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Details on Czechoslovakia’s Car Rentals and Currency

Although I researched our trip to Prague as carefully as possible, I found that much of what I was told was out of date, or at least inconsistently enforced.

Car rentals: We drove to Czechoslovakia in a car rented from Kemwel (part of a package deal with our Icelandair plane fare, plus $63 car insurance for a week) in West Germany.

Some rental car companies do not allow their vehicles to be driven into Eastern Europe, so this should be checked in advance. We found the Czechoslovak roads good, well signed and the border formalities less complicated than legend said.

To take an automobile into Czechoslovakia we had been told by Czech travel officials that it would be necessary to have an international driver’s license, (obtainable for $10 through the Automobile Club of Southern California), a West European insurance card plus, of course, a massive collection of registration papers. Yet we were never asked for any of those documents, although we know of some travelers those who were required to show them on demand. So much for consistency.

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Currency: We had been advised that we would have to document the amount of currency of all countries that we were carrying and to show, when we left, how much we still had.

By law, Czech currency cannot be taken out of the country. In addition, we were warned, all cameras, radios and other electronic equipment would be carefully logged in and out as we crossed the Czechoslovakia borders.

When we entered we filled out a customs and currency form. But when we left, no one checked it. A smiling guard asked at the exit whether we had any Czechoslovak currency. I showed her a 100-koruna note (about $3). “Keep it as a souvenir,” she told me.

Apparently this has not been the experience of all travelers. Some have had Czechoslovak currency seized and traded for a form declaring they could regain the money only if they visited the country again within three years.

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So it’s probably still a good idea to convert only the cash you think you will need, and to spend all your Czech currency before you leave the country.

During the coming months the rules will undoubtedly be changing. Already, when we were there, the government had raised the amount of Czech currency exchange from 16 to 38 per U.S. dollar. This rate, however, was not available to us at the border, and the rate offered at Prague hotels was about 34 to the dollar.

Even at 34, it is still a wonderful exchange rate; subway and trolley fares amounted to a few pennies. Taxis are also cheap, though drivers may overcharge. Meals are very inexpensive. And Prague becomes one of Europe’s best travel bargains . . . and a beautiful bargain at that.


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