Do I Need an International Driver’s Licence? | international drivers permit

One thing that the Fighting Couple loves… international driving.  We get asked lots of questions about the infamous “International Driving License.”  What is that?  Do we need one?  Do I have to pass a driving test?  Do I have to own a Ferrari?  What if we get pulled over and don’t have one?  Will we spend a month in a Russian Gulag if we don’t get one?  Where does one get an International Drivers License?

Do I Really Need an International Drivers License?

First off, Lets define what this is and isn’t.  First off, you cannot buy an International Drivers License.  You can buy an International Drivers Permit.  This is an important difference. Candidly, an International Driving Permit is a collection of your driving and identification information translated into ten languages.  It must be accompanied by your government issued driver’s license to be valid.

Italy policeHow did the International Diving Permit come to be?

The whole International Driving Permit movement came into being on Nov. 8, 1968 with the signing of the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic.  The treaty outlined the duties of drivers from foreign lands visiting their respective counties.  It spelled out what is contained on the permit.   Over 70 counties signed on to the treaty.  Notable counties that did not agree to the treaty: Japan, China, Israel, and the Holy See (forget driving that Pope-mobile.)  Each of these countries have special requirements for foreign drivers.  Please confirm the regulations before you book a trip to Japan or other non-signatory countries.

How do you get one?

Getting an International Drivers Permit….It’s really pretty easy.  Each participating country has their own procedures to acquire a permit.  We will give the low down on both the USA and the UK.  If you know the procedure for another country, would you give us the process in the comments section below?  In the states, there are two non-governmental agencies that issue the permits:  the American Automobile Association or AAA (http://www.aaa.com/vacation/idpf.html)  and the National Automobile Club NAC (http://www.thenac.com/idp_faqs.htm) .  Both of their websites offer helpful info on the ins and out of acquiring a permit.  For our good friends across the pond in the UK, you can visit your local AA (http://www.theaa.com/index.html).  (That acronym has a little different meaning here in the states.)   You are required to have passport style picture fixed to the permit.  A driving test is not required.  A current and valid driver’s license issued by the state is required.

Speaking of international driving….Have you checked out our Couple Road Trip Survival Guide?

Car Hires

So do I need a permit to rent a car?  Probably not.  We cannot definitively say no, you will never, ever need one.  We can tell you in our extensive travels in Europe, North & South America, South Africa, and South East Asia, we have never been asked for one.   In visiting with the major car rental companies, all recommended the permit.  Should you get one?  Probably yes.  It also gives you one more form of identification.

car hire

Should you get a permit? Mike says yes.

What if I get pulled over?

This is where the value of the permit really shines through.  You can’t select the language ability of the law enforcement that pulls you over.  Trust us, you definitely want that conversation to go smoothly.  Having an international permit can be the difference between a ticket or not.  Most permits cost $20ish USD.  Why not have one?  The Fighting Couple has had two run ins with the law whilst traveling.  We admit it.  One was passing in an “unmarked” passing zone (Mike still thinks he was in the right one that one) and on another occasion we did not have the appropriate sticker on our car (again Mike’s fault.)  Both of these occurrences happened in non-English speaking Euro zone countries.  We were not asked for the permit.  We of course had to provide our insurance and USA issued driver’s license.  During the entire experience…not once were we asked for an International Driver ID.  Crazy huh?

So that’s the skinny on international driving permits.  Avoid the hassle, and buy one before you head out.  We would love to hear from you on this topic.  Have you been pulled over abroad?  Have you been turned away from renting a car?  Leave us a comment below.  Do you have any questions about an international drivers license?

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