You’ve been planning your trip to “Name That Country” since before the pandemic and you’re FINALLY almost ready to go! You’ve got your plane tickets to get you to Country A and your return flight from Country D, and a rental car to get you from one to the other, with countries B and C in between. It’s going to be a GREAT trip!
But before you start on your grand adventure, did you check to see if you’ll need an International Driver’s License (which, BTW, are usually called International Driving Permits)?
What is an International Driving Permit?
An International Driving Permit (IDP) is a multiple-language document that verifies that you have a valid driver’s license. While many countries may not officially recognize your driver’s license, they will accept your valid U.S. (or Canadian, OR British) license if you also carry an IDP.
Who can get an IDP?
You’re eligible to get an IDP if you’re a permanent US resident at least 18 years of age and have a driver’s license that will will be valid for at least six months from the date of issuance of the IDP.
How did IDPs come to be?
The term International Driving Permit was first mentioned in the document prescribed in the International Convention relative to Motor Traffic that was signed at Paris in 1926, and is a translation of the French ‘permis de conduire international’, or ‘international driving license’. The Paris treaty, and all subsequent, use the word ‘permit’ exclusively in relation to all kinds of driving license.
International Driving Permits are governed by three international 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. When a state is contracted to more than one convention, the newest one terminates and replaces previous ones.
What countries require you to have an IDP?
As of May, 2015:
BRAZIL (Inter-American Driving Permit Only)
CAMBODIA (WAS KAMPUCHEA)
CAPE VERDE ISLANDS*
CENTRAL AFRICAN REP.
CONGO, REP OF (BRAZZAVILLE)
CONGO, DEM REP OF (KINSHASA)
COTE D’IVOIRE (IVORY COAST)
FRANCE (INCLUDING FRENCH
PAPUA NEW GUINEA
ST. KITTS & NEVIS*/**
ST. VINCENT & THE GRENADINES
|SAO TOME & PRINCIPE*
TRINIDAD & TOBAGO***
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
URUGUAY (Inter-American Driving Permit Only)
VATICAN CITY (HOLY SEE)
*Not party of 1949 Convention: International Driving Permit Honored.
**U.S. driver’s license and International Driving Permit recognized on presentation to local police and payment of Special Registration Fee upon arrival.
***Geographical Areas Which Honor Inter-American Driving Permits (Convention on Regulation of Inter-American Motor Vehicle Traffic, Organization of American States, Washington, D.C. 1943) as of January, 2009.
There are some exceptions. For example, if you have a U.S. driver’s license, you don’t need an IDP in Canada, Ireland, Mexico, South Africa or the United Kingdom.
Also, to drive legally in China, you MUST have a driver’s license issued by China.
What’s the penalty for not having an IDP?
It depends on the country. If you’re pulled over in a country that requires an IDP and you don’t have a valid one, you can usually expect a fine or a citation. If it happens in Japan, the penalties are especially severe and you may be arrested or deported.
Here’s more info about what happens if you get a ticket in a foreign country.
OK, I’ll need an IDP. Where can I get one?
If you’re from the U.S. there’s only one organization that issues IDPs – the American Automobile Association (AAA). Anyplace else that says they issue IDPs are most likely scammers, as per the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. (By the way this page of the US State Department’s website suggests that you can get an IDP from both AAA and the AATA [American Automobile Touring Alliance[. But when you click on the AATA’s website, they say, “Due to circumstances beyond AATA’s control we have ceased issuing International Driving Permits [IDPs] effective immediately.” I can’t find what happened to them.
Anyway, you don’t have to be a member of AAA to obtain an international driver’s license from them. You can apply in person at your local AAA branch (they recommend you call before you go, to ensure the branch is open). Alternatively, you can mail the application and supporting documentation to the AAA. Here’s more info from AAA.
I have more questions about IDP requirements…?
Best place to check is the Embassy of the country/countries you plan to visit.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary