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Does Your License Need an Upgrade If You’re Driving Abroad? It Depends

International Drivers Permit

Being behind the wheel during an international vacation means that you’re never at the mercy of taxis, trains or buses. However, many people shy away from driving during foreign holidays because they don’t quite understand the rules for driving internationally. Do you need an International Driver’s Permit (IDP)? Let’s drill down to see what you need to know about driving in a foreign country.

Road Tripping in North America

The good news is that, if you’re an American, you don’t have to worry about obtaining an IDP if you’re planning a road trip that will have you crossing a border into Mexico or Canada. Both countries consider United States driver’s licenses to be valid. Of course, you’ll still need to be sure that your passport is current before you try to drive across either border!

If you’re driving in the United States and you live in another country, it’s a little more complicated. Some states in the US require an International Driving Permit (IDP) from foreign nationals, in addition to a valid license from your own country. Contact the motor vehicle department of each state you will drive in for its requirements.

If you want to rent a car, you may need both your license and an IDP. Find out the rental company’s policies and other requirements in advance of your trip. For more details, check out the information on this usa.gov page.

What Countries Require an International Driving Permit?

The good news is that most countries in Europe are just fine with drivers from other countries taking to their roads without an international driver’s permit. The big thing to know, if you’re a US citizen, is that you must possess a valid United States driver’s license in order to have your driving qualifications carry over. A handful of countries in Europe do require an IDP. You’ll want to make sure you’re prepared if you’ll be staying in or driving through any of the European countries that require an IDP. Here’s the list:

  • Austria
  • Bosnia-Herzegovina
  • Croatia
  • The Czech Republic
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Italy
  • Poland
  • Romania
  • Slovenia
  • Slovakia
  • Spain

Some Car Rental Agencies Will Require It

You may think that you’re in the clear if you don’t plan to drive in any of the countries on the list. However, there’s something else to think about before you scrap plans to apply for an IDP. Are you planning to rent a car in Europe? It turns out that IDP requirements actually vary by rental agency. Some agencies in countries that don’t require IDPs actually require IDPs before they will rent to Americans. It will be necessary to ask the rental agency you plan to use what the requirement is ahead of time. In theory, without an IDP, you may not be able to pick up your car rental, but not all rental agencies will enforce the rules.

What About Countries Outside of Europe?

When renting a car outside of Europe, you may need an IDP, and it’s probably safer to have one. Flyertalk members have reported that they have been asked for it in places like Argentina and Japan. The best way to know for sure is to contact the embassy of the country you plan on visiting.

How Do I Get an International Driver’s Permit?

Getting an IDP is actually a pretty simple task. In fact, your local AAA branch should be able to help you with getting your IDP. The American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA) is another organization that can help you to obtain your IDP. These are actually the only two organizations that distribute IDPs in the United States. The cost of an IDP is $20. Are you wondering how quickly you can obtain an IDP? You can actually have yours issued immediately if you visit your local AAA branch. The process can take between 10 and 15 days if you opt to have one mailed to you by AAA or AATA.

Should You Get an IDP Before Driving in Another Country?

You may not technically need to obtain an IDP to drive in the country you plan to visit. However, it’s not a bad idea to obtain some extra peace of mind for just $20. Having that IDP if you get pulled over during an international trip could save you from some big hassles. The big benefit of having an IDP is that all of your information is translated on the document.

What’s more, having an IDP will give you more freedom to change rental agencies at the last minute if there is an issue with your car reservation. The bottom line is that an IDP is a great tool for some added road safety when driving in a foreign country. If you are going to go ahead and get an IDP, remember that you won’t want to apply way ahead of time. The permit is only valid for one year, though it offers a grace period of six months.

jimbous March 17, 2020

Know someone travelling In Greece several years ago, with a US driver's license, who was stopped in a police road block and not having the IDP was issued a 500 euro ticket. Don't know the particulars about any requirements for a court appearance, etc. That'll probably happen in other European countries like Italy, etc. If you do not pay the ticket you may wind up in some strange list and be arrested next time you try to enter the country. Moral of the story is get the IDP, even if you don't travel to one of those countries in the article above. You just never know how fast regulations may change and $20 is worth it for peace of mind.

EasternTraveler February 5, 2020

This article is fishy. It seems as it was written by someone trying to sell IDP's. 1. Never been asked for an IDP in Germany or Italy or Spain. 2. When I was asked if I had an IDP, they were happy to accept my expired IDP. 3. The article says it makes the road safer. LOL actually ROFLMAO. That piece of paper does NOTHING for safety. 4. Someone said in a reply that they were told their US DL "could be faked for all they know." Really? And you THINK that it would not be easier to fake a cheap poorly printed IDP? Oh my, they would truly not know a counterfeit bill if they saw it. :D

jonsail January 30, 2020

I rented a car on a Greek island and the rental agency wanted me either leave my passport or my IDP. Glad I had the IDP.

Milford_bob January 30, 2020

I have renewed my IDP several times, and with quite a few trips to Portugal, Germany, and Greece had never once been asked to produce it. Last year, 2019, I didn’t bother. In August, I went to the Enterprise rental counter In Heraklion (Crete) to pick up my reserved vehicle for our 2 week vacation. The rep asked me for my IDP, which surprised me. I did have my old expired one thinking that might work, so I handed it to her. She looked it over and told me it was expired, and she could not rent me a vehicle as Enterprise would be subject to a 1,000 Euro fine! Not being sure what my alternatives were, with great apprehension I wandered over to the Hertz counter. To my relief, they rented me a vehicle with no request for an IDP. However, the rate was twice what Enterprise was reserved for. But at least we had a car. I will be renewing my IDP annually now...

PMMMDL January 30, 2020

I've never needed an IDP in Germany or Italy....Germany I rent in several times every year....and I was just there this month. Something is fishy with this article.