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.
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:
|Andorra*||Dominican Rep.||Lebanon||St. Lucia|
St. Vincent & The Grenadines
France (including French overseas territories)
Central African-Rep Chad*
|Costa Rica*||Japan||Paraguay||Vatican City|
* 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 is only 1 organization in the U.S. that issue IDPs: the American Automobile Association (AAA). This means that places like your local DMV don’t offer IDPs.
Here are some details about how to apply for an IDP at 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:
1000 AAA Drive
Heathrow, FL 32746
Attn: Mail Stop #28
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 does 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 AAA.
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 is only 1 legitimate places to obtain an IDP in the U.S. — AAA. Make sure you head to a local office or mail in your application before you leave for your next trip!