International Driving Permits: Your Guide to Driving Abroad Legally

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Published April 29, 2023

Are you planning an international trip and considering renting a car to explore your destination?

The thought of driving in a foreign country can be a bit daunting at first, but don’t worry, we’ve got your back.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about International Driving Permits (IDPs), so you can hit the road with confidence and make the most of your overseas adventure.

What is an International Driving Permit?

International Driving Permit superimposed over car driving on winding road through woods

An International Driving Permit (IDP) is like your driver’s license’s global sidekick. It’s an official document that translates your home country’s driver’s license into multiple languages, making it easy for authorities abroad to verify your driving credentials.

Recognized in over 150 countries, the IDP is your ticket to a smooth driving experience while you’re exploring foreign lands.

When Do I Need an International Driving Permit?

international driving in Asia

Great question! Not every country requires an IDP, but many do. It’s crucial to research the specific requirements for the countries on your itinerary.

Your first step is to visit the State Department website

From there you can search for the country you’re visiting, and scroll down to the “travel and transportation” section.

Below you’ll see an example from searching Spain, which does note that an IDP is, in fact, required.

Screengrab of state department website showing Spain's Traffic laws as an example

It’s worth noting that even in countries that don’t require an IDP, some car rental companies still might require you to hold one.

Either way, an IDP can serve as an extra form of official identification, and you’ll feel more confident knowing you’ve got all your bases covered.

How Do I Get an International Driving Permit?

AAA Logo

If you’re in the United States, the American Automobile Association (AAA) is the go-to organization for issuing IDPs.

2023 Update: There used to be a second official issuer (American Automobile Touring Alliance), but they have recently ceased issuing IDPs, and are referring all travelers to AAA instead.

Don’t worry if you’re not a U.S. citizen; you can still apply for an IDP through AAA as long as you’re a permanent resident of a U.S. state or territory and hold a driver’s license from that jurisdiction.

The only big qualifications are that you must be at least 18 years old and have a valid USA or Territorial drivers license.

Apply In Person or By Mail

If your city has a AAA branch office, you can visit in person — no appointment necessary. If you show up at a slow time of day, you can be in-and-out within 15 minutes. If you really want to speed things up, you can download and pre-fill the AAA IDP Application form from their website and have it ready.

If you don’t live close to a branch office, you can complete everything by mail.

The in-person branch office experience is as follows:

They’ll have you fill out a form, check your drivers license, then take and print two passport-sized photos. After that they’ll print your official permit, hand it to you, charge you $20, and you’ll be on your way!

How Long Does It Take, and How Long Is It Valid For?

Car speeding down road

Processing times can vary, ranging from minutes to a few weeks, depending on whether you complete the process in person or by mail.

You can apply for an IDP up to six months before your desired effective date, giving you plenty of leeway to ensure you have the permit before your trip. Your IDP will typically be valid for one year, or until your driver’s license expires, whichever comes first.

Preparing for Your Driving Adventure Abroad

Now that you know how to get an IDP, it’s time to get ready for your overseas driving escapade. Familiarize yourself with the local driving rules and regulations in the countries you plan to visit and remember to always carry your home country’s driver’s license while driving abroad.

Note: if you have a motorcycle license, there’s an option to mark that off on the IDP application form as well, and have it carry over to your International Drivers Permit.

Ready to Hit the Road

And there you have it! With an International Driving Permit in hand, you’re ready to embark on an unforgettable journey.

Exploring a foreign country by car gives you the freedom and flexibility to venture off the beaten path, discover hidden gems, and immerse yourself in the local culture.

So, buckle up, fellow traveler, and hit the road with confidence and enthusiasm.

We’re sure you’ll have an amazing adventure, and we can’t wait to hear all about it!

Happy travels, and drive safely!

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