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Are you preparing for an international trip where you want to hit the road and explore? Taking road trips through foreign countries is one of the best ways to explore and is simply exhilarating at times. However, before anyone ever hands you over keys to your rental car, you might need to have an international driving permit.
In this article, I will explain the process for obtaining an international driving permit and give you some details about my own personal experience with getting an international driving permit. I’ll go over the requirements for getting a driving permit with AAA and AATA, and I’ll also show you a list of countries that honor these international driving permits along with some tips for renting cars in foreign countries.
What is an international driving permit?
An international driving permit is a special permit that allows you to legally drive and rent vehicles in many different countries around the world — it is most often used in conjunction with your US license.
It is also a recognizable form of identification which can help you communicate with foreign authorities. Personally, I like to have my passport on hand at all times. However, some people don’t like to carry their passports around and an international driving permit could be a great alternative form of identification.
Why do I need an international driving permit?
The reasons for needing an international driving permit could vary.
For example, some countries require you to have a local translation of your license in which case an international driving permit will provide them with that — it translates your identification information into 10 languages (English, French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, German, Arabic, Italian, Swedish and Portuguese).
Other countries require you to have an international driving permit if you want to rent a vehicle. And some countries will only acknowledge an international driving permit and will not allow your US driver’s license to carry any weight.
By getting an international driving permit, you have a solution to avoid all of these issues if and when they arise.
Does it provide rental car insurance?
Getting an international driving permit will not provide you with any type of car insurance. For those looking to get coverage for rental car accidents, I highly recommend going with a credit card that offers primary rental car coverage.
If you don’t go the credit card route, then you should look into signing up for rental car coverage whenever you rent a vehicle. Your auto insurance may also have options for coverage when renting vehicles at home and abroad so you should also look into those.
How to get an international driving permit
If you have a US driver’s license, there are two ways for you to get an international driving permit.
You can get them issued by the American Automobile Association (AAA) and American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA) — these are the only two entities authorized by the U.S. Department of State to issue international driving permits.
In this article, I will focus mostly on the AAA route because that is what I have experience with and I think a lot of people are more familiar with AAA. Also, with AAA you can get your international driving permit much quicker because you can visit an AAA office and walk out with it that same day.
Note that it is currently not possible to process your application online for any of these organizations.
AAA international driving permit application form
To get an AAA international driving permit this is all you will need to do:
- Download and fill out an application and bring it (or mail it) to your nearest AAA branch office.
- Provide two original passport-type pictures.
- Provide a valid U.S. driver’s license.
- Pay the $20 USD permit fee
If you are looking for AAA branch offices you can find locations here. If you would like to mail in your application you can mail your application to your nearest AAA branch office or to headquarters at this address:
1000 AAA Drive
Heathrow, FL 32746
Attn: Mail Stop #28
You can find the application for an AAA international driving permit here. In order to qualify for an application you will need to have a US driver’s license and to be at least 18 years of age.
On the application, you will just need to provide some basic information, such as your name, address, email address, and phone number. You will also need to select the type of permit that you are applying for, which is the international driving permit.
And then you will need to check the box for the type of vehicle that you are registering. This is the same type of vehicle that you have a current US driver’s license for.
Here are some other things to note:
- Your U.S. driver’s license must be valid for at least 6 months past the issuance date of the ID.
- You will need to attach two passport-type photographs with your signature on the back.
- If mailing in your application, you’ll need to send in a photocopy of both sides of your U.S. Driver’s License along with your completed signed application, and check or money order only.
- The international driving permit must come into effect within six months of your application.
If you are paying in branch the acceptable forms of payment could be check, cash, or credit card. Not every branch will accept all of those payment methods though so my advice would be to call ahead and verify what forms of payment are excepted at that particular branch. Some branches might even be able to take your passport photo for you so you can inquire about that as well.
The permit will be valid for one year and will only be valid in conjunction with a current US driver’s license. So if your driver’s license expires in eight months then your international driving permit will no longer be valid after eight months.
This is why I recommend not getting an international driving permit until you have firm travel plans.
Some rental car companies can be very strict about the expiration requirement so don’t assume that you will be able to get by if your US driver’s license expired. We once had a rental car company try to refuse us our rental car because he stated that our driver’s license was expired. It turns out that he was just reading the date wrong because he was not accustomed to US dates with the month-date-year format.
How long does it take to process?
If you’re going into an AAA office to get your international driving permit, then you can walk out that same day with your permit. This is why I recommend going the AAA route because it is just simply much quicker and convenient.
If you mailed your application, then it could take a few weeks to get your international drivers permit. If you are in a time crunch, then you might want to consider expediting your shipping which is possible but you will have to pay the expediting fees.
American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA)
If you would like to process your international driving permit with American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA) this is what you will need:
- Completed and signed application form
- Two color passport-type photos
- Signed photocopy of the front and back of your valid US driver’s license
- Payment which can be check or money order (the fee is $20)
Mail your completed IDP application package to:
American Automobile Touring Alliance
P.O. Box 24980
San Jose, CA 95154
Since you cannot visit an office branch you will need to pay the shipping costs as well. Shipping for a normal domestic application is $11 and $35 for an expedited shipping. If you need your application shipped internationally that will cost you $85. Another thing I like about the AAA application is that you don’t have to pay for shipping to get your license unless you want it expedited.
What countries honor international driving permits?
Here is the list of countries that will likely honor the international driving permit. Note that these are subject to change and these are not necessarily countries that will require a permit.
(To find out which countries require a permit, I recommend you doing up-to-date online research since things are always changing and when in doubt just get the permit).
- Albania Algeria Andorra
- Brazil (Inter-American Driving Permit only)
- Faso (was upper Volta)
- Cambodia (was Kampuchea)
- Cape Verde Islands
- Cayman Islands
- Central African Rep. Chad
- Rep. of (Brazzaville) Congo
- Dem. Rep. of (Kinshasa)
- Costa Rica
- Cote d´Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
- Czech Rep. Denmark
- Domincan Rep.
- El Salvador
- Equatorial Guinea
- France (including French overseas territories)
- French Polynesia
- Hong Kong
- Korea (Rep.)
- Netherlands Antilles
- New Caledonia
- New Zealand
- Papua New Guinea
- St. Kitts & Nevis
- St. Lucia
- St. Vincent & the Grenadines
- San Marino
- Sao Tome & Principe
- Saudi Arabia
- Sierra Leone
- South Africa
- Sri Lanka
- Trinidad & Tobago
- United Arab Emirates
- United Kingdom
- Uruguay (Inter-American Driving Permit only)
- Vatican City (Holy See)
- Western Samoa
Some countries may require registration fees and be subject to other limitations. Always do research to make sure that you’re getting the most up-to-date information.
What if I am already overseas?
If you are already overseas you can still obtain an international driving permit. You can mail your completed application to the following office and address:
1000 AAA Drive
Heathrow, FL 32746
Attn: Mail Stop #28
Note that it will likely take longer for this type of permit to process. AAA states to allow 4-6 weeks for return mail unless additional postage for express mail service is included with the application. You can read more here.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of scammers out there who are trying to sell international driving permits. Some of these are outright scams where you will not receive any kind of valid license or permit.
Others out there will charge exorbitant fees for processing your application. That’s why I would stick with just trying to get your permit through AAA or AATA because I think that is the easiest route to go.
9 Tips for renting cars in foreign countries
We really like to go for drives whenever we travel and we have rented cars in a lot of different countries. Along the way we have learned a few things and I’ll share some of those tips here.
Research the level of madness to expect
I would never rent a vehicle in another country without first researching what the “road experience” might entail. Some countries like Jamaica for example are unexpectedly pretty wild on the road.
The last thing you want to do is be in over your head with a rental vehicle so try do so some research and ask around in forums to determine the level madness that you might expect in the streets.
Try to avoid driving in small historic towns
There are a lots of beautiful historic villages in the world and many of them are best explored on foot. Some places that we have explored that would fall in this category are Toledo, Spain or Old Town Lisbon, Portugal.
These type of places can be very stressful to try to drive through with their super narrow and winding roads. Thus, I would try to avoid driving in these type of historic places and just explore them on your feet.
Have multiple GPS systems
When you are driving through a foreign country in a new city I recommend that you have multiple GPS systems. Typically, we get a rental car with GPS in the car but we also rely on phones/apps. One of my favorite apps is called Maps.me and of course Waze.
Sometimes one of the GPS systems goes haywire and we have to rely on the other one to navigate. Having both of them running at the same time often makes it much less stressful to get where we need to go when one fails.
Research parking (before you head out)
Parking can be a major issue when traveling abroad. In fact, a lot of times finding a parking spot can be 10 times more stressful than actually driving in the country. Thus, before you go to any heavily visited spot or even a secluded beach, you should do research on what the parking experience would be like.
If you can’t find any reviews in blogs or forums, then try to take a look at Google Maps and see if you can visualize potential parking spots. The more open you are to walking a little bit of distance, the easier it will usually be to find a reliable parking spot.
Also, don’t assume the parking machines/meters will be in English!
Which side of the road? (Don’t under-estimate)
Obviously, you need to know which side of the road to drive on before you embark on your road trip. I have to be honest, I have tried to drive on the other side of the road but it is very difficult for me especially when it comes to things like busy roundabouts. My brain starts to play tricks on me and it is just a really uncomfortable experience.
Luckily, my husband is a fantastic driver and we lived abroad in the UK for a while and driving on the other side of the road became second nature for him. In fact, it was never really difficult for him at all.
I bring this up only to say that if you have never driven on the other side of the road don’t under-estimate how difficult it might be. You might be like my husband and not have issues or it might be very difficult — just have a back up plan and try to rent an automatic vehicle to make things easier.
Here is a map of which side of the road people drive on.
You need to be aware of whether or not you’re going to hit any tolls. Some countries will allow you to rent a car with a transponder in the car that registers each time you pass through a tollbooth. This allows your credit card to be automatically charged or for a bill to be sent to you.
I recommend always trying to go this route because it is just much easier as some countries have some very tedious processes for toll charges. Try to do your best research to make sure that you’re not getting overcharged, though.
Don’t get caught on camera
Some countries use cameras to catch perpetrators in the act of speeding or violating other traffic laws. Don’t assume that you would not be caught just because you are on a highway with nobody around. Always act as if you might be getting monitored by some sort of camera system and just drive extra cautious.
Some countries have checkpoints located at or near borders for just throughout their country. Try to remain calm when making your way to these checkpoints and always have your passport and license and international driving permit easily retrievable so that you can breeze through these checkpoints. It also helps if you have a sheet printed out with the name and address of where you are staying and your departure and arrival dates.
Scour your vehicle before you return it
On a recent trip to New Zealand, I left my wallet in a rental car, and it did not occur to me that my wallet was still in the car until it was close for our departure time and so I was not able to run back and retrieve it. I ended up having to wait many many weeks for my wallet to arrive in the mail, so leaving things in your vehicle can take a long time to get back.
Thus, I recommend that you do a complete sweep of the vehicle before you return it. Double and triple check that you have all of your necessary documents like your passport, international driving permit, and wallet. And check things like the middle console and the glove compartment so that you do not leave anything behind.
I hope that the advice in this article will help you to easily obtain your international driving permit. It really is a pretty straightforward process to get the permit, and it just makes things much easier whenever you are trying to rent vehicles abroad. Also consider the tips that I have offered at the end of this article to make your next rental car experience much smoother.
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Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.