How (and Why) to Get an International Driver’s Permit

Global Citizen By sannachen August 3, 2017

You turn a corner and an idyllic country village appears out of nowhere. There are new people to meet, new foods to try, and new streets to explore. Best of all? There isn’t another tourist in sight – and you’re the first of your friends to Instagram it.

Exploring new places by car can lead to unforgettable detours and undiscovered destinations. Unfortunately, your state-issued I.D. doesn’t always mean much overseas. An International Driver’s Permit can help.

What is an International Driver’s Permit? 

An International Driver’s Permit (IDP) is a booklet which translates your license into 10 languages. It’s designed to reduce language barriers abroad and is recognized in over 150 countries.

Some countries, like Hungary, officially require an IDP and others, like Spain, require a local language translation in addition to a license. An International Driver’s Permit helps solve both situations. And regardless of the country laws, rental car companies can require international drivers to carry an IDP.

If you’re struggling to decide, contact the foreign embassy or consulate of the country in question to determine if an IDP is necessary. “Better safe than sorry” is never a bad policy.

On their own, these permits don’t grant driving privileges. Drivers must present a current driver’s license along with the permit. So if you get citation abroad, it will be reflected on your domestic driving record.

IDPs are valid for one year, and must be used within six months of the application date. They’re not renewable, but you can apply for a new one at any time.


Who is Eligible for an International Driver’s Permit? 

To be eligible, you must be at least 18 years old and have a government-issued driver’s license valid for at least six months from the IDP issue date.


How to Get an International Driver’s Permit 

U.S. residents can apply for an International Driver’s Permit in person at a local American Automobile Association (AAA) branch or by mail through AAA or the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA).

Already overseas? You can submit your application and paperwork by mail to AAA or AATA using USPS or FedEx.


What You Need to Get an International Driver’s Permit  

In person:

  • Completed application
  • Two passport-sized pictures (2″ by 2″)
  • Valid government issued driver’s license
  • $20 permit fee

By mail:

  • Completed application
  • Two passport-sized pictures (2″ by 2″) signed on the back
  • Photocopy of both sides of your driver’s license
  • $20 check or money order


Application Tips 

Beware of Scams

An International Driver’s License (IDL) is different from an International Driver’s Permit (IDP). An IDL is not a legally recognized document like the IDP, so beware of websites that say otherwise. International Driver’s Permits from unauthorized organizations can lead to legal problems. Each country is different, but only two U.S. organizations are allowed to issue IDPs: AAA and the AATA.

Keep Process Time in Mind

It can take four to six weeks to receive your International Driver’s Permit. Plan ahead so you receive it before your trip. There is an expedited option that usually arrives in one to two business days, but it will cost extra.

Carry Both Licenses

Remember: An International Driver’s Permit is not a substitute for your driver’s license. It needs to be presented in conjunction with your license to be valid.


Abide by Local Laws

It’s illegal to drive without a valid license and insurance in many countries. An IDP can provide peace of mind, but no matter what, you’ll need to study up on destination regulations to stay out of trouble.

If you prefer the footmobile, check out our list of the best hiking destinations around the world.