Driving in Another Country: What Do You Need?
An International Driving Permit, or IDP, is a special document that allows licensed motorists to drive in other countries without further tests or applications. It is sometimes referred to as an “International Driver’s License” or “International Driving Document.” An IDP acts as proof that the holder possesses a valid driver’s license, issued by a competent authority, in his or her country of residence. Imagine a police officer in Finland or Uganda. It would be impossible for them to assess the validity of a regular license issued in Vermont or Alberta. An IDP lets them know in an instant that the license you carry is a legal one. An IDP also translates a driver’s license identification information into 10 languages. As such, is a helpful document even if you are not planning on driving.
Which Countries Require an International Driving Permit?
The IDP is valid in all countries that have signed the 1949 Convention on Road Traffic and is recognized in many countries that are not signatories to the Convention. You may be required to have a valid IDP to drive in some countries and some foreign car rental agencies may require you to have one to rent a car.
Although most countries require it, there are some that do not. For example, if you have a valid US driver’s license or a valid license that is written in English, you do not need an IDP in the following countries:
- United Kingdom
- South Africa
In addition, if you have a European license, you can drive in most EU countries without the need for an additional permit.
Note that an IDP is not a substitution for a local license in your home country. In other words, should your traditional license be up for renewal in May, you cannot get away with using only an IDP in June. You will have to renew your local license on time!
How Do I Apply for an IDP?
Overall, it is easy to apply for an IDP. You need to visit your authorized dealer and bring a copy of your driver’s license (front and back). Most places can also make photocopies for you on-site. You also need two passport-style photos, which you must sign on the back. The majority of authorized IDP vendors are automobile associations, which can issue passport photos for you as part of their services. Finally, you have to fill out the short application form.
In some cases, you can also send in your application by mail. If you do so, it generally takes less than a week to process the application and mail the new permit. If you apply in person, you only have to wait 30 minutes or so depending on how busy the location is.
How Do I Get Approval to Drive in a Foreign Country?
Only certain organizations are authorized to sell the International Driving Permit. In most countries, the authorized seller is the national automobile association. In the United States that would be AAA and in Canada it is CAA. You do not have to be a member of the automobile association to apply for an IDP.
Note that you must be at least 18 years old to apply and you must have a full driver’s license, not a learner’s permit.
How Much Does a Foreign Driving Permit Cost?
Remarkably, this is one kind of travel documentation that is affordable! Fees are set in each country but they usually start around $20.
How Long is the IDP Valid?
IDPs are good for one year or until your regular driver’s license expires, whichever comes first.
International Driver’s License Scams – Beware of Fake Operators
Tricksters take advantage of how people often use the phrase “international driver’s license” when they really mean “international driving permit”. As such, they will sell an “international driver’s license” – but it is actually a useless document that has no legal standing or international recognition. And chances are it will cost a lot more than the modest fee of the authentic international driving permit. It pays to be on alert!
Individuals or companies not authorized to issue IDPs sell fakes on websites, through unsolicited email, and in-person for prices ranging from $60 to $400. If you buy a fake IDP, not only will you be paying for a worthless document, but you also could face legal problems or travel delays if you’re detained for using it to drive in a foreign country. (Source FTC)
What if My IDP Expires While Abroad?
In most cases, yes, provided that your home driver’s license is still valid. However, you would have to cover the cost of the automobile association mailing your new document to you. If you no longer have a valid driver’s license from home, you would have to apply for an IDP locally, using your new local license.
Why Do You Need One?
Some countries require tourists to have an IDP to rent a vehicle or drive in their country. Check the driving rules and regulations in the country you plan on visiting and verify requirements with the rental company before you leave to determine if you need an IDP.
Remember, traveling with an IDP is not a substitution for your regular driver’s license. You still need to bring that along!
Penalties For Not Having an IDP
If you are in one of those countries which require an IDP and you do not have one, penalties can range from a fine to a citation if you are pulled over. If you are driving in Japan, the penalties are especially severe and can extend to arrest and deportation.
How Often Will I Need To Show It?
As most frequent travelers will attest, you will rarely if ever will be asked to show your IDP. Even countries that require it from foreign drivers might not ask to see it at the car rental counter. However, given the ease and low cost of obtaining one, many travelers like to carry one just because it includes multilingual translations of their key identifying information.
Rules Of The Road in a Foreign Country
An IDP does not make you exempt from the rules of the road in your new country. Nor does it mean that you will only be held to the driving rules and standards of your home country. You are in another country and it is their rules which rule the roost. It is up to you to prepare for driving there, including learning about speed limits, alcohol tolerance, interpreting road signs, and more.
Final Word: How Can You Tell If You REALLY Need An IDP?
At the end of the day, how can you know if you absolutely need an IDP before you rent a car, motorcycle, or scooter? Unfortunately, requirements for using IDPs are poorly publicized. Back in 2012, the state of Florida passed a law requiring all foreign drivers to have an IDP. Unfortunately, the new rule was not communicated well – and Canadian snowbirds were caught unaware. Such was the uproar that Florida repelled the law within two months. And it is not just in Florida that there is confusion. Travel blogs are filled with stories about travelers who have been denied renting a car or scooter when they are overseas.
While you are planning your trip, search for phrases like “How To Rent A Scooter In <Country> ” or “Documents Needed For Car Rentals In <Country> ”. When making online reservations, ask rental companies if they require an IDP. Clarify whether their response indicates a legal requirement or just a strong recommendation. And, when in doubt, add an IDP to your travel packing list. It is an affordable, accessible document that can make your travel life easier – and in some cases, help to save your trip.