How to Get an International Driver’s License

Last updated on March 21st, 2023 at 05:02 pm

Whether you’re vacationing, traveling for business, studying abroad, or moving internationally, being able to drive and holding an internation driver’s license in a different country allows you to explore the sights at your leisure.

In many countries, an international driver’s permit lets you legally get on the road. This guide explains what it is and how to get one.

What is an international driver’s permit?

How to get an International Driver’s License

The international driver’s permit or IDP is a document you can use with your valid driver’s license to drive in a foreign country. This program grew out of the UN Conventions on Road Traffic held in 1926, 1949, and 1968.

Rather than a plastic card, the IDP is a booklet that contains the details of your driver’s license translated into English, French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, German, Arabic, Italian, Swedish, and Portuguese.

Why do you need an international driving permit?

Driving is illegal if you don’t hold a license. Typically, driver’s licenses provide information in the official language of the issuing country. This fact makes it difficult for law enforcement officers to check credentials during traffic stops.

The international driver’s permit is a solution to this problem. You present it alongside your valid driver’s license to ensure that your identification is easy to read.

Some countries require foreign drivers to have a valid IDP and a driver’s license. Even if the country you’re in doesn’t mandate it, presenting an IDP can simplify traffic stops and checkpoints.

Which countries accept the IDP?

The international driver’s permit is accepted in dozens of countries in Australia, North and South America, Europe, African and Asia. Check the official list to find out if it’s valid in your intended destination.

In some of the above countries, you’ll need to present your IDP at a local police station and pay a fee to legally drive during your stay. Consult the U.S. or Canadian Embassy or consulate located in your destination country for more information about requirements.

When do you apply for an IDP?

When you apply for an IDP depends on your country’s rules. You can’t request an IDP more than six months before your desired effective date in the U.S. and Canada. For example, if you want your international driver’s permit to take effect on June 1, the earliest you can apply is December 1.

Can you drive in another country without having an IDP?

Whether you can drive in another country without an IDP depends on local laws. In many places, it’s illegal to operate a vehicle on public roads without a valid driver’s license and an IDP if you’re a foreign driver.

International Driver’s License

What is an international driver’s license?

An international driver’s license is not an official document issued by any country. However, you’ll find that many companies and organizations allow you to buy a so-called international driver’s license online. These cards aren’t typically considered valid IDs.

In other words, they won’t take the place of a valid driver’s license and an international driver’s permit from your home country.

Unfortunately, sites selling international driving license documents often use deceptive tactics to trick people into purchasing. In 2003, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) took legal action against six companies selling fake international driver’s permits. Since then, tactics have changed, with sites using the term “international driver’s license” to skirt laws and sell IDs that don’t serve any purpose.

Only purchase an international driver’s permit from an organization or association approved by your home country’s government to protect yourself.

What does an international driver’s license look like?

Since the international driver’s license isn’t an official credential, there isn’t a single design. Typically, the cards mimic U.S. driver’s licenses and include a photograph, date of birth, height, hair color, and eye color.

An international driver’s permit isn’t a card. It’s a multi-page booklet with an effective date on the cover and the seal of the agency or organization that issued it below. A photograph is on the first page or the cover.

What’s the difference between an international driving permit and an international driver’s license?

An international driver’s permit is the official document accepted by dozens of countries as a companion to a valid foreign driver’s license. An international driver’s license is an unofficial ID card you can order online.

Some people mistakenly refer to the international driver’s permit as an international driver’s license, which leads to confusion. You don’t need an international driver’s license to drive abroad. Only an international driver’s permit and your valid foreign driver’s license are typically required.

Man driving

How do you get an IDP?

How you get an international driver’s permit varies from country to country. No matter where you live, you’ll need to obtain one in your home country before you travel.

In the U.S., only the American Automobile Association (AAA) can issue IDPs. The only legal provider of IDPs in Canada is the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA).

What is the IDP application process like?

What the IDP application process is like depends on the issuing organization. Read on to learn more about applying through AAA and CAA.

AAA International Driver’s Permit process

AAA gives you two ways to apply for an international driver’s license. With both, you’ll need to visit their website, print the application, and fill it out as the first step. Then either:

  • Stop into a AAA branch office. Bring the application, your valid U.S. driver’s license, and two original passport photos to your local AAA branch office. If you don’t have passport photos, you can have them taken at the AAA office.
  • Apply by mail. Send a photocopy of both sides of your driver’s license, your completed application, and two original passport photos to the closest AAA office.

CAA International Driver’s Permit process

The CAA only accepts applications for the IDP in person at branch offices. Applications vary from province to province. Visit the CAA website to find the right one for you.

When you stop at the closest office, bring two original passport photos and your valid Canadian driver’s license.

How long does it take to get an international driver’s permit?

AAA and CAA can process and issue IDPs at the office when you apply. The entire visit usually takes about an hour. If you mail your application to AAA, allow 10 to 15 business days for processing.

How much does an IDP cost?

An international driver’s permit at AAA costs $20 (U.S. dollars). Some states require AAA to collect sales tax on top of the fee. In Canada, drivers pay $30 (Canadian dollars) for the IDP.

You can pay with cash, debit, or credit card in person. If applying by mail, include a personal check or money order with your completed application. Don’t send cash, as it’s easy to steal.

How long is an IDP good for?

An IDP is valid for one year from the effective date. Your driver’s license will also need to remain valid for the entire duration of the IDP.

Be sure to check the driving laws for your destination country. Some require you to obtain a local driver’s license if you intend to drive for an extended period — such as for more than six months after you arrive. When the time frame is shorter than one year, follow the country’s laws, even though your IDP is still valid.

International Driver’s License for a road trip

What are the benefits of an IDP?

There are many benefits to the international driver’s permit. Let’s dive into some of the biggest ones:

It’s legible for foreign law enforcement officers.

Translations in 10 languages allow the international driver’s permit to be read and understood in many places where your foreign driver’s license can’t. As a result, carrying your IDP can make interactions with law enforcement smoother.

It functions as an ID.

Although your IDP is not a substitute for a valid passport and driver’s license, it can be a secondary form of ID. If you lose your other credentials, it’s a way for you to verify your identity.

Major car rental agencies require it.

Many major car rental agencies need you to present an IDP and a valid driver’s license.

In addition, you’ll also likely have to show proof of insurance to car rental companies. Not all auto insurance will cover you when traveling abroad or provide adequate coverage to comply with rules and laws. As a result, you may need to purchase temporary coverage from an auto insurance company in your destination country.

It’s simple to acquire.

An international driver’s permit is easy to get in both the U.S. and Canada. Usually, you can have the IDP in hand within an hour if you apply in person. The cost is also relatively affordable compared to U.S. passport fees.

How to use the international driver’s permit

To use your international driver’s permit, keep it with you while you drive.

You may find it convenient to purchase a document wallet to store both the IDP and your driver’s license. If asked to present your driving credentials, show the law enforcement officer your license and IDP.

Know the rules of the road

A valid IDP is just one part of legally operating a vehicle in a foreign country. Even though you’re a visitor or a new resident, you’re responsible for obeying the country’s traffic laws.

Keep in mind that in some countries, traveling outside of cities via automobile may be difficult or unsafe. Check the U.S. State Department travel alerts for the country and follow their recommendations to stay safe while driving abroad.