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How to Get an International Driver’s Permit?

An International Driver Permit (IDP) provides you with an official translation of your U.S.-issued driver’s license to use in conjunction with your valid driver’s license when you drive while traveling abroad. As long as you’re at least 18 years old with a valid driver’s license, you can apply for an IDP. The application process is fairly quick and painless, and you can choose between two different government-approved agencies.

Remember, once you have your IDP it’s important to further prepare yourself for international driving by brushing up on your destination country’s traffic laws, road safety, and auto insurance requirements.

What Is an International Driver License (or Permit)?

An International Driving Permit (often casually, but incorrectly, known as an International Driver License), is both a form of identification and official translation of your United States driver’s license into several foreign languages and valid in more than 170 countries.

An IDP is not a driver’s license or a replacement for your driver’s license. Rather, when carried with your valid driver’s license an IDP helps communicate your identity and driving credentials to foreign authorities.

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Who Needs an International Driver’s Permit?

Countries don’t require International Driver Permits, but they do recommend them. However,  some car rental agencies do require their foreign customers to present an IDP when renting a vehicle.

Whether or not they’re renting a vehicle, travelers 18 years old or older who plan to drive on foreign roads certainly benefit from having an IDP. Although each country requires certain driving credentials* in order to operate a motor vehicle on their roadways, they don’t necessarily require an IDP specifically. However, for performance and peace of mind, many experienced travelers opt for an IDP when traveling outside America. This is because most countries recognize and accept an IDP when accompanied by a U.S. driver’s license, even when they don’t accept a U.S. driver’s license by itself.

So, while not required unless your car rental agency says so, an IDP is recommended as a worry-free translation of your U.S.-issued driver’s license when driving abroad.

* Contact the foreign embassy and consulate of the country you’re visiting to get details about the country’s driving credential requirements.

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How to Apply for an International Driving Permit

First, understand there are only two agencies in the United States authorized to issue legal International Driving Permits:

  • The American Automobile Association (AAA).
  • The American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA).

Next, make sure you meet the requirements for an IDP. You must:

  • Be at least 18 years old.
  • Have a valid driver’s license for at least 6 months before applying for an IDP.
  • Obtain your IDP from the country that issued your current driver’s license.
    • For example, if you have a U.S. driver’s license, you MUST apply for your IDP with a U.S.-approved agency (i.e. the AAA or AATA). You cannot apply for your IDP with an agency in England, France, or Germany.
    • You MIGHT be able to apply for an IDP while you’re abroad; still, as a United States citizen, you MUST apply with the AAA or AATA. Both agencies offer mail-in application processes.
  • Keep BOTH your valid driver’s license and your IDP on you at all times when driving in another country.
  • Apply for the IDP within six months of when you’ll be using it.

You must apply in person or by mail. You cannot apply online, by email, or by fax.

Both the AAA and the AATA thoroughly explain their specific application processes, but the basic instructions are similar:

  • Download and complete the IDP application.
  • Show your valid U.S. driver’s license.
    • When mailing your application, you must send photocopies of the front and back of your driver’s license.
  • Provide two photos of yourself.
    • Make sure the photos are passport-sized and sign the backs.
  • Present all applicable payments.
    • An IDP costs $20. You could pay extra for shipping and handling; you must pay extra if you want expedited return mail.
    • Generally, both offices accept checks and money orders by mail; contact the agency for payment options if you’re applying in person.
  • Submit all application materials.
    • Again, you can apply in person or by mail (addresses are on applications).

When you apply in person, you might get your IDP on the same day.
When applying by mail, normal processing time is around 10-15 business days. Plan accordingly, and look into each agencies expedited mailing processes if necessary.

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IDP Restrictions

Once you have your International Driving Permit, understand that:

  • It’s not a valid license or permit when you’re driving within the United States.
  • You must carry both your IDP and your U.S.-issued driver’s license when driving abroad.
    • Your IDP doesn’t give you driving privileges; only your U.S. driver’s license accompanied with a license translation (i.e. the IDP) proves you can drive
  • Your IDP is valid for one year from the issuance date.
    • You can’t renew your IDP, but you can apply for a new permit.

>>MORE: Can I Get Car Insurance With a Suspended License?

The Pros & Cons of AAA vs. AATA?

The American Automobile Association (AAA) and the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA) are the only two agencies that provide legal international driving permits in the United States. Both agencies have their own pros and cons, but either agency is a great choice. The only difference between the two is that the AAA does have locations where you can apply in person and the AATA only accepts by-mail applications.

 AAAAATA
U.S. Government ApprovedYesYes
Satisfies License TranslationYesYes
Apply in PersonYesNo
Apply by MailYesYes
Apply Online or by Email/FaxNoNo
Application Available OnlineYesYes
Cost$20$20
Offers Expedited ShippingYes, additional costYes, additional cost
Services When OverseasYes, mail inYes, mail in

Summary

Applying for an International Driver Permit is an affordable, fairly quick process and provides you with an acceptable form of identification and translation of your U.S-issued driver’s license. Even if you don’t think you’ll need an IDP, bringing one on your travels will afford you peace of mind.

Additionally, it’s important to consider the driving laws, road conditions, and other transportation-related issues before you get behind the wheel in a foreign country. Refer to the U.S. State Department for help preparing for road safety, auto insurance, security resources, and more.

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