When you plan a road trip in another country, one thing you should put on your to-do list before you go is getting an International Driving Permit (IDP). Getting one is fairly straightforward, depending on what country you live in, and it will allow you to take your driving adventures around the world. If you don’t know why you need one, how to get one, and when and where to use it we answer those questions and more.
What is an International Driving Permit?
Since 1926, the United Nations has regulated driving in a foreign country through international agreements. More than 150 countries in the world subscribe to at least one of the UN treaties and allow you to drive there with your domestic driver’s license and an IDP. The IDP itself is a paper booklet with translations of what’s on your driver’s license in 10 languages, so people in multiple countries can understand what kind of license you have. It also contains a passport-sized photo.
How Do I Get an IDP?
In the US you can get an IDP from an automobile association, even if you’re not a member. You can get one from the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA) for $20 (as of January 2020). If you are short on time, you can get one immediately by visiting a branch, or by mail if you can wait for a couple of weeks and are willing to pay for shipping. To get one you will need:
- An application form (downloadable from the AAA or AATA websites)
- 2 passport-size photos
- A valid US driver’s license
- $20 permit fee
If you live in another country, you will need to look online to find out where to get an IDP and what you will need to get one. Standard items include a passport-size photo and a valid driver’s license.
What Countries Require an IDP?
Most countries in the world you might want to drive in recognize the IDP in addition to your valid driver’s license. That means that if you want to get behind the wheel in another country, you should probably have an IDP. Whether you need to use it or not depends on where you are going and what situations you find yourself in. You will most definitely need one if you plan to drive in a country that uses a non-Roman alphabet, like Russia, or Thailand. Notably, China does not recognize the IDP and you need a Chinese driver’s license to drive there.
Do I Need an IDP to Rent a Car?
Whether or not you need to have an International Driving Permit depends on the car rental company. In general, if you have a US driver’s license you likely won’t be asked for your IDP if you rent a car in Canada, in Europe or other English-speaking countries. In South American countries, you likely will. (It can also serve as a second form of picture ID if you happen to need one.) Be sure to check with the car rental branch you want to rent with to confirm whether you need to present an IDP or not. If you rent a car in a country that uses a different alphabet, like Russia or Japan, be sure to get an IDP before you travel.
At SIXT, we require that if your driver’s license is printed in a non-Roman alphabet (Arabic, Chinese, Cyrillic, etc.), it must be accompanied by an IDP. Any driver’s license originating from countries not part of the UN treaty must also be accompanied by an official translation into English.
How Long is an IDP Valid?
All IDPs are valid for either 1 year or 3 years, depending on the country that issues it. An IDP from the US is valid for 1 year from the date of issue. If your driver’s license expires before your IDP does, you will have to also get a new IDP.
Do Non-American Driver’s License Holders Need One in the US?
The answer to whether you need an IDP or not depends on where you plan to travel within the US. In 49 states, you only need a valid driver’s license from your country and your passport and you can drive there for up to 3 months. However, in the state of Georgia, you will need to show an IDP if you want to drive or rent a car.