Driving Abroad: Your Guide to the International Driving Permit


Are you planning a big trip and dream of driving abroad?

You know:

Cruising the roadways, taking in the incredible sights, and hopping country-to-country in the comfort of our own or rented vehicle? How great would that be, right?! Given you have a valid passport and U.S. driver’s license – this is a real thing if you get an International Driving Permit.

The International Driving Permit lets you drive in 175+ countries around the globe

This permit also acts as a globally recognized form of identification. And, makes it incredibly easy to rent a vehicle from car rental companies. Even better is getting one isn’t difficult if you’re patient.

Want to know how to get one? Keep reading this guide.

How to Get an International Driving Permit

The IDP is issued by two organizations:

  • Automotive Association of America (AAA)
  • American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA)

You should start your application as soon as possible as it may take a few weeks!

The IDP is available for anyone meeting these requirements:

You can apply for the International Driving Permit (sometimes referred to as a license):

  • In-person
  • By mail

Here is how to complete the process in-person:

  1. Locate a AAA office
    1. Or: AATA by mail (only)
  2. Print and fill out the application:
    1. AAA application
    2. AATA application
  3. Submit 2 passport-sized photos
  4. Pay the $20 IDP fee

You may also mail the application to the address listed on the form. In this instance, you’ll submit the documents you would have in-person but also a photocopy of your license (front and back). Plus, extra payment to cover postage for return mail.

Once you receive the IDP you’re free to drive in the 175+ countries. However, you will need to carry your U.S. license whenever you’re behind-the-wheel. The IDP isn’t proof your driving ability – being caught without your U.S. license could result in serious fines and penalties!

What if You’re Not a U.S. Citizen?

The International Driving Permit is available throughout 175+ countries. It’s very likely your country offers this permit if you’re currently reading this from abroad.

You will need one from your country if intending to drive in the United States.


10 Quick Tips and Safety Lessons when Driving Aboard

Driving while abroad is a totally different beast than what you’re used to back home. Driving culture is wild between countries. If you’re not careful, you could find yourself in quite a predicament!

What can you do to make your trip abroad safe when you’re behind the wheel? Remember these:

  1. Know the rules. Refer to the country’s driving laws and manuals well before you book your trip and rental car. Else, look online – like YouTube and travel forums – for information about driving culture, regulations, and understanding road signs. And, of course, always respect the road laws once you’ve arrived at your destination.
  2. Take your time. Don’t rush things, pull over if you’re feeling intimidated. There’s no sense in trying to keep up with the locals if you’re afraid behind the wheel. Get comfortable on less trafficked roads before getting on the major highways and roadways.
  3. Get good coverage. Accidents happen and when they do, you’ll have wished you opted for the better insurance package offered by your car rental company. You may also want to consider travel insurance to cover other incidents as a result of the auto accident.
  4. Get a GPS. You’re in a foreign land, their roadways and traffic patterns may be way different from what you expected. A GPS can be a lifesaver especially if you don’t understand the language. Either request one from the car rental place or have international data on your phone (and make sure to download offline maps!).
  5. Pick the right vehicle. Don’t go for flashy unless you know how to handle an exotic car. Instead, pick a vehicle you’re comfortable driving. Request an upgrade when you get accustomed to driving abroad but until then, maybe stick to a small sedan.
  6. Keep some change. Found yourself on a toll road unexpectedly? You don’t want to hold up the local drivers. Always keep the local currency on hand – coins, please! – so you can quickly pay and get on your way without making a scene.
  7. Don’t be stupid. This includes driving while using your phone, not wearing a seatbelt, speeding, and any other rule you’re expected to follow back home. Sure, someone locations have relaxed laws, but this isn’t the time to test them! The last thing you want is to be locked up abroad because you didn’t obey traffic laws or caused a serious accident.
  8. Avoid heavy traffic spots. Places like the city centers, narrow roadways, construction zones, and all those spots. These are the heavy congested zones you probably can’t handle on the first day. Plus, you’ll probably annoy the locals by creating a traffic jam. Avoid them if you can until you’re comfortable behind-the-wheel.
  9. Respect the police. If pulled over, let them know you’re not from the country as there may be a language and culture barrier. They’ll walk you through what’s required to hand over, but this is likely what you do at home. Show your license, IDP, insurance, passport, and car rental documents to make sure you’re covered. Then, hope you didn’t do anything serious.
  10. Plan it out. Minimize your time on the roadways as this increases your safety. After all, the longer you’re on the road the more likely you could be involved in an accident. So, plan your routes and where you’re going (including what time you’re driving). Just to be on the safe side.

What else would you add to this list of tips? Do you have experience driving abroad with an international driving permit? Leave your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below!

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