Six Things to Know About International Driving Permits

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If you want to drive a motor vehicle while you’re traveling abroad, you should get an international driving permit (IDP). When accompanied by your valid US driver’s license, your IDP will allow you to drive legally in over 150 countries that recognize it. It may also be required or recommended by many rental car agencies. Here’s everything you need to know about this helpful document that will allow you to get behind the wheel on your perfect business trip or vacation.

  1. 1

    What is an international driving permit?

    An international driving permit (IDP) allows you to drive legally in 174 countries when it is accompanied by your valid US driver's license. You are eligible for an IDP if you are a permanent US resident at least 18 years of age and have a driver's license that will remain valid for at least six months from the date of issuance of the IDP.

    Your IDP does not allow you to drive legally in every country, just in those countries that recognize it. A full list of participating countries is here. Notably absent from this list is the People's Republic of China. (To drive legally in China, you must have a driver's license issued by China.)

    Basics of an International Driving Permit (IDP)
    • You must be a permanent US resident at least 18 years of age and have a US driver's license that will remain valid for the next six months.
    • Your IDP lets you drive legally in foreign countries when accompanied by your valid US driver's license.
    • It is recognized in 174 countries.
    • Only two organizations in the US issue IDPs: Automobile Association of America (AAA) and American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA).
    • The fee for an IDP is $20 (as of 2017).
    • An IDP can be issued immediately at an AAA branch or may take 10-15 business days by mail from AAA or AATA.
    • An IDP is valid for one year.
  2. 2

    Where can I get an international driving permit?

    In the United States, only two organizations in the US issue IDPs: the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA). The US State Department has advised drivers to obtain IDPs from AAA or AATA. The US Federal Trade Commission has warned that any other organization, especially one claiming to offer so-called "international driver's licenses," is likely running a scam.

    You don't have to be a member of AAA or AATA to obtain an IDP from that organization. You can apply in person at your local AAA branch. You can find your local AAA office here. Alternatively, you can mail the application and supporting documentation to the AAA or AATA.

  3. 3

    How can I get an international driving permit?

    If you are a permanent resident of the United States and have a driver's license issued in the United States, you can obtain your IDP from either the AAA or the AATA.

    To obtain an IDP from AAA, do the following:

    Complete the AAA IDP application. Visit your local AAA branch and bring the completed application; your valid US driver's license; two passport-sized photos of yourself; and cash, a check, or a credit card with which to pay the $20 fee. (However, some branches may not accept cash or certain credit cards, so you want to be sure you have a valid form of payment before you go.) Some AAA branches may also be able to take passport photos of you for an additional fee.

    Alternatively, you can obtain an IDP from AAA through the mail. Mail the completed application form to the address given here along with your two passport photos, photocopies of the front and back of your driver's license, a check or money order for the $20 permit fee, and if you wish, additional postage for your IDP to be sent via expedited mail.

    To obtain an IDP from AATA, do the following:

    Fill out the AATA IDP application. Then mail it to the address on the form, along with two passport-sized photos of yourself, photocopies of both the front and back of your valid US driver's license, and a check or money order for the IDP fee and the shipping and handling (S&H) fee. The IDP fee is $20. S&H is $10 for USPS Priority Mail or $35 for USPS Express Mail. If you are not currently in the US, AATA will mail your IDP to you by International DHL Express for $85.

    Requirements for Getting an International Driving Permit
    From AAA
    • Can apply in person or by mail
    • Completed AAA IDP application
    • Two passport-sized photos
    • Driver's license (either in person or photocopies by mail)
    • $20 IDP fee
    • Accepts check, money order, or (in person only) major credit cards
    From AATA
    • Can apply only by mail
    • Completed AATA IDP application
    • Two passport-sized photos
    • Signed photocopies of front and back of driver's license
    • $20 IDP fee
    • Shipping and handling fee: domestic ($10 or $35) or international ($85)
    • Accepts check or money order
  4. 4

    How do I use my international driving permit?

    Your IDP allows you to drive legally in 174 countries. It will not be recognized without your valid US driver's license. An IDP is not proof of driving knowledge or skill, which is why you must also have your driver's license with you.

    Your IDP does not entitle you to any additional benefits, discounts, privileges, or rights. Anyone offering an "international driver's license" that can provide more than an IDP does is running a scam (see section 6).

  5. 5

    I am a foreign driver traveling to the US. Can I obtain an IDP in the US?

    No.

    If you are coming to the United States from another country and you wish to drive, you must have a valid foreign driver's license and you must obtain an IDP from the same country in which your license was issued.

    The United States Government does not require you to have an IDP to drive in the US. Some individual states may require you to have an IDP to drive on their public roads, but many other states do not. California, Massachusetts, and Arizona are among the states that require only a valid foreign driver's license, not an IDP. Still, even these states typically recommend that you get an IDP because it will be written in English and hence facilitate communication if you need assistance while driving or are involved in an auto accident.

  6. 6

    Can I use my international driving permit as a form of identification? Or to avoid traffic fines?

    Many people have seen sales pitches for "international driver's licenses" that claim these licenses can do all kinds of things such as act as a driver's license, act as a means of identification, or hide your identity. None of this is true. International driver's licenses do not exist. There are only international driving permits (IDPs). In the United States, IDPs are only issued by two organizations (AAA and AATA). An IDP is a permit, not an ID card or a driver's license, and it won't even be recognized if you don't also hold a valid driver's license.

Countries that recognize IDPs: http://www.drivers.com/article/937/

State Department recommending AAA or AATA for IDPs: https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/go/safety/road.html

FTC site about "international driver's license" scams: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0050-international-drivers-license-scams

AAA page about IDP: https://www.aaa.com/vacation/idpf.html

AAA IDP application: http://www.aaa.com/vacation/application2a.pdf

AATA page about IDP: http://aataidp.com/

AATA IDP application: http://aataidp.com/wp-content/uploads/international_driving_permit_AATA-100116-1.pdf

USA.gov page about foreign nationals driving in the United States: https://www.usa.gov/visitors-driving

California doesn't require a foreign visitor to hold an IDP: https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/dl/dl_info#international

Massachusetts doesn't require a foreign visitor to hold an IDP: https://www.mass.gov/service-details/international-driver-permits

Arizona doesn't require a foreign visitor to hold an IDP: https://www.tripsavvy.com/foreign-driver-license-2681329

Snopes site about "international driver's license" urban legends: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0050-international-drivers-license-scams

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