How To Get an International Driving Permit & Why You Should Get One

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If you’re planning on driving in another country, you’ll need to get familiar with International Driving Permits (or IDPs). They’re inexpensive and easy to obtain — and even work as a form of identification in more than 180 countries worldwide. If you don’t remember to get one before your trip, you might not be allowed to rent a car or drive in other countries, so it’s important to read up on IDPs before you leave.

In this guide, we’ll list out all of the countries that accept an IDP to drive or rent a car, let you know some other reasons it will benefit you to have an IDP, as well as the process you’ll need to go through to obtain one before your next trip.

What Is an International Driving Permit?

An IDP is a special license that allows travelers to drive in foreign countries without having to take a written or driving test required to obtain a driver’s license in that country. It’s a standardized card that’s accepted in over 180 countries around the world.

This document shows local authorities and rental car companies in other countries that you’re legally allowed to drive in your home state or country.

AAA International Driving Permit
Image Credit: AAA Colorado

Hot Tip: Many people and organizations use “International Driver’s Permit” interchangeably to refer to the “International Driving Permit.” 

Reasons To Get an IDP

There are a few important reasons why you’ll want to get an IDP:

1. Valid in Most Countries

Each country has its own requirements for foreign visitors who want to drive. Some, like Canada and Mexico, recognize U.S. driver’s licenses, but this isn’t always the case. Most countries around the world don’t recognize U.S. driver’s licenses as a form of identification or ability to drive, but they will recognize an IDP.

Specifically, a valid IDP is recognized in all the countries and states that have ratified the United Nations’ 1949 Convention on Road Traffic. In addition, a number of countries that weren’t a part of the 1949 Convention also recognize the IDP.

These 184 countries include:

Afghanistan*DenmarkKyrgyzstanRussia
AlbaniaDjibouti*LaosRwanda
AlgeriaDominica*/**Latvia
St. Kitts & Nevis*/**
Andorra*Dominican Rep.LebanonSt. Lucia
Angola*EcuadorLesotho
St. Vincent & The Grenadines
Anguilla*/**EgyptLiberia*San Marino
Antigua*/**El Salvador*Libya*
São Tomé & Príncipe*
Argentina
Equatorial Guinea*
Liechtenstein*Saudi Arabia*
Armenia*Estonia*Lithuania*Senegal
ArubaFijiLuxembourgSerbia
AustraliaFinlandMacao*Seychelles
Austria
France (including French overseas territories)
MadagascarSierra Leone
Azerbaijan*
French Polynesia
MalawiSingapore
BahamasGabon*MalaysiaSlovakia
Bahrain*The GambiaMaliSlovenia*
BangladeshGeorgiaMaltaSouth Africa
Barbados**Germany*Mauritania*Spain
Belarus*GhanaMauritiusSri Lanka
BelgiumGibraltarMexico*Sudan*
BelizeGreeceMoldova*Suriname
BeninGrenada**MonacoSwaziland
Bhutan*GuatemalaMontenegroSweden
Bolivia*GuernseyMontserrat*/**Switzerland*
Bosnia*Guinea*MoroccoSyria
BotswanaGuinea-Bissau*Mozambique*Taiwan
Brazil***GuyanaMyanmar*Tajikistan*
Brunei*HaitiNamibiaTanzania
BulgariaHerzegovina*Nepal*Thailand
Burkina Faso*Honduras*NetherlandsTogo
CambodiaHong Kong
Netherlands Antilles
Trinidad & Tobago***
Cameroon*HungaryNew CaledoniaTunisia
CanadaIcelandNew ZealandTurkey
Cape Verde Islands*
IndiaNicaragua*Turkmenistan*
Cayman Islands*Indonesia*NigerUganda
Central African-Rep Chad*
Iran*NorwayUkraine*
ChileIrelandOman*
United Arab Emirates
Colombia*IsraelPakistan*United Kingdom
Comoros*ItalyPanama*Uruguay***
CongoJamaica
Papua New Guinea
Uzbekistan*
Costa Rica*JapanParaguayVatican City
Cote d’IvoireJersey*PeruVenezuela
Croatia*Jordan*PhilippinesVietnam*
CubaKazakhstan*PolandWestern Samoa
CuraçaoKenya*PortugalYemen*
CyprusKorea (Rep.)Qatar*Zambia
Czech RepublicKuwait*RomaniaZimbabwe

* International Driving Permit is honored, but not part of 1949 Convention
** U.S. driver’s license and IDP recognized on presentation to local police and payment of special registration fee upon arrival
*** If you plan to drive in Brazil, Uruguay, or Trinidad & Tobago you will need an Inter-American Driving Permit (IADP) issued by AAA

Hot Tip: You’ll still need your passport, passport card, or enhanced license to travel to Canada or Mexico. Your driver’s license isn’t sufficient to cross borders.

2. Reduces Language Barrier

An IDP contains your name, photo, and your driver information translated into 10 different languages. This could help in numerous situations — even instances unrelated to driving or renting a car. If you find yourself in another country and need to provide identification, you might be glad you have your IDP to help make this process smoother.

3. Might Be Needed To Rent a Car

Many major car rental companies internationally might require an IDP to rent a car, depending on local requirements.

For instance, Alamo notes in its FAQs something that anyone driving in the U.S. should consider when weighing whether they need an IDP. It asks: “Will the police officer be able to understand the information on [your] driver’s license? If the answer is no, an International Driver’s Permit is highly recommended.”

This general rule should be applied to rentals in other countries as well. For example, if your license is in English and you’re traveling to a place where English (or other Romance languages) are not the norm, you would want to have an IDP to help bridge the language gap in case you needed to rent a car or got pulled over by local law enforcement.

Bottom Line: You’ll have to check the rental agreement terms for your rental car company and destination to see if an IDP is required or just highly recommended.

How Do You Get an IDP?

IDPs can be issued to anyone 18 years or older who has had a valid driver’s license for 6 months or longer. You must also be a permanent resident of the U.S. or a U.S. territory. It’s also important to remember that you’ll want to apply for an IDP before you leave for your trip, so a bit of advanced planning is required.

There are only 2 organizations in the U.S. that issue IDPs: the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA). The main difference between the 2 options is that AAA allows you to apply in person or via mail, while AATA only offers mail-in options. Neither organization offers the opportunity to apply online as 2 passport photos are required.

Both AAA and AATA charge a $20 fee (plus expedited return shipping fees, if desired).

Bottom Line: The only 2 organizations that offer IDPs in the U.S. are AAA and the AATA. This means that places like your local DMV don’t offer IDPs.

Here are some details about how to apply for an IDP at each location:

AAA

AAA Travel IDP
Image Credit: AAA

You can apply in person at any full-service AAA branch or by mail. You’ll need:

  • A completed IDP application, which can be picked up at a AAA branch or downloaded here
  • 2 original passport-size photos (with your signature on the back)
  • A check or money order made payable to AAA for $20
  • If desired, include additional U.S. funds for expedited return mail service. AAA refers you to see USPS, FedEx, or UPS for rates.
  • A current driver’s license (or a photocopy of both sides if applying by mail)

To apply by mail, send your completed application, fee, and a photocopy of both sides of your driver’s license to your local AAA branch. Otherwise, head to your AAA branch to submit your application in person.

If you’re already overseas, AAA also provides an option for sending your application abroad. But be aware that this process will take 4 to 6 weeks, so it won’t be much help if you have a shorter trip!

Mail all information as well as a street address for delivery to:

AAA/IDP
1000 AAA Drive
Heathrow, FL 32746
Attn: Mail Stop #28

AATA

AATA IDP Application
Image Credit: AATA

You can only apply by mail with the AATA. You’ll need:

  • A completed IDP application, which can be downloaded here
  • 2 original passport-size photos
  • A check or money order made payable to AATA for $20 (plus shipping and handling fee of $11 to $85)
  • A photocopy of both sides of your driver’s license (with your signature)

To apply by mail, send your completed application, fee, and a photocopy of both sides of your driver’s license to:

American Automobile Touring Alliance
P.O. Box 24980
San Jose, CA 95154

AATA makes no mention of what to do if you’re out of the country and need to obtain an IDP, but we assume the process is the same. and that you’ll need to allow longer for your IDP to be returned to you. Again, this won’t do you much good if you have a shorter trip, so advanced planning is key.

Bottom Line: If you’d like to apply for your IDP online, unfortunately, you’re out of luck. Since you need to provide your passport photos, you’ll need to apply in person or mail in your application.

How Long Does It Take To Get an IDP?

Make sure to plan ahead if you’re planning to drive on your next international trip. While it will only take 5 to 10 minutes to fill out the application for your IDP, the total processing time could take anywhere from a day (if you go to a AAA location in-person) up to 2 weeks if you mail your application in and opt for a standard shipping option.

How Long Is an IDP Valid For?

IDPs typically remain valid for 1 year or through the expiration of your existing state driving license.

You must apply for a new IDP every year. Every time a new IDP is required, you will have to go through the same application process we’ve noted above.

Being Prepared To Drive in Other Countries

Before you travel and make plans to drive, it makes sense to do a bit of research on the specific requirements of your destination.

As we noted above, always make sure to carry your valid U.S. driver’s license when driving internationally as your IDP is invalid without your driver’s license to accompany it. IDPs only act as a translation of domestically-accepted licenses and do not by themselves allow those without government-issued driver’s licenses to drive abroad.

In reality, you’ll rarely be asked to provide your IDP, but this doesn’t mean it’s not worth obtaining. In countries that require and ask you to provide it, the penalties are serious should you drive without one. In Japan, for instance, there are a few extreme cases of being arrested for driving without an IDP.

Even with an IDP, you should still review the driving requirements and laws for the countries you’ll be driving in on your vacation. This includes familiarizing yourself with things like street signs, driving directions, alcohol consumption rules, speed limits, and more. You’ll also always need to abide by local driving laws, of course.

Which U.S. States Require an International Driving Permit for Foreign Visitors?

While the U.S. government doesn’t require foreign visitors to have an IDP, many U.S. states have laws that do require an IDP in certain instances. This means that foreign visitors trying to drive or rent a car in the U.S. need to be aware of these requirements based on their destination.

These U.S. states include:

Hot Tip: IDPs must be issued in the same country as the driver’s license of the traveler. For example, if someone from Spain has a Spanish driver’s license, their IDP must also be issued in Spain. AAA and AATA do not issue IDPs for those that carry a foreign driver’s license. 

Beware of Fakes

Be aware of websites that offer you an “International Driver’s License.” While some people use the term International Driver’s License interchangeably with an International Driving Permit, there isn’t actually a document called an International Driver’s License.

Some websites will try to sell you this so-called International Driver’s License, but, unfortunately, this is a useless document that won’t work internationally. Foreign officials are familiar with IDPs and will immediately be able to sniff out a fake document.

This goes hand in hand with our other piece of advice — don’t obtain an International Driving Permit from any organization other than the 2 noted above: AAA and AATA.

Final Thoughts

An International Driving Permit is accepted in over 180 countries worldwide and is cheap and easy to obtain. When you know you’ll be renting a car in another country during your travels, an IDP is a useful document to get before you leave.

While you won’t always be asked to provide your IDP in order to rent a car, you’ll definitely want to have one if you get pulled over or you’re asked to provide identification. Finally, remember there are only 2 legitimate places to obtain an IDP in the U.S. — AAA and AATA. Make sure you head to a local office or mail in your application before you leave for your next trip!


Frequently asked questions

What is an International Driving Permit (IDP)?

An IDP is a special license that allows travelers to drive in a foreign country without having to take a written or driving test in that country. It’s a standardized card that’s accepted in over 180 countries around the world and has information translated into 10 languages.

How long is an International Driving Permit valid for?

An IDP is typically valid for 1 year. But, if your state-issued driver’s license expires before the year is up, the IDP is only valid for as long as your license is valid. In addition, you must have both your IDP and your driver’s license for it to be considered valid.

How can you get an IDP?

In order to get your IDP, you’ll need to provide the following:

  • A completed IDP application (download from AAA, pick one up at a AAA branch, or download from AATA)
  • 2 original passport-size photos (with your signature on the back)
  • A check or money order made payable to AAA or AATA for $20
  • A current driver’s license (or a photocopy of both sides if applying by mail)

Send it in to AATA or AAA (at the addresses listed in this article) or head to your local AAA branch.

How long does it take to get an IDP from AAA?

The IDP application only takes around 5 to 10 minutes to complete, but the total processing time could take anywhere from a day (if you go to a AAA location in-person) up to 2 weeks if you mail your application in and opt for a standard shipping option.

Christy Rodriguez

About Christy Rodriguez

Christy was born in St. Louis, Missouri, but lived in Texas the majority of her life. Now, work has her living in the Bay Area with her husband and yellow lab. Her first international travel experience was for a summer study abroad program in Italy. After that, she knew that she was destined to travel as much as possible. Luckily, her husband worked at Southwest Airlines, so they were introduced to the exciting world of “non-rev” travel.

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