Do you travel internationally? If you plan to rent a car overseas, your trusty state driver's license may not get you very far.
Before you leave home, get an International Driving Permit (IDP), a valid form of identification in 150 countries that translates your information into multiple languages. An IDP always speaks the language, even if you don't.
The IDP is not a driver's license. This small paper booklet simply serves as a translation of your valid U.S.-issued driver's license. It contains your name, photo and typical driver information and is translated into 10 languages—which is key if you are ever have to present your ID in a foreign country.
The International Driving Permit has been around since the 1949 Geneva Convention on Road Travel, which set up a framework where driving licenses could be issued into many languages. When driving outside your own country, you carry this permit along with your regular driver's license as a legal pairing of identity-proving documentation.
Countries That Require an International Driving Permit
In general, if you are traveling outside of North America, it's usually a good idea to get an IDP. In some countries in South America, you'll need an IADP. Before your trip, check the list of countries on the application form to see which permit you need.
Renting a Car in Europe: Get an IDP
A few English-speaking European countries—England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Ireland—recognize U.S. driver's licenses. But most other popular European destinations such as Italy, France, Germany, and Spain require that you also carry an International Driving Permit (IDP) along with your regular driver's license.
In addition, rental car companies outline license requirements in their booking conditions and rules. This information is provided before a reservation is completed, but many renters don't read them. If you're renting overseas, it always pays to read the fine print.
Note that if you rent a car in the U.K. but drive through the Eurotunnel to mainland Europe, you will need an IDP. You, the renter, are responsible for staying within the laws of any countries you visit. You don't want to be at a traffic stop in a foreign country where your U.S.-issued driver's license is not valid on its own.
Renting a Car in South America: Get an IADP or IDP
Heading to South America? You may be better off with the IADP (Inter-American Driving Permit). While the IDP is accepted in more than 150 countries around the world, some countries in South America—most notably Brazil and Uruguay—never signed onto the 1949 Geneva Convention on Road Travel. Those countries only accept the less common IADP.
Renting a Car in Asia: Get an IDP
Renting a car in Asia? An IDP is required in popular destinations such as Japan, Thailand, South Korea, Malaysia and Laos.
Note that China never signed onto the 1949 Geneva Convention on Road Travel. Americans cannot rent a car in China without first getting a Chinese driver's license.
How to Get an International Driver's License
In the United States, there are only two automobile associations authorized to issue an International Driving Permit (IDP) or Inter-American Driving Permit (IADP):
Don't be fooled by scammers. Only the AAA and the AATA can issue IDPs and IADPs, and only in the country of residence. In other words, you need to obtain the permit before your trip.
FAQs for Getting an International Driver's License
How much does it cost to acquire an IDP or IADP? You'll need to get passport-size photos plus pay a fee of $20 for either type of permit.
Do you need to take a test to get an IDP or IADP? An IDP or IADP is not a driver's license, merely a translation of your license. No written or driving skill test is required.
How long is an IDP or IADP valid? Both types of permit are valid for one year.
What is the minimum age for an IDP? You must also be at least 18 years of age and hold a valid drivers license issued by a state or territory of the United States.
What are other requirements for getting an IDP? Your U.S.-issued license must be valid for at least six months from the issue date of your IDP. So if your license is going to expire within six months, you'll need to renew it before applying for an international driving permit.