If you ever take a trip to another country, you may find you’ll want to rent a car. However, most countries won’t just allow foreigners to rent a car willy nilly unless they have to proper certifications. In order to be able to drive a car in another country, you must hold an international driver’s permit (IDP). An IDP will allow you to operate a motor vehicle in another county, provided you have a valid driver’s license in your home country. So how can you get an IDP?
In the US, only two organizations are legally allowed to issue IDPs: the American Automobile Association and the American Automobile Touring Alliance. The State Department prohibits other organizations from administering IDPs. In order to get your IDP, you must:
- Be at least 19 years of age
- Have had a valid license for 6 months or longer
- Fill out the requisite application for either organization
- Provide 2 passport photos
- Pay any applicable fees
These are just the basic requirements. There are a lot of technicalities regarding what an IDP allows and doesn’t allow you to do and how to get one. We are going to provide a comprehensive guide on how to get your IDP and what privileges and restrictions IDPs carry. We will also talk about any fees and renewal requirements for IDP holders.
What Is an IDP?
An IDP is a permit that allows US citizens to legally operate a motor vehicle in other countries. An IDP is basically a universal driver’s license and can be granted to any permanent US citizen who is over 18 and has had a valid driver’s license for at least 6 months. In conjunction with your driver’s license, an IDP will allow you to drive a car internationally.
Even if you are not planning to drive in a foreign country, an IDP is useful to get as IDPs are recognized as a valid form of identification in 174 countries around the world. IDPs translate your identification information into 10 different languages and most countries recommend that tourists obtain IDPs.
To be clear, an IDP does not allow you to drive legally in every country, just those that recognize it. Here is a complete list of countries that recognize IDPs. A major country absent from this list is the People’s Republic of China. In order for US citizens to drive legally in China, they must acquire a driver’s license from the Chinese government.
Where Can I Get an IDP?
In the US you can get an IDP from either the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA). The US Federal Trade Commission warns that any other organization, especially those who advertise “international driver’s licenses” are most likely a scam.
You do not have to be a member of either AAA or AATA to obtain an IDP and you can apply for one directly at a local AA branch.
How to Get Your IDP
The first step is to fill out an IDP application for AAA. This application can be found here on their website or you can request one in person at a local AAA branch. Along with your application, you must also bring in a copy of a valid US driver’s license, 2 passport-sized photos, and cash, a check or a credit card to pay the 20$ application fee. Make sure you check with your local AAA branch to see which kinds of payments they do and don’t accept. Some AAA offices will offer to take your passport sized-photos for an extra fee.
You can also mail in the application materials. The process is generally the same as applying in-person. Simply fill out the application and send in the completed applications with the other required materials. Those who send in materials via mail can expect to receive their permit in 10-20 days or faster if they pay for expedited shipping.
AATA only allows mail applications to administer IDPs. You can grab the AATA IDP application here from their website. Once you fill out the application, mail it to the address on the form along with a copy of your driver’s license, 2 passport-sized photos, and a $20 check or money order. You can also pay extra for expedited shipping. USPS priority mail charges $10 for shipping and handling and $35 for USPS Express Mail.
If you are already in a foreign country, you can get your IDP from either AAA or AATA by completing the mail-in application. Applications mailed from overseas take an average of 4-6 weeks to process.
How Long Does It Take to Get an International Driving License?
It depends if you apply in person or via mail. If you apply in person, AAA can process your IDP immediately and you can walk out of the office with it the same day. If you apply via mail, it usually takes about 10-15 business days to process your request. You can pay extra for expedited shipping to get your IDP faster. If you apply from overseas, it takes anywhere between 4 to 6 weeks to get your IDP.
Can You Get An IDP Same Day?
Yes, if you apply in-person at a local AAA branch you can get your IDP the very same day. Just hand over your application materials, wait for them to process it, then they will hand you an official IDP and you are all set.
How Much Does an International Driving License Cost?
Both AAA and AATA require a $20 fee to be submitted with their IDP applications. You will also have to pay to get 2 passport-sized photos. You can acquire 2 passport-sized photos from USPS for %15. Alternatively, UPS locations offer passport photos for $11.99.
Many AAA branches will take photos for you for an extra fee. Non-members must pay $15, AAA basic members pay $8, plus level members get one free set of photos per year of membership, and premier level members receive 4 free sets per household per year.
Do I Have to Get an International Driver’s License?
Yes, you must have an IDP if you plan to drive a car in another country. If you do not have an IDP and get into an accident while driving in another country, your insurance will be null and void because you were driving illegally.
The penalties for being caught driving without an IDP vary from country to country. While it is unlikely that you will be hauled off to prison for driving without an IDP, you may have to pay some harsh fines and incur penalties.
Keep in mind that you must also have a valid US driver’s license in addition to your IDP documentation. Strictly speaking, an IDP is not a “driver’s license,” it just translates your credentials from your US driver’s license. So if you get pulled over in a foreign country, you will have to provide both your US ID and IDP documents.
What Is the Difference Between an “International Driver’s Permit” and “International Driver’s License”?
If you search on the internet about IDPs you may find a bunch of sites advertising so-called “international driver’s licenses.” Here’s the deal though: “international driver’s licenses” do not exist; they are a scam. The only valid document for driving in another country is an IDP. Any company that advertises “international driver’s licenses” is illegitimate.
How Long Is My IDP Valid?
IDPs issued by the AAA of the AATA are valid for one year from the date of issuance. Once your IDP expires, you must obtain a new IDP from either AAA or AATA. Individual IDPs cannot be renewed.
If I Am A Foreigner Traveling to the US, Can I Get an IDP in the US?
Short answer: No. If you are a foreigner traveling in the US, you cannot obtain an IDP in the US. You must have a valid foreign driver’s license and obtain an IDP from the same country where you got your license. The US federal government does not require foreigners to have an IDP to drive in the US, but individual states may or may not require it. For instance, California, Massachusetts, and Arizona only require a valid foreign ID to drive, not an IDP. If you are traveling to the US, make sure you check IDP regulations in the specific state or states you will be visiting.
Even if you are not going to drive in the US, it is still recommended to get an IDP as it serves as a valid form of identification.
Here is a summary of everything we covered to help you get your own IDP:
- An IDP is a document that allows US citizens to legally drive in foreign countries
- Only two organizations in the US are allowed to grant IDPs, the AAA and the AATA
- In order to get an IDP you must:
- Be at least 18 years old and be a permanent US citizen
- Have a valid driver’s license
- Fill out an application
- Provide 2 passport-sized photos
- Pay a $20 application fee
- An IDP must be used in conjunction with your valid US driver’s license
- All IDPs issued by AAA and AATA are valid for one year