All tourists planning on driving a vehicle in Zambia can drive on their own country's licence for up to three months, so unless you're here long term, you won't need an international driver’s licence.
If you’re driving into Zambia in a rented or privately owned car or motorcycle, you will need a Carnet de Passage en Douane (CPD); if you don’t have one, a free Customs Importation Permit will be issued to you at major borders instead. You’ll also be charged a carbon tax if it’s a non-Zambian registered vehicle, which just means a bit more paperwork and around ZMW200 at the border, depending on the size of your car.
Compulsory third-party insurance for Zambia is available at major borders (or the nearest large towns). It is strongly advised to carry insurance from your own country on top of your Zambian policy.
While it is certainly possible to get around Zambia by car or motorbike, many sealed roads are in bad condition and the dirt roads can range from shocking to impassable, particularly after the rains. If you haven’t driven in Africa before, this is not the best place to start; particularly when you throw in a herd of angry elephants into the equation. We strongly recommend that you hire a 4WD if driving anywhere outside Lusaka, and certainly if you’re heading to any of the national parks or other wilderness areas. Wearing a seat belt in the front seat is compulsory.
Self-drivers should seriously consider purchasing the in-car GPS navigation system Tracks4Africa (www.tracks4africa.co.za), which even shows petrol stations.
The last few years have seen the conditions of Zambia's roads improve out of sight, with approximately 80% of the major roads tourists use being smooth, sealed tarmac. Though with that said when the roads are bad, they're horrendous and can involve slow, dusty crawls avoiding pot hole and after pot hole.
Diesel costs around ZMW11 per litre and petrol ZMW13. Distances between towns with filling stations are great and fuel is not always available, so fill the tank at every opportunity and carry a filled jerry can or two as back-up.
It is advisable to carry at least one spare wheel. If you need spare parts, the easiest (and cheapest) vehicle parts to find are those of Toyota and Nissan.
Cars can be hired from international and Zambian-owned companies in Lusaka, Livingstone, Kitwe and Ndola. You'll find all the usual chain hire companies at the airport.
Other companies, such as Voyagers, Benmark, Hemingways, 4x4 Hire Africa and Limo Car Hire rent out Toyota Hiluxes and old-school Land Rover vehicles, unequipped or fully decked out with everything you would need for a trip to the bush (including roof-top tents!); prices vary from US$120 to US$250 per day. The best thing about these companies is that vehicles come with unlimited kilometres and you can take them across borders; though read the fine print first.
Most companies insist that drivers are at least 25 years old and have held a licence for at least five years.