Getting An International Driving Permit

Filed Under: Rental Cars

READ MORE FROM THIS TRIP

Planning A Romanian Road Trip
Introduction: Transylvania Unknown
Getting An International Driving Permit
Review: The Club At ATL
Review: Turkish Airlines 787 Business Class
Review: IGA Lounge Istanbul Airport
Review: Turkish Airlines A319 Business Class
Review: DoubleTree By Hilton Cluj, Romania
Romanian Road Trip: Amazing So Far
Review: Art Hotel Sibiu, Romania
Brunch In The Transylvanian Countryside
Review: Copsamare Guesthouses, Romania
Review: Casa Savri Sighișoara, Romania
Romanian Road Trip: Part Two
Review: Vila Economat Sinaia, Romania
Driving In Romania: My Experience
Review: JW Marriott Bucharest, Romania
Review: TAROM Lounge Bucharest Airport
Review: TAROM Business Class A318
Review: Hyatt Place London Heathrow
Virgin Atlantic’s Puzzling New Business Class Seat
Review: Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse Heathrow
Review: NEW Virgin Atlantic A350 Upper Class


Before we get into the actual trip report, I wanted to share my experience getting an International Driving Permit. I rarely rent cars when I travel, though given that we were going on a road trip, that was kind of necessary.

Tiffany smartly suggested I drive — not because she’s a bad driver, and not because I’m a great driver, but because I’m a significantly worse passenger than driver.

Driving in Romania requires an International Driving Permit, so I had to get one of those before the trip. I was expecting it to be a time consuming process, but much to my surprise it was quick and seamless.

I regret not getting this in the past, because last summer I was in Greece and wanted to rent an ATV, but was informed that the country had cracked down and started requiring IDPs.

In this post I wanted to outline my experience finally picking up an IDP.

What Is An International Driving Permit?

Essentially an International Driving Permit is a form of identification that translates your driver’s license information into 10 languages. Many countries require this, because they may not otherwise have a practical way to tell if your license is valid.

IDPs are valid in about 150 countries worldwide (you can find the countries that honor them on page two of this document). You always need to present your valid IDP in conjunction with your valid driver’s license.

While IDPs are issued in many countries around the world, if you have a US driver’s license then your IDP also has to be issued in the US.

How Do You Get An International Driving Permit?

You can get an IDP through AAA, which is what I did, and based on my experience I’d say it can’t get easier. They’re the largest organization authorized by the US Department of State to issue these.

To get an IDP you need:

  • To fill out an application, which you can download online or fill out in-person at a AAA branch
  • You’ll also need two original passport pictures, which you can either bring with you, or have taken at a AAA branch
  • You’ll need a valid US driver’s license
  • You’ll have to pay a fee of $20 for the IDP

Then you have two options for processing your application through AAA:

  • If convenient, you can just go to your nearest AAA branch office
  • Alternatively you can mail your completed IDP application form, two original passport photos, $20, and a copy of both sides of your driver’s license, to the nearest AAA branch office

How Long Is An International Driving Permit Valid For?

The IDP is valid for one year. In my case my driver’s license is only valid for another six months. However, it seems like the IDP would transfer over to a new driver’s license, since the IDP doesn’t list my driver’s license number anywhere.

Do You Need To Pass A Test To Get An International Driving Permit?

There’s not any sort of test or anything required to get an IDP. An IDP isn’t somehow certifying you as an amazing international driver or that you’re familiar with road rules around the world.

Rather it’s just intended to translate and confirm the fact that you have a valid driver’s license in the US (or whatever country you have it issued in).

My Experience Applying For An IDP

I stopped by a AAA office in Tampa two days before our trip, and didn’t bring the application or pictures. Much to my surprise, the process couldn’t have been easier, and took maybe 10 minutes total.

I explained to the person at the entrance that I needed an IDP. She asked for my driver’s license and gave me a short form to fill out.

She then charged me $33 for the IDP plus the passport photos. The photos were taken within a minute, and then I was brought to another desk, where a guy issued by IDP. This was a printed pamphlet (it’s quite big because it’s in 10 languages), and then he just wrote some of my personal details on there, and put a AAA stamp on it.

Bottom Line

I put off getting an International Driving Permit for so long because I figured it would be a pain. Fortunately that wasn’t the case at all. I visited a AAA branch just a few minutes from Tampa Airport (which I had just landed at anyway), and the whole process took just 10 minutes.

If you’ve gotten an International Driving Permit, what was your experience like?

Comments
  1. Personally always thought they were an Automobile Association scam, after having them for at least 15 years and not once being asked for it by the car hire company, no longer bother. Had the odd fender bender and the police never asked to see it nor the insurance company!

  2. There are actually two different types of IDLP, depending on the country in which you will be driving, one that lasts 1 year and is based on the Geneva convention of 1949 (apparently)
    and one that lasts 3 years and is based on the Vienna convention av 1968. You can therefore require 2 depending on your destination. Sometimes both are accepted in a country, but not always. So you need to check which you need before applying.

  3. I got an IDP once and was never asked for it. Since then I’ve hired cars in about 30 countries in North and Central America, Europe and Asia and have never been asked for one. I always show my Western Australian license and it’s always been fine.

  4. Brazil and Uruguay recognize the Inter-American Driving Permit and not the IDP… so I’ve gotten both. Luckily AAA makes it a very easy in and out… but if for some reason you want to drive in this part of South America make sure you get the right one 🙂

  5. Africa is the only place I have been asked for it, many times actually when hiring a car. Failing to produce it at a police checkpoint will give them an excuse to ticket you. Oh and in any case you should always carry your national driving licence too.

  6. I’m sorry to inform you that you were scammed. Romania recognizes the IDP like most other countries, but no one will ever need or ask you for it. It’s not worth the paper it’s written on.

  7. Ben, this makes no sense to me: Both Romania and Greece are part of the E.U. (unfortunately in my mind, but this is not the right forum…) and ALL EU countries supposedly accept US driving licenses routinely. US rental car companies in theory accept all EU licenses as long as E.U is mentioned on the license along the specific country.

    Being both French and American but having misplaced my French license years ago and not having renewed it, I rent cars all over Europe with my NY document without any problem. Admittedly, I never did it in Romania or Greece, but Croatia, Poland, even Montenegro where they are not sure whether they belong to the EU or not, and neither am I… They use the Euro, though.

    I am surprised a US License would not be accepted in Greece or Romania.

    Did U get my email re Doha ?

  8. I was asked for an IDP (which I had at the time) when renting a motorcycle in Italy a few years ago. They hardly looked at my US licence, just copied down all the info from the IDP.

  9. If you license conforms to the standards set out in the Vienna Convention you do not need an IDP in most countries. As long as the license is printed in Latin script it’s fine.

  10. I had a similar experience as you in terms of getting an IDP. I used it when I rented a car in South Korea. As you stated main purpose is to translate your license in several languages. I’ve found this more helpful when going to countries that don’t use English as its main language or use the same alphabet as we do.

  11. In many rentals, I was asked for an IDP just once, in Crete.
    Not having one, a rental agency refused to rent me a car. The agency next door have me a car without it.
    In Romania I wasn’t asked for it.
    I was stopped by Greek police once, they didn’t want one either.

  12. I have had several over the years. Driven all over Europe, the Middle East, Japan. Don’t know that I have been ever asked for it. Closest I can come is Bulgaria, where they asked for it at the rental counter until they realized I had a US license, at which point all they wanted was the US license – and that was only once. The next time I was through, all they wanted was the US one.

    Still, better safe than sorry.

  13. I rented a car in Kos Island, Greece about two weeks ago. The person at the counter did not accept my Virginia State DL and asked for the IDP. I did not have one. However, I have a Turkish DL and apparently that was OK because it conformed to some EU standard.

  14. I was in South Korea, on Jeju Island, and could not find a rental car agency that would rent a car to me without the IDP. Lesson learned.

    That said, never had a problem in Europe or south Africa without one.

    But yes – my experience in getting one was easy, like Ben’s. Painless and quick at AAA.

  15. Not sure about Romania, but many countries accept US driver’s licences – mostly the countries whose driver’s licenses are accepted in the US without IDPs. (Kind of like visa waivers – usually reciprocal)
    But if a country does not accept US driver’s licenses then you definitely need an IDP. Not having an IDP when it is needed constitutes a crime (same as having absolutely no driver’s license). Better safe than sorry if one is not sure.
    Fyi. Some countries (such as Taiwan) does not even recognise IDP. In those countries foreigners are not allowed to drive unless he/she obtains drivers licence in that country.

  16. I have been asked for an IDP (which I had) on the Estonia/Latvia border and by a police officer in France…both at random traffic checks, since 2016. While the county’s or EU’s policy may be we don’t need one, I’m glad I had them anyway. Haven’t been asked for one by a rental car agency in over a decade, but you don’t know what a local police officer might ask for and I’d rather deal with the hassle of getting one than deal with the hassle of not having one if I’m asked for it.

  17. @Joey, @Jason
    Korea is one country that does not recognize US drivers’ license without IDP. The vice versa is true – Korean drivers need IDP to drive in the US. Koreans are also very strict about IDs when it is required…

  18. @matt. I was in Kos last year. Rented from avis at airport and they didnt ask for IDP. Just looked at my us DL. I used to have IDP from AAA in the 90’s but nobody ever asked for it traveling in Eastern to Western Europe, i never had it since. But again , be safe than sorry. Also, i think Europeans rather hang themselves than have any standards or convenience even in EU. Farthest they got is having marching license plates. Everything is based on personal interpretations.

  19. Rental car companies in Greece have recently cracked down on IDPs. We go back a couple of times per year to visit family and this summer was the first time we were ever asked for the IDP. Luckily we always get it from AAA just in case, so we had no issues. We’ve heard from many other Greek-Americans that they were not allowed to rent the car they reserved for the summer because they didn’t have an IDP.

  20. When I was in Greece, three rentals and twice they asked for it. Only in Mykonos they did not ask, but it was Avis and the transaction was outdoors next to the car.

  21. Honestly the IDP has zero security and is a relic of a much simpler time. It’s so old fashioned that it looks like a bad forgery. Half the time AAA does note even fill it out fully.

  22. Never been asked for one anywhere in the world. Brazil is technically one that needs it but it’s never enforced and your regular license is fine.

  23. I rented a car in Japan for the first time this year, and it was very specifically stated that they require an IDP. Obtaining one was quick and painless through the provincial DMV in Canada.

    When I got to the rental counter in Tokyo, my IDP was inspected and photocopied closely, whereas my normal Canadian permit was not looked at.

  24. I tried to rent an ATV at two locations on the Greek Island of Ios this past summer, and neither place would rent one because I don’t have an IDP. I’ve never had this happen elsewhere in Europe, but as others have mentioned I guess Greece and especially some of the Aegean islands are strict about this requirement.

  25. It’s 20 bucks and valid for a year, save yourself the egos guys and just get one. Better be safe than sorry. Ian with Lucky on this. I perpetually renew mine annually so as not to get caught out.

  26. In Thailand the police set up roadblocks around Chiang Mai and pull over all obvious foreigners on scooters. No IDP means an on-the-spot “fine” of 500 baht. I actually had the IPD this spring when stopped but had failed to get the endorsement for two-wheeled vehicles. It’s not needed to actually rent the scooter, but it will save you 500 baht later on if you have it.

  27. I got one in 1969 when I was going to Brazil for 6 months, and was never asked for it, even though I drove extensively while there. I have since rented cars in MANY countries and have never been asked for an international license.

  28. We visit Okinawa each year and always rent a car. An IDP is absolutely required in Japan, both when we reserve the car through our hotel (the concierge requests a scan of it before they’ll make the reservation) and once we arrive to collect the car. Agree that AAA couldn’t make it easier!

  29. Hi, you got scammed. I have a Florida drivers license and have rented cars with Hertz twice in Bucharest and they never asked me for an international drivers license.

  30. I’ve driven extensively around the world. Just because the _rental agency_ doesn’t request it doesn’t mean you don’t need it. I’ve been pulled over in a couple EU countries, and the first thing they ask (once they realize I’m a foreigner) is for my IDP along with my driver’s license (they go together, as stated on the IDP).

    Also, if you hold a US driver’s license, the other issuer of IDPs in the US is AATA and it’s done by mail and it’s cheaper than AAA by a few dollars: http://aataidp.com/

    Either way, IDPs cost $20-30 and last a year — do you really want to risk some shakedown by a local cop because you don’t have it? I know of one friend who got stopped in an eastern European country with just his US driver’s license, and since that was not considered a valid right to drive, he had to park his car right there on the highway and call a friend to pick him up and/or drive his car — at 11pm with his young kids in the back of the car. I’m not going to take that risk.

  31. I’ve driven all over and never been asked for my IDP. I really don’t mind getting one but 6 months is WAY too short of a time for it to be valid for the time and expense involved. It should just be valid for the length of your regular license. I still carry my most recent outdated IDP but not sure it would help if needed.

  32. I wouldnt call this a scam – but yes, you got taken for a ride 😉
    I’ve also rented in Romania without one.

    The only place I ever needed one was Japan (and Tonga for some reason)

  33. Data point:

    I’ve never needed an IDP it for any of the zillion car rentals I’ve made in South Africa over the years.

    The one time I was pulled over in South Africa they accepted my Washington DC license with no problems.

  34. Very interesting to hear from all those who have never needed to present an IDP. For what it’s worth, when we went to pick up our car rental in Romania I was immediately asked for my IDP, so I’m happy I got one.

  35. @DanInMCI IDPs are valid for one year, not six months. You can see it stated on the front of Lucky’s IDP photo in this post.

  36. $20! Ouch. In the UK you can get them from any post office for £5.50.

    Finally something that’s cheaper here!

  37. I am with the “why not” school. I usually get one every time I am renting a car abroad. We were asked for it in Italy at the car rental agency a few years ago. It is super easy at AAA so why take a chance and I don’t think $20 is a hardship. I just wish they were good for more than one year. That, to me, is the most irritating part.

  38. I get a new International Driving Permit every year at a CAA office in Halifax. The whole process takes at most, 30 minutes. While the permit is not needed in France, where I own a home, it is required in nearby Spain. In all the years I’ve been carrying a Permit, I’ve never once been asked for it. (Though I expect if I was in an accident, or stopped by the police, I’d need to produce it.)

  39. Given the reputation of US drivers it’s astonishing that any country let them drive abroad without further testing.

  40. IDP is required to rent a car in Korea but mine did not have a Korean translation. Didn’t matter anyway.

  41. Easy peasy – got it in a few days right before we traveled to Italy and Turkey. Even though not necessary for most countries to rent a car, I discovered if in an accident it is a lot easier to deal with the local police and in filing the report. Fortunately we didn’t have an accident either.

  42. A bit US-centric? A lot of your readers do not need an international driving license to drive in Romania and Greece…

  43. I’ve probably done rentals in 30 different countries and it’s a crap shoot (I think I’ve had one about 20% of the time). Some countries (or specific locations) seem to have a reputation for asking for them. South Africa and the Canary Islands are two that come to mind (though I had one in S.A. and was never asked… and just got one for an upcoming trip to the Canaries).

    Always wondered if having an expired one (and a valid drivers license) might serve just as well (and be a bit cheaper than getting a new one annually).

    Agree that AAA does a good job… I was in and out in 5 minutes the last time (I brought my own photos).

  44. if Romania does require an IDP, I was never asked for one when I picked up a really nice Ford Mondeo turbo-diesel from Avis at OTP.

    I’ve rented cars in a number of countries outside the US and was never asked for this document. My passport and state driving license card were sufficient in all cases.

  45. When you go through an impromptu military checkpoint in a rental car in a country where you don’t speak the language (say Turkey or Thailand to name two where I’ve experienced this) you’ll be glad for a random piece of signed, stamped paper to hand to a conscript even if it doesn’t mean squat. Worth $20.

  46. I was able to rent a car in Taiwan with no problems. I just showed my Guatemalan license and my IDP. I always carry an IDP. You never know when it might be necessary. In the past three weeks I have been pulled over in Kosovo and Azerbaijan. I only showed my Guatemalan licence and both times I was let off without a ticket. The cop in Azerbaijan even told me I was a good driver, strange. The IDP in Guatemala costs $80. Ouch!

  47. I’ve driven in 46 countries and have had the IDP annually since 1999. I’ve been asked for it numerous times at rental with Hertz, Avis, National/Enterprise, and Sixt, though I’ve also rented without being asked about it as well. I’ve also had to produce it for police at border crossings between Schengen and Non-Schengen as well as intra-Schengen when France had temporarily added police to border crossings in 2015 after Bataclan.

    It’s $20, so not sure why travelers, especially business travelers, would have cause to complain about it. Better to have and not need.

  48. I have a US, Indian, Australian and Singaporean driving licenses. I use the latter three when traveling and have never been requested to present an IDP in any country, including Romania.

  49. When I first began renting cars in other countries, I always had the IDP but never was asked for it. A few months ago I was in Italy where I was told it is now a requirement (Hertz). They still let me rent the car, I am a platinum Hertz member. I had to sign documents for this and the ridiculous Navigation rule.

    Unrelated to the IDP- In Italy, your credit card and the premium service from Amex does not cover the car. If you want to be safe, you should take insurance in Italy. I was told anything could happen to the car including having it stolen but I was financially responsible for the navigation system. I could destroy the car, lose the car, have an accident, they could steal the seats and tires. If the Navigation system was stolen I was responsible.

  50. I travel to Austria 1-2 times a year and have been getting IDPs annually for 17 years.

    Strangely Austria is one of very few EU countries that officially require it for a US license.

    I was never specifically asked for it but the one time was stopped I handed it immediately to the officer along with my license.

  51. In my experience, there are very few countries which requires an international driver’s license IN LIEU of accepting either an American driver’s license OR accepting neither. Most common places that Americans will travel to accept an American license. However, China, Iran, North Korea, a few countries in Africa, and a couple of other countries require a local driving license.

    China recently introduced a short term driver’s license designed for tourists which does not require taking the theory test and there are many fewer hoops to obtain it, and allows you to rent a car, etc. Please message me for detailed information on this.

  52. Based on my post above, I would agree with the person that classified this as a “scam” because very few places require it instead of accepting an American driver’s license or requiring a local license to drive.

  53. Every year I renew my IDP at my local AAA. It is always a pleasant visit and they are extremely nice. I literally have a collection of them. However, I never ever used it. I have rented cars in the UK, Italy, Spain and Greece in the last 6 years and not once I was asked for that document. Actually, when I was asked for my driver’s license in Greece I handed the guy my IDP and he looked at me like I was from a different planet. He immediately said he wanted to see my US driver’s license and not that piece of paper. Let’s be honest, a handwritten piece of paper that copies information from the original driver’s license cannot be something people take seriously. Every year I pay the fee and have it just in case but it is a huge joke.

  54. I had very strange reactions whenever I presented my IDP, in particular in the US. Equally, they didn’t like my paper DL, but then we in Europe also changed to the credit card format plasic licences and since then have not experienced any problems with my national DL. Therefore I stopped renewing my IDP.

  55. My experience is that rentals never asks for it. But if you are stopped by the police, then this could be an issue, specially countries where police are very strict or countries where police is looking for bribes.

  56. Japan is the only country where I’ve been asked for an IDP (and I had obtained one for that trip).

    You do NOT need one anywhere in Latin America, if you have a US driver’s license. I saw someone above say Brazil, but that’s not so – I’ve rented cars there with my US DL and had no issues. Same with Chile, Argentina, Ecuador, the DR and every Central American nation. Done it dozens of times.

  57. Do you have to be an enrolled or paid member of AAA to get either or both of these international DL’s from the AAA?

  58. I was in Spain earlier this week and rented a car in Madrid. Alamo didn’t need to see the IDP but stated that we needed one if stopped by the police. We both got one at AAA before our trip and had the same quick experience. Our rental confirmation from Costco said this: “Non-Roman script licences as well as all licences from countries out of the EU must have an International licence and their licence from country of domicile.” I didn’t even end up driving the rental car at all; my friend drove the entire trip.

    It’s $20. Big deal. I’m sure the police would have fined us a whole lot more if we didn’t have it, had we been stopped!

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