If you’re planning a trip to a country other than the U.S., how will you get around? Will you use the transportation options that are available in that country, or do you prefer to drive and sight-see at your own pace? If you plan on driving in a different country, before you hit the road, you’ll need to have an international driving permit (IDP).

What Is an International Driving Permit?

An International Driving Permit (IDP) is a document that includes your identification information. Your personal information is translated into multiple languages. When you use your IDP with your valid U.S. driver’s license, having an IDP allows you to operate a motor vehicle legally in different countries.

An IDP verifies that you have a driver’s license from a foreign country. This verification makes it a lot easier when you’re dealing with car-related businesses or local authorities who may not be familiar with a U.S. driver’s license.

To apply for an IDP, you’ll need to do so through an authorized issuing organization, such as the American Automobile Association (AAA). The AAA is authorized by the U.S. State Department. However, the AAA is not to be confused with the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA). The AATA could issue IDPs in the past, but as of 2023, they no longer offer IDPs.

Other than your passport, having an IDP is a valuable travel document that you must have if you plan on driving abroad.

Who Is Eligible to Obtain an International Driving Permit?

You are eligible to receive an IDP if you meet the following criteria:

  • At least 18 years of age
  • Have a valid U.S. driver’s license with at least 6 months remaining before the expiration date. (Expired or suspended driver’s licenses can NOT be used to obtain an IDP.)

Once you are issued your IDP, it will be valid for 1 year. An IDP is not renewable or extendable. If you require another IDP in the future, you must re-apply.

How to Get an International Driving Permit

Valid Driver’s License Requirement

You must have a valid U.S. driver’s license to obtain an IDP. Your license must be valid, which means it can’t be suspended or expired. Your license’s duration of validity varies depending on your country of issuance, which is why your driver’s license needs to remain in good standing before applying for your IDP.

Remember that an IDP is NOT a substitute for a valid U.S. driver’s license. However, an IDP is a valid form of supplementary identification.

Age Requirement

The minimum age requirement to obtain an IDP is 18, which ensures you have enough driving experience and maturity to safely operate a motor vehicle on foreign roads. Remember that certain countries may have additional restrictions or requirements for drivers, so make sure you’re aware of the regulations for the country you plan on visiting.

Application Process

When you’re applying for your IDP, make sure you take the following required document(s) and payment(s) to any AAA office:

  • Your valid U.S. driver’s license
  • $20 payment for the IDP fee (this fee can be paid using a money order or check made payable to AAA, or by a valid Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover Card)
  • 2 current, valid passport-type photos (these photos can be taken at most AAA locations or anywhere you can obtain passport photos.)
  • International Driver’s Permit Application Form (you can complete this form in advance)

The application process for obtaining an IDP requires you to submit:

  • A completed IDP Application Form
  • 2 identical 2-inch by 2-inch color passport photos
  • A signed copy of the front and back of your driver’s license
  • Payment for the application fee of $20 per person
  • Payment for all applicable shipping costs

If you can’t make it to an AAA branch in person, you can apply for an IDP by mail. Make sure you include the required documentation and payment mentioned above and mail them to your local AAA branch.

Processing Time

Similar to passport processing times, the processing time for an IDP can vary from a few days to a few weeks. The processing time depends on the issuing authority and the availability of expedited options, such as rush delivery. If obtaining an expedited IDP is available there will likely be an additional fee.

Apply for your IDP as soon as possible to ensure you have it before you travel. Since processing times can vary, the sooner you apply your IDP, the sooner you will have it, and if there are delays, it won’t impact your travel plans as much.

What Are the Benefits of Having an International Driving Permit?

The following are the benefits of having an IDP:

  • Recognized around the world: Since U.S. driver’s licenses are issued by the state and not the nation, it can be confusing to foreigners.
  • Printed in different languages: An IDP states you have been verified as a licensed driver in different languages, such as French, Chinese, English, Arabic, Portuguese, Spanish, and more. More languages mean authorities and staff members at businesses who don’t know English can read your International Driver’s Permit in a different language.
  • Necessary for Car Rental: over 40 countries worldwide do not allow vehicle rental unless you have an IDP.
  • Required by many auto insurance policies: your standard auto insurance policy or travel insurance may only cover you while in a different country if you have an IDP.

Is an International Driving Permit Mandatory?

Having an IDP is not mandatory. You only need an IDP when you want to operate a motor vehicle when you’re traveling abroad. Even if you’re traveling to a country that doesn’t recognize your U.S. driver’s license, your IDP will allow you to legally operate a motor vehicle in that country without any hassles.

Having an IDP grants you the freedom to explore travel destinations in different countries by car and serves as an additional form of identification if necessary. Many countries require an IDP for foreign drivers to legally operate a motor vehicle within their borders. Keep your IDP with your U.S. driver’s license whenever you plan on operating a motor vehicle outside of the U.S.

An IDP serves multiple purposes, such as the following:

  • Verifies your identity and the validity of your IDP
  • You have an on-hand translated version of your U.S. driver’s license should it be required in a foreign nation, which is essential when driving in countries that do not recognize a U.S. driver’s license or require a local language translation.
  • You must have an IDP to rent a car. Many rental car agencies will not allow you to rent a vehicle without an IDP, especially when you have an out-of-country driver’s license.
  • Obtaining an IDP can save you from different fines, delays, and other mishaps while you’re driving internationally.

Authorized IDP Issuance

In the U.S., the only organization that is authorized to issue IDPs is the American Automobile Association (AAA). The American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA) issued them previously, but no longer do, so make sure you send your IDP application to the AAA.

If you’re not a member of the AAA, no worries. You don’t have to be a member to receive your IDP. Make sure the issuer is legitimate. Counterfeit IDPs lead to severe consequences! Be cautious of scams that ask you to pay $300 for an IDP. If you have questions or concerns regarding IDPs, use the contact information below:

AAA (American Automobile Association)

1000 AAA Drive

Heathrow, FL 32745-5063

Driving Abroad with Your New IDP

Make sure you have your driver’s license in addition to your IDP when you’re traveling abroad. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the traffic rules and regulations in the country you’re traveling to. You also need to ensure you understand the process of using your IDP in a different county to minimize as many delays as possible.

What Counties Recognize IDPs?

IDPs are recognized in over 150 United Nations member countries. This travel document is accepted in over 175 countries as a legal form of identification, which means you can legally drive in most countries around the world.

Be advised that some countries may require you to provide additional documentation, or may not recognize your IDP as a valid form of identification. In this scenario, you’ll need to acquire that country’s driving permit instead of having an IDP.

Local Driving Laws

You must follow the driving laws of different countries. Although having an IDP allows you to legally operate a motor vehicle in foreign countries, you are required to follow all local driving laws and regulations. Remember that driving customs will likely be different from the U.S., and you’re required to follow them while you’re in that country. Not knowing the traffic signs or laws will not suffice.

Before embarking on your adventure, make sure you have a clear understanding of the local driving laws of your destination to ensure your safety and have a stress-free travel experience. One of the last things you want to do on vacation is to pay hefty fines.

Auto Insurance Considerations

When you’re driving internationally, having an IDP requires you to consider different auto coverage options. It’s likely your current auto insurance policy won’t cover driving in a foreign country, so you’ll have to find additional auto coverage to protect you and your vehicle while you’re operating a motor vehicle internationally. It’s a good idea to research the auto insurance requirements of the country you’ll be driving to ensure you are compliant.

Existing Auto Insurance Coverage

Talk with your current auto insurance carrier to determine the coverage you need. Your auto insurance agent should be able to point you in the direction as far as coverage options are concerned.

If you travel abroad often, it’s a good idea to keep the additional coverage on your policy. If you travel to different countries here and there, add the additional coverage options and ensure it remains valid for the length of your trip, and you may be able to remove the additional coverage once you return to the U.S.

Additional Auto Insurance Options

If you travel abroad often, consider obtaining international auto insurance. International car insurance can give you the necessary coverage to legally operate a motor vehicle and protect yourself and your vehicle in the scenario you’re involved in an accident abroad. There may be different one-size-fits-all auto insurance plans available, which means you’ll have to research each policy type and choose the one that best fits your needs.

The Validity and Renewal of an IDP

As you plan to embark on an awesome adventure in a foreign country, make sure you understand your IDP validity period and renewal process. Understanding this information ensures that your IDP is valid for the duration of your trip and that you’re prepared to renew it when the time comes.

The Validity Period

In general, IDPs are valid for 1 year from the date of issuance, which means you’ll need to take your trip to a foreign country within this timeframe. Remember that some countries will have additional requirements and specific restrictions regarding your IDP validity duration, so make sure you research these specific regulations for the country you plan on visiting.

Renewing Your IDP

To renew your IDP, you’ll have to endure the same process as you would to receive a new IDP. You’ll need to submit a completed application and provide two passport-sized photos. You need to have a valid driver’s license and payment for all applicable IDP renewal fees. The process time for renewing an IDP can take a few weeks, so complete the renewal process as soon as possible, so you don’t have to delay your trip.

Obtaining an IDP FAQ

If you have questions, we’ve got answers! In this FAQ, we’ll provide answers to the most commonly asked questions about IDPs.

Q. Which Countries Require an IDP?

  1. All Americans must have an IDP to legally operate a motor vehicle in foreign countries, such as Australia, Austria, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, and Laos.

Q. Which Countries Accept U.S. Driver’s Licenses Without an IDP?

  1. U.S. driver’s licenses are valid in Canada and Mexico. However, U.S. driver’s licenses may only be accepted in foreign countries for a limited time. You can check with the U.S. State Department to check for the required documentation the country you plan on visiting requires.

Q. What’s the Primary Purpose of an IDP?

  1. The purpose of an IDP is to verify the validity of your driver’s license and translate it so it can be used abroad.

Q. Which Organizations Can Issue IDP in the U.S.?

  1. The American Automobile Association (AAA) is currently the only U.S. organization that is authorized to issue IDPs. Remember the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA) no longer issues IDPs.

Q. How Long Is an IDP Valid?

  1. Your IDP will remain valid for 1 year from the issue date.

Q. Is an Inter-American Driving Permit the Same as an IDP?

  1. Although the Inter-American Driving Permit (IADP)  functions similarly to an IDP, an IADP is strictly for use in the following countries across North, Central, and South America, such as the following:
  • Argentina
  • Bolivia
  • Chile
  • Colombia
  • Costa Rica
  • Dominican Republic
  • Ecuador
  • El Salvador
  • Guatemala
  • Haiti
  • Honduras
  • Mexico
  • Nicaragua
  • Paraguay
  • Peru
  • Saint Kitts and Nevis
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • United States
  • Venezuela

You may notice that an IADP is not issued in all countries, including the Americas. Many of the Western Hemisphere countries that are not listed are signatories of the 1949 Geneva Convention and/or the 1968 Vienna Convention, which means these countries recognize the IDP as their international driver’s license standard, and not the IADP.

If you’re traveling to one of these countries, you’ll need to apply for an IADP through AAA by completing the same application and procedures for obtaining an IDP. Make sure you check the correct box on the application.

Receiving an IDP is an essential step in preparing your international vacation. Whether you’re looking for beautiful landscapes or new cities to explore, you will need an IDP to legally drive in a foreign country. Use this guide to help you avoid different mishaps while you’re traveling abroad. Stay safe and happy traveling!