would not be given until on the day of the collection! Nevertheless, i am more concerned on the provision of a navigation system (it comes in English too)! The ETC onboard device is like Singapore's In-Vehicle Unit (IU) for ERP and EPS charges and would be necessary when you travel on the highways in Hokkaido

Choose the extras (ETC card which is free, stroller which is chargeable etc), add the type of insurance (i will definitely go for the more comprehensive one after what happened in Jeju), fill in your details and confirm the reservation! Print a copy of the confirmation email and bring it along with you to Japan. 

Step 2 - Arrival
At New Chitose Airport, don't dilly dally as the rental company would only keep your reservation for an hour more than what you indicated when you booked. To take the shuttle to the car rental company, go one floor below and "check in" with the information counter (above).

The counter staff would run your name across her list and pass you an A4-sized laminated with the name of the car rental company. We didn't have to wait too long before the driver of the shuttle came in and brought us to the shuttle van. 

Step 3 - Collection
Less than 10 minutes passed before we arrived at the building which housed three different car rental companies; Budget Rent A Car, Times Car Rental and OTS Rent A Car.

Process of collection was long as there was so much to go through (including safety instructions) and i was given more options; one of which was the option to pay a lump sum for highway toll fees. 

A file filled with details (contact information in case of accident etc) was eventually passed to us as reference, if need be. There's even one informing you which nozzle to look out for to pump petrol!

The lady was most helpful (pretty too) and i pitied the staff member manning the next counter as a Malaysian / Singaporean family was unabashedly asking for discounts and complaining loudly about the rental rate. To be honest, utterly embarrassing! Anyway, you can request for umbrellas at no extra charge.

Car assigned to us - Nissan Note! Love hatchbacks although we originally wanted to request for a vibrant color for ease of identification; frankly, we were open to bright neon pink! 

Proceeding with the car inspection as there's a need to ensure things are working and existing scratches / damages were accurately indicated on the sheet that you would eventually sign off. 

You know what's more important than the navigation system?! It's the provision of the USB port which means i can charge my phone on the go!

The promotion i signed up for included a free WiFi router; i actually preferred the roaming via Starhub's Data Travel plan at S$20 for 3 GB as the network seemed faster with the option to switch telcom and i didn't have to worry of a lower speed once i reached the data limit. 

Step 4 - Driving
I am expanding beyond the three steps for my car rental posting for Jeju Island as i thought it would be helpful to share the driving in Hokkaido and the return of the vehicle at the end. 

Navigation device was pretty easy to use although the wordings still appeared generally in Japanese. It's helpful to get the phone number of your destinations and in cases where it's not available and it's hard to key in the address, i relied heavily on my phone using the google map that i plotted before the trip.

As mentioned in my Hokkaido itinerary, since Alex was fully aware of my Jeju car accident, he insisted that long-distance driving would be under him. Fine, i didn't complain much as this means i can take photos while he drives. 

Driving along the highway was pretty straightforward but i am glad Alex decided to take it up as it can be dull with only pockets of interesting view. 

Similar to the lanes at toll stations in Malaysia, there could be lanes reserved purely for cars with ETC devices; you are required to slow up before the gantry so that the toll fees are automatically deducted before the gantry is raised. 

Roads in rural, non-mountainous areas like Furano can be insanely straight and it seemed as if the road would never end! As with any driving, keep your eyes on the road and take a rest if you are tired. 

Frankly, the driving was relaxing until we arrived in Sapporo; too many cars and way too many traffic lights! However, Japanese drivers were generally nice and would allow us to filter in despite the late notification.

Step 5 - Returning
I think it's a common practice for you to fill up the tank before you return the rental car and the cheerful lady who helped us when we collected the car had a printed map pointing out a few petrol stations near the "return outlet"! 

Original receipt had to be kept as proof for date and time and location of petrol station. In our almost five days of use, we paid 6,513 Japanese yen (about S$80) which i thought wasn't too bad.

Returning the car at Budget Rent A Car's Sapporo North Station outlet; co-located with the APA Hotel and within walking distance from the main Sapporo station. I would have loved to rent the car longer but it doesn't make economical sense as Sapporo is well served with subways and parking in the state capital is expensive! 

Waiting for the staff to inspect the car for post-rental anomalies like extra scratches on the chassis, damages to the leather seats etc. We were obviously given the clearance even though the car was honestly quite dirty after a few days of use. 

Experiencing the same emotion that overwhelmed me when i sent my trusty Toyato Vios to the scrapyard. And i really, really enjoy driving! 



  1. Thanks for this amazing Car rental service and for providing very detailed information.

  2. Hi Cavin, I will be taking the same route as you for my self driving Hokkaido trip this summer! May I know if it is cheaper to get the Hokkaido Expressway Pass or just pay as you go for the toll fee?

    1. Hello! I didn't calculate the pricing for each toll as i find it too much of a hassle and i have the tendency to go off route.... add on the language barrier and i thought it is better to save time and inconvenience by buying the expressway pass instead. Enjoy Hokkaido! :)

  3. Hi Cavin, is ETC device similar to the Smart Tag in Malaysia?

    1. Hello! Sorry that this came so late as no notification was sent to me. Anyway, it's somewhat different from smart tag as i recall you have to scan the card for smart tag?

  4. Thanks u for a nice info

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