You asked: Do I have to pay an international parking ticket?

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Can a traffic fine from a vacation abroad follow you home? By The Way Concierge investigates.

Traveling has always come with complications. Our By The Way Concierge column will take your travel dilemmas to the experts to help you navigate the unexpected. Want to see your question answered? Submit it here.

This fall, I got a parking ticket in Italy and never paid it. The rental car company recently emailed us the bill for $30. Do I have to pay? — Anonymous

Traveling in a foreign country can feel like playing make believe; even the currency can feel like a prop (see: plastic bills in Canada, giant coins in South Africa). Even if vacation doesn’t feel like real life, “laws are laws, and so often as Americans we don’t take them as seriously as we should when we’re outside of our country,” said John Rose, chief risk and security officer at the travel management company Altour.

When it comes to getting a ticket, “it isn’t a joke, and it doesn’t matter the country you’re in,” he said.

Even though some countries might let the ticket go, paying is the right thing to do (we don’t want to perpetuate the “ugly American” archetype). The issue can also snowball if you ignore it.

“Risks for not paying a traffic ticket can vary from increased fines to further legal actions or impact future visits to the country and your credit score,” Jorian J. Goes, founder and president of Ticket Snipers, a company that helps drivers dismiss traffic citations in California, said in an email.

Here are a few takeaways from my interviews with experts.

The ticket can follow you home

Presumably when you rented the car, you gave them identifying information like your driver’s license, passport details and credit card number. The powers that be can easily send you a ticket long after your vacation. “Everything is still tied back to you,” Rose said.

Certain countries have reciprocal driver’s license agreements with the U.S., meaning if you get a moving violation on their turf, “not paying your tickets can get you in legal trouble,” Rose said.

Goes says the specific ramifications of the citation will depend on the country where you got the ticket.

You can rack up late fees

It could take months to discover you have an outstanding ticket in another country. The Italian government, for example, may send you a bill up to 360 days from the date of your violation. Depending on the country, you may have a few weeks or months to settle your debt. Miss their deadline to pay, and fees can skyrocket.

Diana Hechler, president of the travel concierge company D. Tours Travel, had a friend visiting Italy get hit with a $75 traffic violation. Unfortunately, he didn’t learn about the ticket until it had racked up late fees, bringing the bill to $500.

Rose say that’s standard. “If you don’t pay it, it’s going to compound penalties just like an unpaid ticket in the U.S.,” he said.

It could even lead to additional penalties being imposed, or the issuance of a warrant for the driver’s arrest, Goes said.

The rental car company may charge your card

Some people get notified of their international traffic violations by mail. Others just discover a charge on their credit card from their rental car company covering the cost of the ticket, plus an administrative fee.

Sometimes a rental car company may charge you after you’ve already paid directly to the foreign authorities, says Avery Harris, a leisure travel adviser at Viking Travel. Keep a record of any tickets you’ve paid just in case.

Unpaid tickets may keep you from renting a car

Harris says his company has had clients who’ve showed up to rental car agencies in Europe only to get declined at the counter for outstanding bills.

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Whether it’s a speeding ticket, parking fine or unpaid damage to a rental car, “if the rental car company ends up having to foot that bill, they will put you on a list and say, ‘This person can never rent a car,’” Harris said.

You could be stopped from entering the country

Maybe you got a ticket somewhere you’re pretty sure you’ll never visit again. Rose says that’s not a good reason to dismiss a fine. “You ignore that ticket in Italy and four years later, you go back not even remembering and all of a sudden you you’re at the airport with outstanding fines in the country.”

Rose says you could be on the hook for paying thousands of dollars or risk being turned away at the border.

Goes agreed. “Some countries may refuse entry or impose restrictions for outstanding traffic tickets or legal issues,” he said. “This could result in difficulties traveling to or through the country where the offense occurred, as well as potential issues when returning to your home country.”

It could also mean you could have your driving privileges in that country suspended or revoked, Goes added.

Collections agencies may take over

On a trip to Italy two years ago, Debra Loew, a spokesperson for the travel agency consortium Navigatr, and her husband made a couple wrong turns in Rome and ended up a little too close to the Spanish Steps. The mistake was caught on camera, and the couple was sent a ticket.

The website to pay the fine was in Italian and very confusing; they tried getting advice from their rental car company but came up short. In the meantime, “you keep getting the tickets until you pay them,” Loew said.

While it wasn’t clear how to pay, the penalty for not paying was. “We were told it could get sent to a collections company in the United States,” Loew said.

According to the U.S. Embassy in Italy website, Italian authorities usually outsource the debt collecting for violations committed by overseas visitors. That can happen in other countries, too, Goes said. The process could negatively impact your credit report.

Exceptions when you might not have to pay

While you should pay most of the time, Goes has a few exceptions to the rule:

  • You spot an error or inaccuracy on the ticket, such as the wrong vehicle information or incorrect date. You may then want to contest the ticket. “You have your legal rights and there are international travel lawyers who can help with this,” he said.
  • You have diplomatic immunity or a similar special designation and are exempt from paying traffic tickets abroad. “This typically applies to diplomats, consular staff, and other individuals with diplomatic status,” he said.
  • The ticket’s statute of limitations has passed. “In some cases, there may be a statute of limitations on traffic violations, meaning that after a certain period of time has passed, the ticket can no longer be enforced,” Goes said.

No matter the case, contact the appropriate authorities to see if you’re in the clear. “Ignoring a valid ticket will not make it go away,” Goes said.

More travel tips

Vacation planning: Start with a strategy to maximize days off by taking PTO around holidays. Experts recommend taking multiple short trips for peak happiness. Want to take an ambitious trip? Here are 12 destinations to try this year — without crowds.

Cheap flights: Follow our best advice for scoring low airfare, including setting flight price alerts and subscribing to deal newsletters. If you’re set on an expensive getaway, here’s a plan to save up without straining your credit limit.

Airport chaos: We’ve got advice for every scenario, from canceled flights to lost luggage. Stuck at the rental car counter? These tips can speed up the process. And following these 52 rules of flying should make the experience better for everyone.

Expert advice: Our By The Way Concierge solves readers’ dilemmas, including whether it’s okay to ditch a partner at security, or what happens if you get caught flying with weed. Submit your question here. Or you could look to the gurus: Lonely Planet and Rick Steves.

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