All you need to know about an International Driving Permit
Photography by Robert Fotograf.
If you’ve read any car rental travel guides, you have probably heard about an International Driving Permit, often referred to as the “IDP”. Is an IDP really necessary? Where can you get one? Which countries recognize it? Continue reading to find the answers to any questions you have regarding an International Driving Permit.
An IDP is essentially a translation of your domestic driving license. The document allows you to drive vehicles in any country that recognizes it, as long as it’s accompanied by your physical domestic driving license. For example, a US citizen with an IDP can legally drive in over 170 countries.
In theory, it might sound like an IDP is necessary every time you drive a car outside of the country where your driving license was issued. However, that’s not exactly the case as there are various exceptions.
Route 66 in Arizona, US. Photography by PatternPictures.
An International Driving Permit isn’t always necessary. For example, if your driving license was issued in a country that’s part of the European Union (i.e. Italy), you can drive in another EU-member state (i.e. Germany) without the need to obtain an IDP.
There are more exceptions and arrangements around the world that eliminate the need for an IDP. What are the main ones?
An IDP is not required if your domestic license meets the requirements of the 1949 Geneva Convention on Road Traffic or the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic. In that case, you can use your domestic driving license without an IDP unless stated otherwise by the country you’re planning to visit.
Other exceptions include European driving licenses being valid within the European Economic Area, or the Inter-American Driving Permit that allows holders to drive in certain countries within the Americas.
A major tourist destination that doesn’t recognize the International Driving Permit is the People’s Republic of China. In order to drive in China, foreign tourists need to obtain a Chinese driving license. Contact your local Chinese embassy for details.
Keep in mind that some car rental companies might ask for an IDP as a part of their policy, even if having it is not necessary for that country. Other countries, such as Botswana or Saudi Arabia, require an IDP when hiring a rental car. Always double-check with your car rental company’s terms and conditions as often referred to T&C before you rent a car to avoid unpleasant surprises during your trip. This is why you always need to read the T&Cs!
All the regulations, exceptions and arrangements around the world can be hard to keep track of, especially if you travel frequently or cross borders during road trips.
Rentalmoose recommends having an IDP for most of your trips outside of Europe, at least as a precautionary measure.
Stelvio Pass photographed by Erich Westendarp.
IDPs are governed by three different conventions: The 1926 Paris International Convention relative to Motor Traffic, the 1949 Geneva Convention on Road Traffic, and the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic. If a country signed more than one convention, the newest one replaces and terminates the previous ones.
For example, if you plan on traveling to France, which is contracting to both Geneva and Vienna conventions, the more recent 1968 Vienna convention is the current one, terminating the older 1949 Geneva convention.
An IDP can be obtained from your local road and traffic administration office, the same one that issues driving licenses. The process for obtaining an IDP varies slightly depending on the country your driving license was issued in. In most cases, it’s a relatively fast and simple process.
In the United States of America, drivers can apply through either the American Automobile Association or the American Automobile Touring Alliance. You can also head to your local AAA office, or mail the application.
Drivers from the UK can apply for an International Driving Permit through Post Office branches. You will need to take your domestic license, a passport-sized photograph, proof of identification and the application fee.
As for other countries, it’s usually best to check out the website of the government office that issues driving licenses and look for the IDP application. In some countries, you can apply for an International Driving Permit online.
Since an IDP has to be obtained in your country’s local office, the pricing is set individually by each nation. In European countries, for example, an International Driving Permit costs 35 EUR (US$ 38). In the United States of America, an IDP costs $15 (14 EUR).
A seaside road overlooking the coast of Antalya, Turkey. Photography by Erik Karits.
Once again, the validity of an International Driving Permit depends on the nation that issued the document and the type of the IDP. Most countries issue IDPs for either one or three years. For example, the 1968 IDP required to drive in EU countries is valid for three years.
International Driver Permits are valid at least from the day they are issued, and you can apply for an IDP up to 3 months in advance. It is not possible to get a backdated IDP valid before the application date.
Don’t forget to check the date of expiry on your International Driving Permit, as the document cannot be renewed. Once your IDP expires, you will have to re-apply once again, this includes submitting all of the necessary paperwork and paying the fee.
Keep in mind that you will have to travel back to your country and re-apply if your International Driving Permit expires when you’re overseas, unless your nation supports online applications. Keep track of the expiration date to avoid unnecessary hassle.
Young drivers from the United Kingdom or the United States will be disappointed to hear that you need to be at least 18 years old to obtain an International Driving Permit. What’s more, your driver’s license needs to be valid for at least 6 months in order to apply for an IDP. If you meet those two requirements, you will be able to obtain an International Driving Permit without problems.
Iceland’s Ring Road photographed by Steve Riot.
The short answer is no. You can only obtain an International Driving Permit in the country where your driver’s license was issued. That’s why it’s crucial to get the permits before you leave for your trip, otherwise it may become impossible to rent a car (or drive at all) overseas.
In the United States, however, tourists can drive using their foreign driver’s licenses without an IDP. There are exceptions in some states, though the most frequently-visited states such as Arizona, California, Florida or Nevada don’t require an IDP.
Keep in mind it is still recommended to obtain an IDP, even when it is not legally required, in order to ease communication in the event of a traffic stop or a fender-bender. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
International Driving Permit is not the same as an International Driver’s License. In fact, there is no such thing as an International Driver’s License. An IDP is a permit and not any form of a license or ID card, hence it’s only valid when it’s accompanied by your physical domestic driver’s license.
In the United States, International Driving Permits are only issued by the AAA and the AATA. In other countries, they’re only issued by the relevant government offices. BEWARE OF SCAMS. There are lots of companies claiming to issue “international driver’s licenses”, “worldwide permits” and other types of documents. None of them are real, and attempting to use them is illegal.
If you get caught driving without an International Driving Permit when it is required (i.e. tourist from Germany driving in Alabama, one of the US states that does require an IDP), you can get in very serious trouble.
Most countries will treat the offense equally to not having any driving license at all, and so the offender will face serious criminal charges. In practice, it means that driving without an IDP when it is required could land you in prison. Always double-check to make sure if the country you’re going to requires foreign tourists to obtain an International Driving Permit.
Do you have any other questions regarding International Driving Permits? Perhaps you’re not sure if the country you’re going to requires obtaining an IDP? Contact your local government office for any extra information.