License – or Permit – to Drive

Travelers, space-a and otherwise, seem to encounter a great deal of confusion regarding the so-called “International Drivers License”.  What is it? Which countries require it? Where do you get it? How much does it cost? How long is it good for? Do you really need one?

Let’s clarify, and provide some answers!

First, there is no such thing as an “International Drivers License”.

What there IS, is an International Drivers PERMIT, otherwise known as the IDP.


The IDP is an official document, in booklet form, similar to your passport, that verifies basic identifying information about you, including your legal name, your photograph, and address. It is also a multi-language translation of the information  on your license. The purpose is to allow law enforcement officers of the countries that accept (or require) the permit to have accurate access to the information on your license. It’s important to remember that the Permit is not a license itself, and is not valid without your accompanying US driver’s license.


Over 140 nations around the world accept the IDP, and some of those nations require it by law. In Europe, the IDP is required in Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Greece, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Italy, Slovenia, and Spain. In Asia, Japan and Korea are among the countries that require it.

Interestingly, most car rental agencies in Europe do not even ask for the IDP, and will rent you a car whether you have one or not. Be sure to read the fine print on your rental agreement – the insurance that is included standard with the rental price may become invalid if you are driving without the permit in a country that requires it. If you’re in an accident, you may be on your own.

You can ONLY get the IDP from two sources in the US: The American Automobile Association (AAA), and the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA). Most people get their permits from the AAA. The current cost through AAA is $20 – if you bring your own passport-sized photos. You must use the permit within six months of your desired  effective date (the date you intend to begin your travels). The Permit is good for one year from the date of issuance, and is not renewable. You will need to apply for a new one once the current one expires. 

To obtain the Permit, you can visit your closest AAA office, or download their online application and mail it in. If you go to the office, you will get your permit on the spot. If you choose the mail option, it will take four to six weeks for the processing. Their site contains a lot of great information about the IDP, so be sure to give it a look!

Again – the sole authorized agencies for the IDP in the US are the AAA and the AATA. Beware of scam outfits online claiming to be able to issue the IDP for a “bargain” price, or want a “surcharge” to obtain the Permit for you.  If it’s not the AAA or the AATA directly, it’s a scam! Don’t waste your money – or the security of your personal information!

Do you really need the IDP? That depends. In the countries that require it, you will be subject to a hefty  fine (In Italy, it’s 400-1600 euro!) if you are stopped or have an accident and do not have the IDP. So, your call – drive without it at your own risk.

In the countries that accept, but do not require the permit, it depends on how comfortable you are with possibly dealing with law enforcement in a language you may not understand, and trying to explain the information on your license in a language they may not understand. Some people want the extra security and peace of mind,  and will obtain the permit whether they are planning on driving in a country that requires it or not. Others are more comfortable with the idea of “winging it”, and only carry it if they need to (and, sometimes, for the really, really adventurous, not even then!).

Lady Cat 6 must confess that she has driven in France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Slovenia and Spain, repeatedly, without obtaining the permit. But, that is her choice, and she makes no recommendations to follow her example ;).

Whatever your decision regarding the IDP, it’s always a good idea to become familiar with the road signage (standard throughout the EU) and rules of the road in the countries you are visiting before embarking upon your driving adventure. Of course, there is an app for that in the EU – check it out!

Drive defensively, be courteous, and enjoy the driving experience!



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