What is an International Driving Permit, and Do You Need One?

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Do You Need an International Driving Permit?

An International Driving Permit (IDP) is a multiple-language document that verifies that you have a valid driver’s license. While many countries may not officially recognize your driver’s license, they will accept your valid US, Canadian or British license if you also carry an International Driving Permit. Some countries, such as Italy, require you to carry an official translation of your license if you plan to rent a car unless you hold a license from a European Union member nation.

An IDP fulfills this requirement, saving you the bother of having to get your driver's license translated.

As of this writing, about 150 countries accept the International Driving Permit.

US International Driving Permit Application Procedures

In the United States, you can only obtain an IDP at Automobile Association of America (AAA) offices or by mail from the National Automobile Club (part of the American Automobile Touring Alliance) or AAA. These agencies are the only authorized IDP issuers in the United States, according to the US Department of State. You do not need to go through a third party to get your IDP. You can apply directly to AAA or the National Automobile Club.

Your International Driving Permit will cost about $20; you may also need to pay shipping costs if you apply by mail. To apply, simply download an application form from AAA or the National Automobile Club / AATA and complete it.

Go to a photographer, such as your AAA office, pharmacy photo studio, or department store portrait center, and purchase two passport-sized photos. Do not take these photos at home or in a coin-operated photo booth, because they will be rejected. Make a photocopy of your valid US driver’s license. Mail your application, photos, license copy and fee to AAA or the National Automobile Club, or visit an AAA office to process your application.

Your new IDP will be valid for one year from the date of issue.

You may apply for your IDP up to six months before your travel date. If your driver's license is currently suspended or revoked, you may not apply for an IDP.

Applying for a Canadian International Driving Permit

Canadian citizens can apply for International Driving Permits at Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) offices. The application process is similar; you’ll need two passport photos and a copy of the front and back of your driver’s license. You can mail your application and 25.00 (in Canadian dollars) processing fee or bring them to a CAA office. 

Getting an International Driving Permit in the UK

In the United Kingdom, you can apply for your IDP in person at some post offices and at The Automobile Association’s Folkestone office. You can also apply by post to The AA. You will need to supply a passport photo with your original signature on the reverse side, a copy of your driver’s license, test pass certificate and provisional driver’s license, or DVLA confirmation, and a copy of your passport. You’ll also need to provide a self-addressed, stamped envelope and completed application form if you apply for your IDP by post.

The basic IDP fee is 8.50 pounds; postage and handling charges range from 7 pounds to 26 pounds.

You must apply for your UK IDP within three months of your travel date.

If you are a UK citizen traveling within the European Union, you won't need an IDP.

Read the Fine Print

Be sure to read the fine print on your application form, processing agency’s website and rental car company website. Carefully examine the list of countries that accept the International Driving Permit; acceptance varies by destination country and by driver’s nationality. Check IDP requirements for all of your destination countries. You should also research IDP requirements for the countries you might drive through, even if you don't plan to stop.

Most importantly, don’t forget to bring your driver’s license on your trip; your IDP is invalid without it.