How to Get an International Driver's Permit

International Drivers Permit
Tony Webster / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

If you're considering renting a car internationally, it's almost certainly required to also obtain an International Driver's Permit (sometimes incorrectly called a license).

An International Driver's Permit (IDP) allows you to drive a vehicle in another country, as long as you also have a valid drivers license issued by your state and is recognized as a valid form of identification in over 175 countries as well as by many major car rental companies internationally.

Getting an International Driver's Permit can take anywhere from a day to a few weeks, depending on whether you're going through walk-in processing or applying via mail, so make sure to plan ahead if you're planning to drive on your international trip. There are only two locations in the United States that issue these documents: The American Automobile Association (AAA) and the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA).

Where to Get an International Driver's Permit

In the United States, International Driver Permits (IDPs) are only issued by the American Automobile Association and the American Automobile Touring Alliance, and the State Department recommends against purchasing an IDP from other outlets as they are all entirely illegal to purchase, carry, or sell.

IDPs can be issued to anyone over 18 who has had a valid drivers license for six months or longer, and they typically remain valid for one year or the expiration of your existing state driving license—it's important to investigate an IDP before your trip and make sure you know the requirements.

Both AAA and AATA are excellent sources for these documents, so once you've selected a provider, go to either the AAA's application or NAATA application's website, print out the International Driving Permit Application, complete all applicable fields, and submit it.

Once you have the application completed, you can send it in via the mail or visit a local office of an organization like AAA; you'll also need two original passport-sized photos and a signed copy of your valid U.S. driver's license as well as an enclosed check for the fee (typically $15).

Tips to Getting and Using Your International Driver's Permit

AAA offices can process IDPs during your visit, but if you send the application in, processing generally takes 10 to 15 business days, though expedited services may be available to get your license within one or two business days for an additional fee.

When applying, you'll need a computer and printer, completed application, a copy of your valid U.S. driver's license, two passport photos, and a check, money order, or credit card to complete the process—remember to bring these with you if you're applying in person.

Always make sure to carry your valid United State's driver's license when driving internationally as your IDP is invalid without this accompanying proof of eligibility to drive. IDPs only act as a translation of domestically-accepted licenses and do not allow those without government-issued driver's licenses to drive abroad.

You'll also want to make sure to enclose the proper fees (the fee for the IDP, as well as any shipping and handling fees), photos, and photocopies of your license when submitting your application to AAA or AATA as omitting any of these required documents will result in your application being rejected.

You should also check the driving requirements and laws for the countries you will be driving in on your vacation so you'll know what will be required in the event you get stopped by local authorities.