Driving Outside the U.S.

Driving throughout the United States is one thing. You have your driver's license, proof of registration and insurance, a car you know how to drive—and a solid understanding of the rules of the road and how to navigate those roads.

However, driving in another country is a whole new ballgame.

Read on for information about getting familiar with the foreign country's laws, how to legally operate a motor vehicle, and staying safe—both on and off the roads.

Research International Road Rules

Before you head out to your destination country, familiarize yourself with a few important pieces of country-specific information.

The Consular Information Program provides a wealth of information about public conditions in every country in the world. You can read up on (among other things):

  • Local laws and special circumstances, including:
    • Learning about local violations and penalties.
    • What to do if you're arrested.
  • How to legally and safely drive in the country, including information about:
    • Road conditions and safety.
    • Traffic laws, including:
      • Drinking and driving.
      • Cell phone use.
      • Speed limits.
    • Differences between roads and vehicles in your host country versus the United States.
      • For example, U.K. drivers drive on the left side of the road; as such, the “driver's side" of their vehicles is on the left.

Before your trip, you also might consider enrolling in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which keeps you up to date on a wealth of travel information, including warnings and alerts.

Prepare International Driving Documents

Don't expect to just swoop into the country and hit the highways carefree. There are several preparations to make—and laws to learn—before driving abroad.

International Driving Permit

Other countries often require an International Driving Permit (IDP), and many countries require an IDP along with your U.S. driver's license—meaning, you must carry both together.

An IDP provides an official translation of your U.S.-issued driver's license into various foreign languages. In addition to making it legal for you to drive, an IDP is also recognized as a valid form of identification in many countries.

Currently, you can get a government-authorized IDP with the following agencies:

Because delivery times vary, consider your departure date and plan accordingly; however, currently both agencies allow you to apply for an IDP once you're already overseas.

NOTE: Many drivers can rely on their U.S. driver licenses in Mexico and Canada; however, this can depend on how far into these countries you plan to travel. EXAMPLE: According to the National Auto Club, you need an IDP if you plan to drive over 50 miles into Canada or 300 miles into Mexico.

Age Restrictions

Be sure to check the legal driving age in your destination country.

For example, currently the AAA will only issue an IDP to drivers who are at least 18 years old. So, while you might be old enough to drive in the foreign country, you might not be old enough to obtain an IDP—which, depending on the country, could affect your ability to legally driving.

Car Insurance

Car insurance while traveling abroad can get tricky.

For example, your policy might be valid in Mexico or Canada, but not overseas. On the other hand, even if your policy is valid overseas, it might not meet that country's minimum requirements.

You'll want to ask your current car insurance agent where your policy is valid. Your agent also might be able to tell you how to purchase additional coverage to meet that country's requirements.

Renting a Car

Many U.S. drivers rent a car when traveling abroad and most rental agencies provide car insurance.

Some tips for renting a car as well as getting the best auto coverage include:

  • Check with your insurance provider about whether your current policy extends to rental vehicles (specifically, foreign rental vehicles).
  • Don't wait until you arrive to rent a vehicle.
    • Renting well in advance gives you time to find the best rates as well as research the country's car insurance requirements and any additional coverage you want (or must have) such as roadside assistance.
  • Book your rental car with a major credit card.
    • Some credit cards offer additional protection in case your rental vehicle is damaged or stolen.

Also, if you're traveling beyond the borders of just one country, speak with your car insurance provider and credit card company about how their policies and protections extend to multiple countries.

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