Do You Need to Get an International Driving Permit?

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Are you traveling to another country and planning on driving while you’re there? You might think that your driver’s license from your home country and state will be all that you need to rent a car and drive legally.

However, in most countries, you will need an additional official document that serves as a translation of your driver’s license. It proves that you have passed the necessary tests to drive safely.

What Is an International Driving Permit?

Created by the United States government in 1949, an International Driving Permit (IDP) is simply a translation of your valid U.S. driver’s license into ten different languages. It is valid in over 150 countries, but only for tourists, not for those becoming residents. It is typically valid for one year and can be obtained only through the American Automobile Association and the National Automobile Club. You will also only be able to get an IDP if you have had your driver’s license for more than six months. 

Do International Car Rental Agencies Require You to Get an IDP? 

Not only do most major rental car agencies require an IDP, but many countries also require you to have an IDP for you to drive legally. Before you travel, you should do your due diligence. Be sure to research the laws where you’re going, as well as the policies of any rental car agencies you plan on renting from.

It’s important to keep in mind that just because you’re going to a country that borders yours, the same rules do not automatically apply.

You may be able to drive into it, but driving within its borders is entirely different. It also doesn’t necessarily mean that the rules are the same as they are when driving in your home country. Most notably for United States drivers, those hoping to venture into Mexico will need to obtain an IDP, even if they are driving their vehicle. 

How Long Does It Take to Get an IDP?

Getting an IDP doesn’t take a ton of time, but it’s certainly not something you want to leave until the last minute. It typically takes ten to fifteen days for AAA or the NAC to process your IDP application. You can expedite the process with a hefty fee, but you should leave plenty of time before your trip to avoid getting stuck in an unfortunate situation.

How Much Does an IDP Cost?

It’s certainly less expensive than other parts of your trip will probably be! Typically, an IDP costs around $20. In addition to payment and your completed application form, two original passport photos and copies of your driver’s license will get you set on your way to getting your IDP.

Pros and Cons of Getting an IDP

Pros
  • Legal, international driving

  • Multilingual documentation

  • Counts as a form of ID

Cons
  • Timely and costly

  • Has an expiration date

Pros Explained

You will be able to drive legally internationally. If you plan on traveling abroad and driving while you do so, you will have an easier time of doing so if you have an IDP well in advance.

Nothing is lost in translation. When you have an IDP, you can rest assured that officials, rental car workers, and others who need to be able to read your driver’s license will be able to do so.

They often count as a form of ID. In addition to enabling you to legally drive, carrying an IDP will also serve as a form of identification. It will allow you to prove your identity to foreign authorities should you need to do so. 

Cons Explained

It takes time and money. Getting an IDP is a relatively straightforward process, but you will have to go through the hassle and time of filling out the proper paperwork, gathering the necessary documents, and going through the process.

International Driving Permits are not valid forever. Once you get your IDP, it will only be valid for one year. You will need to make sure and keep it up to date if you are a frequent international driver.

Do I Need Car Insurance Internationally? 

It depends. Car insurance for drivers with international driving permits can be confusing. Be sure you know the laws wherever you’re traveling to well before you land so that you don’t get stuck having to choose between breaking the law and not driving at all.

Article Sources

  1. Progressive. "4 Tips for Renting a Car Abroad," Accessed Dec. 6, 2019.

  2. American Automobile Touring Alliance. "About," Accessed Dec. 6, 2019.

  3. American Automobile Touring Alliance. "FAQs," Accessed Dec. 6, 2019. 

  4. American Automobile Association. "International Driving Permit," Accessed Dec. 6, 2019.

  5. Missy–AAA Representative, 2019.