International Driver Permits

International Driving Permits

In most cases, a driver’s license issued in the U.S. won’t be recognized abroad. However, if you need to drive for a short-term period, you have options.

Many governments accept the international driving permit (IDP), which allows citizens of a foreign country with a valid driver’s license to drive while traveling in a foreign country.

What Is an International Driving Permit?

The International Driving Permit (IDP) is a document that grants someone the privilege of driving a motor vehicle legally while abroad. It does not replace your government-issued driver’s license.

Essentially, an IDP serves as a basic translation of your driver's license. It is translated in 10 languages and features your:

  • Photo.
  • Full name.
  • Relevant driver information.

The following requirements and restrictions apply:

  • You must carry both your IDP and your driver’s license when driving abroad.
  • You must obtain your IDP in the same country that issued your driver’s license.
  • You can never use your IDP to drive in the country in which it was issued.
  • It is valid for up to 1 year (provided your driver’s license is valid for the full year).

International Driver’s License vs. International Driving Permit

You may hear the term “international driver’s license” or “IDL” used; however, this is an incorrect reference to the international driving permit.

When You Need an IDP

Many countries require drivers from other nations to hold an international driving permit to drive within their borders. Showing an IDP in these countries can prevent legal hassles such as fines and bail fees if you are stopped or in an accident and are unable to show proof of your eligibility to drive.

Note that while not all countries require IDPs, you might find it helpful to obtain one anyway. It serves as extremely useful identification because it is translated into 10 languages, so it can prevent communication issues during the process of ID checks.

An IDP may also be necessary to rent a car in the country you’re visiting.

If you have any questions about whether to obtain an IDP, talk to your travel agent or rental car agent. Your car insurance agent may also be able to help you.

NOTE: Your driver’s license issued by your state DMV will allow you to drive legally in Canada and Mexico. However, an IDP can come in handy in Mexico because it’s translated into Spanish.

How to Apply for an International Driver Permit

You can only apply for your international driving permit through the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the National Automobile Club (NAC). You will need:

  • A completed IDP application:
  • A valid driver’s license issued by your state DMV.
  • 2 photos (must be passport-sized).
    • The backs of the photos must show your signature.
  • Payment for the applicable fee.
    • See the application for fees and accepted payment methods.

You must be at least 18 years old to apply for an international driving permit.

NOTE: You can apply by mail in most cases, and you may even be able to apply while traveling abroad. Contact your local AAA or NAC for more details.

Foreign Drivers in the United States

The U.S. does not require an international driving permit to drive in the country; however, you may need to show one in order to rent a car.

If you have questions about legally driving in the U.S. during your travels, contact your local DMV.

Beware of IDP Fraud

There are countless organizations looking to make an extra buck off the International Driver Permit process. They may charge anywhere from a few extra dollars to hundreds of dollars more than the regular fee. Not only will you waste your money on a fake document, you could face major hassles while traveling by not having the proper document.

Take some time before you begin your trip to obtain your IDP through the right channels.

Remember, the State Department has authorized ONLY the following motor clubs to issue IDPs:

  • AAA.
  • NAC.

If you fear that you've become the victim of IDP fraud, contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Better Business Bureau, or your local Attorney General’s office.

The State Department also recommends that you check with the embassies and consulates of the countries you plan to visit and inquire about specific licensing and auto insurance requirements, as well as local rules of the road.

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