International Driving Permit

Hitting the road in international territory?  You may need more than your driver’s license.

Just like the U.S., in most other countries it’s illegal to drive without a valid license.  You’ve already got a license so no problem, right?  Not quite.  Most other countries don’t recognize a U.S. driver’s license alone as a valid license, so you’ve got to get this handy little document that validates your native license for legal use in another country.  

This handy little document is called an International Driving Permit (IDP), but is most commonly (and incorrectly) referred to as an International Driver’s License (which doesn’t actually exist).  Over 140 countries around the world require an IDP in order to drive legally within their borders while also ensuring you have the necessary documentation to rent a car if needed, as most rental car agencies require an IDP.

Here are the most common IDP questions answered:

**click each item below for more information!

This is a confusing question that has a confusing answer.  It depends on your country of origin and your destination.  Some countries don’t recognize a U.S. driver’s license but instead require an IDP, then other countries DO recognize a stand-alone U.S. driver’s license but only with an alternative local language translation.  Then, even if your destination country doesn’t technically require an IDP, the rental car companies within that country will.  

To find out the official law of the land in your destination country, check with the embassy of the country you plan to visit to find the specific driving laws and requirements.  

You can also find a comprehensive list and map of worldwide IDP requirements HERE.  

If you’re driving IDP-free in a country that doesn’t recognize your native driver’s license, you’re essentially driving without a license.  Since that’s illegal, you’ll be subject to whatever the traffic laws and penalties are in that particular country and will be at the mercy of whatever police officer is outside your window.  Some officers may let you go with a fine, others might confiscate your car.  Don’t find out.  Get your IDP.

You must be eighteen year or older and hold a valid U.S.A. driver’s license.

You must apply either through the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA).  These are the only two private entities in the U.S. authorized by the Department of State to issue an official IDP.

AAA and AATA have different application formats but share the same application qualifications and requirements, as these are mandated by the Department of State.  You don’t need to apply through both; you can pick one or the other.

If you’re applying through the AATA, you must submit your application and additional required documentation via mail.  If you’re applying through AAA, you can submit your application and additional required documentation  via mail or you can apply in person at any full-service AAA branch.  

It costs $20 to apply for an IDP.  If you’re applying in person, you can pay by cash or card.  If you’re applying by mail, you must pay by check or money order and include this along with the rest of your application.

If applying through the AATA, you’ll need to complete the AATA application and if you’re applying through AAA you’ll need to complete the AAA application.  With either agency, you’ll need to submit the completed IDP application along with two original passport photos, each signed on the back, as well as a photocopy of both sides of your valid driver’s license.  You’ll also need to provide the $20 application fee in the necessary payment type for your method of application.

If applying in person at a AAA branch, processing and wait times ranges anywhere from 20-40 minutes.  It’s a quick process and unlike applying for a passport, you can walk away with your IDP same-day.  If mailing in an application either through the AATA or AAA, allow for 10-14 business days from when you mail off your packet to when you receive your IDP in the mail.  If you need an IDP sooner than that, you can include additional postage for your IDP to be expedited to you once it’s processed and printed.  See the USPS for what expedited shipping rates would be.  If you’re still worried about a tight turnaround, the safest bet is to apply in person at a local AAA branch.

Yes.  Visit the Department of State for more information on passport photo requirements.  Many AAA branches also provide on-site passport photos for a minimal cost.

NO.  An IDP does NOT replace a U.S. issued driver’s license; it only acts as a language translation for a U.S. issued driver’s license.  You MUST carry BOTH your IDP and native driver’s license at the same time for your IDP to be valid and if ever pulled over, you will be asked to provide both.  Carry them with you at all times and keep them in a safe place.

An IDP is good for one year.  Technically there is no renewal process; after the year has passed you’ll have to apply for a new one.

Yes.  If you’re already overseas and still hold a valid U.S. driver’s license, you can apply for an IDP via mail but it could take you 4-6 weeks to get it with standard processing.  You can include additional postage for expedited return shipping that’ll get you the IDP up to 10 days after it’s processed.  For more information on this process, click HERE.

Compared to navigating other legal identification processes, getting an IDP is much cheaper and quicker.  Do your research to find out whether or not you’ll need an IDP in your destination country and if there’s even a hint of uncertainty, play it safe and get an IDP anyways to prevent any potential headaches that may arise from driving without one.  Better safe than sorry!


*Information gathered from the U.S. Department of State