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Do You Need an International Driver's Permit for Overseas Car Rentals?

International Drivers LicenseAre you heading out on a vacation that will require you to be able to drive a rental car? Are you going to a country (or series of countries) in which English is not the primary language? Are you even able to drive outside of your home country (some countries don't permit foreigners to drive)? If you're going to need to drive in a foreign country, you may or may not need to have an international driving permit.


What Is an International Driver's Permit (IDP)?


An IDP, for all intents and purposes, is proof that you hold a valid driver's license from a competent issuing authority in your home country, as well as a translation of your regular driver's license into roughly a dozen of the most common languages used by police officers around the world. IDPs are printed in the five official languages of the United Nations (English, French, Spanish, Russian, and Chinese), as well as German, Arabic, Italian, the Scandinavian languages, and Portuguese. IDPs are valid in all countries that are signatories to the various conventions on international driving, and are further recognized and accepted by many other countries that were not signatories.


Do I Need an IDP? 


Do you have to have an IDP to drive your rental car overseas? Well, that depends. In countries where English is the primary spoken language (such as the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand) or one of the major spoken languages (such as Canada), an IDP is not required, though it is recommended, primarily for drivers from countries where English is not widely spoken. Having an IDP is more necessary in some European countries than in others, but is recommended for most. And in more than 40 countries around the world, you cannot obtain a rental car at all unless you have an IDP.


Note: an IDP is not a substitute for your normal driver's license, and you must carry your normal driver's license and your passport alongside your IDP for it to be valid.


As with car, health, life, or fire insurance, it's better to have an IDP and not need it than to need it and not have it. Having an IDP will make your life significantly easier when you're trying to obtain a rental car overseas.


How Do I Get an IDP?


Requirements seem to vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but the general requirements seem to be:

  • You must be 18 or older
  • You must have a valid, recognized driver's license
  • You must submit two passport-type photographs
  • Applications must be made on an official form provided by an authorized issuing authority


According to the United States Department of State, there are only two authorized issuers of IDPs in the United States: the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the American Automobile Touring Club, which offers IDPs through the National Automobile Club. AAA's Canadian counterpart, the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA), is the only authorized distributor of IDPs in Canada. Drivers from other English-speaking countries should check with their driving authorities to determine where to get IDPS.


The Bottom Line


It may or may not be necessary to have an IDP if you want to drive a rental car overseas. Your best bet is to contact your country's embassy or consulate in that country for assistance in determining that country's requirements for foreign drivers. And make sure to only buy your IDP from reputable, authorized sources—there are plenty of scammers out there, waiting to trick unsuspecting travelers into parting with their money.


Have you ever had to apply for an international driving permit? What was the experience like? 


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