In some countries, the only identification you need to drive a car is a domestic driver’s license and a passport. In other countries though, you need an extra document called an International Driving Permit (IDP).
An International Driving Permit is an official document that translates the information on your domestic driver’s license into 10 different languages. It also has your photo, name, address, and birth date. They’re valid in 150 countries around the world. Click here for a full list of countries that recognize International Driving Permits.
To figure out if the country you’re visiting actually requires one, you need to contact the country’s embassy in the United States or research it online. While IDP’s are good to have anywhere you drive abroad, they may or may not be required by law in the country you’re visiting.
If you’re travelling to Brazil or Uruguay, you need an Inter-American Driving Permit (IADP) instead of an International Driving Permit.
Getting an IDP is easy. You don’t have to pass a driving test to get one. In the USA, you just need to be at least 18 years old, a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, and have a current domestic driver’s license.
There are two companies that sell International Driving Permits – the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA). The AAA and AATA are the only companies authorized by the U.S. Department of State to issue International Driving Permits.
Don’t trust websites selling “International Driving Licenses“. These aren’t the same thing as International Driving Permits, and may not be valid in the country you’re visiting.
If you have some time before your trip, you can order an IDP through the mail by downloading an application from the AAA’s website or the AATA’s website. Both companies have the same requirements and charge the same fees ($20 USD). They both also offer expedited shipping services if you need your IDP fast.
If you need to get an IDP as soon as possible, you can visit any AAA branch and walk out with one in about 20 minutes.
You’ll need to bring your current driver’s license and two passport photos with you. The cost is $20 USD. If you don’t have passport photos, they can take them for you at the branch. AAA charges non-members $12, and members $8 for the passport photo service.
The branch will have blank application forms that you can fill out.
Your International Driving Permit will be valid for one year after it’s issued.
It’s one of those things you hope to never use, but driving without one could get you fined or into worse trouble. Be sure to carry both your IDP and your domestic driver’s license with you whenever you’re driving abroad.
Also, each country has its own driving requirements and regulations. Be sure to do further research on the traffic laws in the specific country you’re visiting.
For more useful information about driving in foreign countries, check out the U.S. Department of State’s page on Road Safety Overseas.