What’s an International Driver’s Permit (IDP)?

An International driver’s permit or IDP for short is not something you hear a lot about but is very important if you’re traveling around the world or going to another country. An IDP is a document that, along with your valid home driver’s license, allows you to legally drive a motor vehicle while abroad. Most rental car agencies will require you have an IDP. There is a big debate on internet forums if an IDP is necessary.

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In my opinion, yes, it is a great insurance plan.For the $20 or so the IDP costs, why ruin your trip? If you’re stopped and asked for an IDP and you don’t have it, then what? Your entire trip may be ruined. Also, don’t forget to conceal and protect your IDP, passport, ID and local currency; grab a passport book to keep everything neat and tidy!

Understand that an IDP does NOT REPLACE your U.S.-issued driver’s license; rather, it acts as a language translation of your driver’s license and features your:

  • Full name.
  • Photograph.
  • Relevant driver information.

The following requirements and restrictions apply:

  • You must:
    • Be at least 18 years old to apply.
    • Carry BOTH your IDP and your valid driver’s license when driving abroad.
    • Obtain your IDP from the same country that issued your driver’s license.
  • You may NOT use your IDP to drive within the country in which it was issued.
  • Your IDP is valid, with a valid U.S. driver’s license, for up to 1 year from the date it’s issued.
    • You cannot renew your IDP, but you can apply for a new permit when necessary.

Apply for an International Driving Permit

For citizens of the United States, the U.S. government requires you apply for an International Driving Permit with either the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA).

Again, you must be 18 years old or older with a valid U.S. driver’s license to apply for an IDP. Both agencies thoroughly outline their application requirements on their forms, but basic application instructions include:

  • Completing the appropriate IDP application.
  • Presenting your valid U.S.-issued driver’s license.
    • If the agency allows you to apply by mail, you must send a photocopy of both sides of your driver’s license.
  • Producing (or mailing) 2 photos of yourself.
    • These photos must be passport-sized and signed on the back.
  • Making the applicable payment.
    • Payments vary depending on the shipping method, destination, and processing time and are listed on the applications.
  • Correctly submitting your application.
    • Generally, you can submit your application and other documents in person or via mail; inquire about online submission options with the specific agency.

Additionally, you might be able to apply while you’re already abroad. Contact the agency for details.

Avoiding IDP Fraud

Unfortunately, numerous organizations sell fake International Driving Permits, and most of them charge much more than the regular fee; so, by falling prey to these scam companies, not only will you lose money, but also you’ll end up with a fake document—something you don’t want to show up with after traveling to your destination country.

Remember, the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA) are the only organizations approved for issuing IDPs.

If you believe you’ve been sold a fake International Driving Permit, report the fraud using the FTC Complaint Assistant.

NOTE: Many couriers offer delivery services for authorized issuers of IDPs. If you choose to utilize these services, make sure the courier runs your application through AAA or AATA.

Learn the Rules of the Road

As a driver in a foreign country, it’s crucial you understand the local rules of the road. Naturally, actions like drunk driving and distracted driving are dangerous anywhere in the world, but what about other specific laws?

Gathering such information from across the globe can seem intimidating, so your safest bet is to check with the country’s embassy or consulates within the United States. You can find the appropriate embassy on the State Department’s guide to Web Sites of Foreign Embassies in the U.S., and if these agencies can’t provide you with driving regulations, they can point you in the direction of where to find them.

Foreign Drivers in the United States

You must have a valid driver license to drive in the United States—especially if you plan to rent a car, which is common among foreign visitors.

However, requirements for holding International Driving Permits and other official documents vary by state; some require them and some don’t. Play it safe by contacting the motor vehicle agency for the state(s) in which you plan to drive. These agencies also can help you learn the rules of the road while you’re here.

Of course, some IDP and other license requirements depend on how long you plan to stay in the U.S.—such as, for example, if you’re a short-time visitor versus a non-citizen resident. We’ll help you learn the differences on our guide to driving in the United States.

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