Do I need an international driving permit? If you’re asking yourself this question, the answer is likely—but not definitely—yes.
The good news, which may also be surprising news if you haven’t yet done a lot of research, is that you can drive in many nations in the world armed simply with a license issue in your home country. A larger number of travelers don’t need any sort of international driving license.
The bad news? If you arrive abroad thinking you don’t need an IDP, only to find out at the rental car counter that you do, you’ll have few solutions at your disposal. Continue reading now to avoid disappointment later on.
What is An International Driving Permit?
Before I help you answer the question “Do I need an international driving permit?”, let’s talk about what an international driving permit is—and isn’t. An IDP (to which it’s often abbreviated) is not an international driving license; you don’t need to take a driving test to get one, as you would in your home country. Rather, it’s an internationally recognized document that internationally certifies your status as a licensed driver in your home country.
Most importantly, the IDP translates essential information about your drivers license (and the skills/rights it confers) into a number of languages. This is a big part of why many countries require it, especially in Asia where Western writing systems aren’t used. Without an IDP, speakers of many languages have no way of verifying that you are actually a licensed driver, which greatly increases their liability in permitting you to drive in their countries.
How to Get An International Driving Permit
Get a drivers license in your home country
An IDP, as I mentioned above, is not a license. In order to receive an international driving permit, you will need to have a valid driving license in the country of your residence. If you don’t currently have one, visit the office responsible for issuing them in your state or province, and determine what documentation you’ll need (and whether you’ll need to take a skills test) before issuance of the document.
Determine your country’s IDP issuing authority
Do I need an international driving permit? If you think the answer might be “yes,” you need to find out which authority in your country issues them. In the United States, for example, this is AAA, a large company you might already use for other driving-related services. If you are unable to easily determine this, contact the office that issued your domestic drivers license and ask a representative there.
Fill out an application before your appointment
Although we live in an age where everything is digital and remote, the surest way to make sure your IDP application goes off without a hitch is to go in person. However, it’s possible that the office where you need to apply will be crowded with other people, so you’ll want to take steps to increase efficiency, such as filling out your application before you leave your home. Click here to access the IDP application on the AAA website.
Apply well in advance if you’re doing so by mail
Assuming you determine the answer to the question “Do I need an international driving permit?” to be yes, another possibility is to apply for the IDP by mail (or, depending on where you live, online). Keep in mind that this takes time, however. You will need to wait for the physical delivery of the permit, which may take a few days. Moreover, it could take several days on the front end for the issuing authority to receive your package, and a week or for them to process your application.
Do Foreigners Need an IDP in the US?
In most cases, foreigners who wish to drive in the United States must possess both a valid driver license as well as an IDP issued by their home country. This is not true in every instance, however. Citizens of the United Kingdom, for example, are able to drive in the United States using only their ordinary driving licenses, as a result of an agreement between the two countries at the national level. (NOTE: This is only true for tourists. If you’re a Brit planning to reside permanently in the US, you’ll need to get a drivers license in your new home state!)
Of course, this isn’t true for most countries; rules and regulations are constantly changing. The best way to address the question”Do I need an international driving permit?”, at least when it comes to driving in the United States, is to contact the rental car company and ask staff there. They should be well-versed in policies for drivers from any number of foreign countries, and can save you a long (and maybe inconclusive) internet search.
Do You Need Car Insurance Abroad?
Regardless of whether you end up needing an IDP, one thing is for sure: You’re going to need car insurance, or absent that enough cash to pay the full value of any vehicle you rent. Now, whether you purchase a full coverage policy through a travel insurer or rental car company, or consult liability Insurance expert Ava Lynch at Zebra.com, is up to you. As is the case with insurance in general, car insurance in a foreign country is something for which needs vary based on specific cases.
A good first step to figuring out what kind of coverage you might need would be to contact your home car insurer, assuming you have one. It’s possible that they might offer a policy for international travel, which can save you the uncertainty of having to deal with a totally new company in advance of your next trip. Assuming you have a relationship with your agent, this will also make things easier in the unlikely event that you need to file a claim.
The Bottom Line
If you’re asking yourself the question “Do I need an international driving permit?,” there’s a strong possibility that you do. On the other hand, while certain countries require you to have an international license in order to rent a car (or to drive at all), in many cases you can simply present driving documents issued in your home country. Once you determine whether you need an IDP, applying for the permit is easy, though receiving it may take some time. Do take care not to fall for scams online, and make sure your international driving permit isn’t expiring soon before you embark on your next trip!