How to get an International Driver’s Permit

Feb 9, 2020

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Meeting the requirements for travel documents and holding the necessary permits are an important part of becoming a savvy world traveler. If you’re planning on driving a car in a foreign country, you may need to get an International Driver’s Permit. Without it, you could well have to depend on public transportation, private car services or ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft.

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What is an International Driver’s Permit?

At its simplest, an International Driver’s Permit translates your English-language driver’s license into 10 other languages (Arabic, Chinese, French, Germany, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Swedish).

It verifies that you have a valid driver’s license that was issued where you live. For those from the United States, that means a driver’s license issued by a state or U.S. territory.

When you drive a car overseas, you carry the IDP — which includes your name, driving details and photo — along with your valid driver’s license.

The IDP is accepted in more than 150 United Nations member countries worldwide and it’s viewed as a valid form of identification in 175+ countries. Whether you’re traveling to Albania or Vietnam, the IDP likely has you covered.

Is an IDP required to drive in foreign countries?

Not necessarily. Not every country requires an International Driver’s Permit but many do. In Europe, for example, countries like Austria, Germany, Hungary, Italy and Spain require the IDP.

How to get the International Driver’s Permit

The U.S. Department of State has authorized two organizations in the U.S. to issue an IDP: the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA).

You don’t need to be a U.S. citizen but you do need to be a permanent resident of a U.S. state or territory and have a driver’s license issued by that entity. You must be 18 or older and have had your driver’s license for at least six months. Your license must also be valid for at least six months after the issuance date of your IDP. You cannot apply for an International Driver’s Permit if your license has been suspended or revoked.

Download the AAA IDP application. (Warning: PDF link.)

Download the AATA application.

The application process includes filling out a form and submitting it — in person or via mail — along with two identical two-inch by two-inch, color, passport-style photos, along with a signed copy of the front and back of your driver’s license and an application fee. (It’s $20 per person — plus any applicable shipping costs — in the case of AAA and AATA applications.)

Canadian residents can apply for the IDP via the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA). Download the CAA application. (Warning: PDF link.)

An International Driver’s Permit is usually valid for a year, or when your current driver’s license expires.

When to apply for the IDP

It only takes a day to a few weeks to get the IDP, but plan ahead. You can get an IDP issued within six months of your desired effective date. So, if you plan to travel on July 1, you can apply for the IDP during the previous January. You won’t need that much time to get the document but you have that leeway if you need it.

Know the rules of the IDP and the road

It’s your responsibility to make sure the country or countries where you’re going recognize the International Driver’s Permit. You should also research the local rules of the road to be sure you follow them to a T. That may include buying something called a vignette, a sticker that authorizes you to drive in certain countries. Rental cars generally already have the stickers on them or the rental agency can tell you where to purchase one.

Whatever you do, remember to pack your driver’s license. The IDP is a “permit” and not a “license.” It is not valid unless it’s paired with your driver’s license from home.

Related: A $200 fine while driving abroad

Can you drive in another country without having an IDP?

Getting an International Driver’s Permit isn’t the only way to ensure you can drive in a foreign country. Many destinations also have a provision for you to carry a translated version of your driver’s license. But why bother having your license translated into many different languages when the IDP is accepted in so many places?

Related: 5 road trips to take in Europe

Bottom line

It’s easy and relatively inexpensive to get an International Driver’s Permit. You may want to arrange for one whether or not you plan to drive on your next overseas trip. It can act as a handy additional means of identification with all of your details translated in a format that officials are used to seeing.

Featured image by Kathrin Ziegler/Getty Images

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