Who doesn’t love a good road trip? Especially when you are traveling in another country, there is something really special about having the freedom to go where you want, when you want. Being able to experience the country on your terms, from stopping off at scenic overlooks, taking back roads through quaint villages, and stopping at roadside restaurants and shops. So when your a planning your trip overseas, if your goal is to be able to drive in a foreign country, then you must know how to get an international drivers license.
What is an International Drivers License?
Some of you might be thinking, “is there such a thing as an international driver’s license?” And the answer is technically yes…and no. The international drivers license is not really a driving license, but rather a special permit. Also called the International Drivers Permit (IDP), the document is actually just your existing driving license translated into 11 languages.
An International Drivers License Does NOT Replace Your Regular License
The important thing to know about the international drivers license is that it is a supplemental permit, not a replacement. It’s an additional document that you need to carry with you in certain countries along with your regular drivers license. Therefore, you will still need to carry your regular license with you at all times. Having both the IDP and your current driving license is necessary in many countries.
When Does the International Driving Permit (IDP) Expire?
You should also know that the international drivers license (or IDP) is only valid for one year from the date of issuance, and it will not be issued more than 6 months before you need it. So you need to keep this in mind if you are traveling overseas for an extended period of time and make sure you plan the data on getting your IDP accordingly.
Do I Need an International Drivers License to Drive in Another Country?
You don’t always need an international drivers license when you are traveling and intend to drive in another country. It depends on what country you are planning to drive through. In some countries, getting an international drivers license is not required. Currently, the international drivers license is recognized in roughly 150 countries around the world.
What Countries Require an International Drivers License?
Below is a short list of just a few of the more popular countries that do require an international drivers permit (IDP) license in order to drive a vehicle in that country. However, even if a country isn’t listed below it is still a good practice to obtain an international drivers license just in case. It can be beneficial in countries, such as Ireland, to have this supplemental permit in case any issues arise while you are driving in the country.
Please note that this is NOT a complete list, but just a sampling.
- Costa Rica
- South Africa
- United Kingdom / Great Britain
You should have the IDP in order to drive in these countries, and in some countries you must pay an additional registration fee upon arrival. See the full list of countries that require an international drivers license here.
Make sure to always double-check directly with that country’s official embassy, etc. to ensure before you travel there. Personally speaking, it doesn’t hurt to get an international drivers license just to keep you covered. And because getting an IDP is cheap and easy, we highly recommend getting one regardless.
If you plan to rent a car abroad, then there are roughly 40 countries that require you to have an international drivers license in order to obtain the rental car. Typically, the car rental company will spell this out for you in the terms and conditions. The last thing you want is to show up and not have the IDP when they ask to see it at the rental counter. So be sure to find out for sure before your trip!
Why Get an International Drivers License? Driving is Part of the Adventure!
Road trips are some of our favorite types of travel. And we’ve had a blast over the years driving in other countries as a part of our vacations. One of my fondest memories was taking a two-week road trip through Europe many years ago. We drove through Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy and France. It was great to be able to go at our own pace, stop off in little towns to explore or get something to eat — or even just for a photo!
Another one of my favorite trips was a road trip in Italy that I took with my friend a few years back. Specifically, we loved our days driving around Tuscany on our own. We would stop off at different vineyards for a tour and sampling, as well as exploring some of the really beautiful medieval towns around Tuscany. We could stop off and explore as much as we wanted, walking around to enjoy the shops, stopping for lunch, etc. While other tourists had to rush back to their tour buses, we were able to stay and enjoy many of these villages after the crowds left!
A few years ago we were in New Zealand, and decided to rent an RV to drive around. Luckily we had our international drivers license because we needed it for the rental. And we are SO glad we did because RVing around New Zealand was honestly one of the absolute coolest experiences we ever had!
We’ve also driven in a number of other countries as well. Such as road tripping around Ireland and Scotland when we first started dating. We also have driven in many Asian countries such as Thailand and China, as well as Canada and Mexico.
Get an International Drivers License Just in Case!
Having our International Drivers License with us at all times means that if we decide on the fly that we want to rent a car during our trip, even if it’s just for a day, then we are covered if they require it. For example, we were in Thailand once and didn’t have a car for the trip. But one day we wanted to drive around and explore some different areas, so we popped into a local shop to rent a car for just the one day. They required that we show them our international drivers license, and luckily we had it with us.
So it doesn’t hurt to have an IDP with you, even if you weren’t initially planning to rent a car and drive during your trip abroad.
Am I Eligible for an International Drivers License?
There are a few requirements in order to get your international drivers license. First, you must currently hold a valid drivers license in your country of residence. If your driving license has been suspended or revoked, then you are not eligible for the international driving permit (IDP).
Further, your current drivers license must be valid for at least 6 months after your IDP is issued (so that it doesn’t expire after receiving your IDP). Lastly, you must be at least 18 years or older to get an international drivers license.
International Drivers License Online — Watch Out for the Fakes!
If you do a search online, you may find numerous companies that say they can get you an international drivers license. But beware! The U.S. State Department website states that only the National Automobile Club and the AAA offer international driver’s permits in the United States.
So even though others might seem legitimate and even their documents look real, more than likely they are fakes.
Your IDP should look something like the photo above. It is a 4 x 6 booklet with your name, date, place of birth, and your home address. This page is then repeated throughout the booklet in 9 different languages.
If you have questions about an IDP that you purchased elsewhere, feel free to contact your local AAA office or take it there in person to verify its authenticity.
How to Apply for an International Drivers License?
As mentioned above, the U.S. State Department only recognizes the National Automobile Club and the American Automobile Association (AAA) as the only places to get a valid international drivers license in the USA.
How to Get an International Drivers License AAA
We personally recommend using your local AAA office to apply for your international drivers license. We actually got our most recent IDP at the AAA office in Atlanta. The process was really easy and fast.
AAA International Drivers License Application Requirements:
You will need the fill out an application form, show your valid drivers license, provide a passport-sized photo to go on your new permit, and pay the $15 fee. If you do not have passport photos, you can get them taken at the AAA office for a small fee.
There are 2 ways you can apply for your IDP:
1. In person: The easiest way to get your international drivers license is to stop by a local AAA office in person. You can print the application out online and fill it out prior to your visit, then you just need to drop it off and wait a few minutes for them to process it. Overall, it’s quite an easy process and doesn’t take very long. We were actually in an out (with our IDP’s in hand) in the same day (less than 1 hour really).
2. By Mail: You can also fill out the form and mail it to your closed AAA office for processing. When it is ready, you can stop by to pick it up. Keep in mind that it could take up to 15 days or longer for mailing and processing. If you are in a time crunch, then it is better for you to get your IDP in person at the local AAA office because you can get it in the same day.
Personally, we recommend stopping by your local AAA office in person. The process is short and simple.
Bring Both Your Regular Driving License & IDP When You Travel
When it is time to set out on your overseas adventure, just remember that an international drivers license is just a certified translation of your regular driver’s license. It’s not a replacement. So you still must keep your actual driving license with you at all times while you are driving internationally. If for any reason you need to show your documents to an officer, you should give them both items.
Tips for Driving in Another Country
From driving on the opposite side of the road, rules, and road signs, the idea of driving in a foreign country can be a little stressful. But you can take the worry out of it if you are well prepared to drive in another country. For more information, check out our post Tips for International Driving.
In the end, driving in another country really is not that scary. And it can add SO much to your trip! We’ve done road trips throughout Europe, including Ireland, Scotland, Italy, Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland…and more! We’ve also driven in New Zealand, Mexico, Canada, Thailand, China and Indonesia — among other places.
As long as you are prepared, then there isn’t anything to worry about and we highly recommend it, especially if you love a good road trip. But definitely make sure that you get your international drivers license (IDP) in advance so that you are prepared when you arrive, regardless if they require it or not. It’s just really a best practice, in our opinion. Happy travels!