Driving Abroad: Do you always need an IDP?

If you travel internationally, it is most likely that you will be renting cars in other countries, and your original driving license may be a little problem. This is why you need to make sure to get an International Driving Permit before you leave. This is just a small paper booklet that identifies your driving license in more than 150 countries. 

It translates into multiple languages, and will always speak for you if you get in contact with authorities. However, you need to remember that this paper is not a driver’s license. Carry the permit along with your regular license, just in case. 

What Countries Require an IDP?

As already mentioned above, it is usually a good idea to get this permit wherever you’re going. You can check the list of countries to see which exact permit you need since some countries in South America will require you to get a different one. Still, you can always consult with authorities in your home country about the type of IDP you’re required to have. 

There are a few European countries that don’t require the IDP – England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. This, of course, goes for U.S. citizens. However, other popular destinations such as Spain, Germany, France, and Italy make it obligatory to have an IDP along with your driver’s license. 

Even if you’re visiting Mediterranean countries, you will be required to have a permit. For example, if you’re planning a Euro trip and you plan to rent a car in London and go visit Athens, you will need to get an international drivers license for Greece. The same goes for other countries outside the UK. 

When it comes to countries in South America, you may be better off with the Inter-American Driving Permit. Interestingly, some countries in South America accept this, a way less common form of permit, but there is a good reason for this. Some big countries like Uruguay and Brazil weren’t included in a contract in 1949 when countries were signing Geneva Convention on Road Travel. 

For destinations across Asia such as Laos, Malaysia, South Korea, Thailand, and Japan, it is generally recommended to get an IDP. However, similarly to South America, China never signed onto the Geneva Convention on Road Travel. Unfortunately, this means that you won’t be able to rent a car with your original driving license in China without getting their driver’s license first. 

How to Obtain an IDP?

The good news is that IDPs are fairly easy to get as long as you have your original driver’s license. Two main automotive groups authorize delivery of these permits in the U.S.: the American Automobile Touring Alliance and the Automobile Association of America. This passport-like document identifies that you’re meeting the requirements that were set at the Convention on Road Traffic to car rental agencies and foreign traffic authorities. 

More importantly, the document is translated into nine different languages: German, Swedish, Spanish, Italian, French, Chinese, Russian, Arabic, and of course, English. Additionally, this document can also serve you as an official form of photo ID if you ever get in a situation where you need one. 

All you have to do is to submit an application to the AATA or AAA. You could also stop by one of their offices and get the document. The whole process usually doesn’t take more than 10 minutes, so you will be good to go really fast. 

If you find yourself in a situation without a permit in a foreign country, you can apply for it online, too. Both agencies can process your application through mail, but you have to keep in mind that this process can take up to 6 weeks. 

Important Requirements

Luckily, it won’t cost you too much to get your IDP. The fee costs only about $20, and you will also need to get a passport-size photo when applying. The good thing is also that you don’t have to take any written or driving skills test before you apply for the IDP. 

Whether you get an IDP or IADP, they will be valid for one year. After that, you will need to reapply for the permit if you haven’t gotten a foreign driver’s license by that time. Additionally, to be able to apply for the permit, you need to hold a valid driver’s license issued by a state and you have to be at least 18 years of age at the moment of applying. 

Additionally, you won’t be able to apply for the permit if your driving license is going to expire within the next six months. If this is the case, you will need to apply for renewal of the driving license, and only then will you be able to apply for the International Driving Permit.