Have your sights set on speeding down the Autobahn or winding through the Italian coastline? If it’s your first time traveling to a foreign country and you plan to rent a car during your visit, you’ll need to look into the different requirements for driving.
You may have wondered if you’ll need a special driver’s license to drive in a foreign country. Are International Driver’s Permits really necessary? What about additional insurance? We’ve got the skinny on what you need to know when driving abroad…
Do I Need an International Driving Permit?
You may have heard about international driver’s licenses, but those don’t exist. International Driving Permits do exist, and some countries require you to get one before you can drive in their country (see list below.) An International Driving Permit (or IDP) is simply a translation of your U.S. driver’s license into 10 other languages so that if you are pulled over in a foreign country, local police officers can read your identification and driver’s license credentials with ease.
The following countries* require U.S. drivers to obtain an International Driving Permit:
*This is not an exhaustive list. Check with the embassy of the country you plan to visit to find out if they require an International Driving Permit or not.
For short-term visitors (visitors who are traveling for generally 30 days or less) with a valid U.S. driver’s license, these countries do not require an International Driving Permit:
- Costa Rica
- Dominican Republic
- New Zealand
- Saudi Arabia (men only)
- South Africa
- United Kingdom
How to Get an International Driving Permit
Two private organizations are authorized by the U.S. Department of State to issue an International Driving Permit to American travelers: AAA (American Automobile Association) and the AATA (American Automobile Touring Alliance).
The IDP can only be issued in the U.S., so be sure to apply for and obtain it before you depart for your trip. Check with each country you plan to visit for their requirements, as fines for driving without an International Driving Permit can be costly. Keep in mind that you must be 18 years or older to obtain an IDP and that the permit cannot be issued more than six months in advance of your desired travel dates.
Beware of scams! There are many websites out there who capitalize on the confusion that travelers often have when trying to figure out how to drive abroad. Do not buy an IDP from any website other than AAA or AATA, and never buy an “international driver’s license.” Those do not exist, and any company who tries to sell you one is a scammer.
Apply Through AAA
- Two original passport pictures—you can get these taken at AAA branch offices or local Walgreens or CVS stores
- A valid U.S. driver’s license
- The $20 permit fee
If you are not able to visit a AAA branch office in person, your IDP can be obtained through the mail. Simply enclose the following and mail them to the AAA office nearest you (check locally for payment options):
- Your completed IDP application form
- Two original passport pictures (each signed on the back)
- The $20 permit fee (via either check or money order—cash is not accepted through the mail)
- A photocopy of both sides of your driver’s license
- If desired, you can include additional postage for expedited return mail service. Otherwise, your permit should be mailed to you four to six weeks after submitting your application.
Apply Through the AATA
Download, fill out, and sign the application and mail it to the American Automobile Touring Alliance at P.O. Box 24980 San Jose, CA 95154. Along with your application, you’ll need to send the following to the AATA:
- Two color passport pictures (click here for photo requirements)
- A signed photocopy of the front and back of your driver’s license
- The $20 permit fee (via either check or money order payable to “AATA”)
- A shipping and handling fee ($11 for USPS Priority Mail or $35 for USPS Express)
What Else to Know About International Driving Permits
Travel Insurance Review recommends taking note of the following when considering obtaining an IDP:
- You must carry your U.S. driver’s license with you in order for your IDP to be valid.
- While IDPs are honored in over 150 countries, they may not be recognized everywhere. For example, in order to drive in China, you must obtain a Chinese driver’s license. China does not accept IDPs. Always double check the driving laws of the country you’re visiting well in advance to ensure you have the proper permits.
- Another country cannot issue an IDP to be used in conjunction with a U.S. driver’s license. This means that your IDP can only be issued within the U.S.
- There is no driving test required to obtain an IDP (it relies on your having a valid license already).
- An IDP is valid for only one year and cannot be issued more than six months in advance of your travel.
- IDPs are only for short-term visitors. If you plan to establish residency abroad, you’ll need to follow the steps necessary to obtain a local license.
- If you happen to already be abroad when you decide you need an IDP, don’t fret—AAA has your back. Simply complete your AAA IDP application and mail it along with the other required documents to:
1000 AAA Drive
Heathrow, FL 32746
Attn: Mail Stop #28
What About Car Insurance While Traveling Abroad?
Whether or not you need additional car insurance while abroad is not as clear-cut as whether or not you need an International Driving Permit. Because every plan is different, your best bet is to talk to your auto insurance provider directly and find out what you are covered for. Ask if you need to get any additional insurance through the rental car company or if your current policy will suffice.
Keep in mind that each country might have its own rental insurance requirements, so check with the embassy of your destination country to determine what extra coverage you may need. Overseas car rental companies can often provide auto insurance, but coverage can be minimal. The State Department suggests buying additional insurance coverage that is at least equal to what you carry at home.
Things to Keep in Mind While Driving Abroad
Before you jet off overseas, it’s important to research the laws, road conditions, and driving customs of your destination country as they can vary significantly from driving in the US. In some cases, it may be a better choice to rely on trains, cabs, or alternate transportation instead of attempting to drive in a country you aren’t familiar with. Keep the following in mind when planning your trip:
- Research the local laws and the local driving culture: Do people drive on the left-hand side of the road rather than the right? Find this out before you leave. In general, it is not recommended for U.S. tourists to drive in countries who drive on the left side of the road.
- Know the availability of roadside assistance: Check with your rental car company before you head out on the road to see what options they provide should you need roadside assistance.
- Learn the local emergency numbers: 911 is not a universal emergency number. Should you need emergency assistance from the local police, fire department, or an ambulance, here’s a handy list of foreign emergency numbers.
If you have any questions about applying for an International Driving Permit, we recommend contacting the American Automobile Touring Alliance at (408) 930-8009 or the American Automobile Association at (877) 272-2223. Once you’ve got your rental car ready to go, come to Roomkey to find your hotels.