What Is an International Driving Permit or International Driver License?

October 2, 2019

When you’re traveling overseas for longer than a quick vacation, you’re probably wondering how to get international drivers license. Travelers can apply for a permit allowing them to drive in other countries through either the American Automobile Association and the American Automobile Touring Alliance. Here’s what you should know about how these documents work and whether you are eligible.

About the Permit

What is an international drivers permit? The so-called IDP is a legal identification card with your driving information, photo and name. These details are translated into 10 different languages (English, Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Russian and Spanish) and the permit is accepted in 150 countries all over the world. Notably, China does not recognize the IDP and requires motorists to obtain a Chinese driver’s license.

When using an IDP to drive, you must also carry your U.S. driver’s license. Driving in other countries without an IDP can result in hefty fines and the need to hire a global speeding ticket lawyer. Before traveling, check the specific requirements for your destination nation to determine whether the IDP is valid. Having this document can prevent trouble from arising if you get lost, are stopped by law enforcement or have a traffic accident in another country. It also makes it easier for authorities to communicate with you when necessary. Penalties for driving without an IDP vary by country in severity. In Japan, for example, you can be ordered to leave the country for driving without an IDP.

Obtaining an IDP

Where to get an international driving license? If you opt to get an international permit from AAA, you can do so either at a branch office near you or through the mail. You must be at least 18 years old and a permanent resident of the United States. Download the application from the AAA website and submit it along with two original passport-size photos (which can be taken at most branch locations), the $20 permit fee and a valid U.S. driver’s license. You can pay by check, credit card or money order.

The AATA offers permits only through the mail, but not at in-person locations. This agency does not take credit cards, so you must send a check or money order. You must also pay a shipping fee of $10 in the U.S., $35 for expedited domestic service and $85 for international service.

You should apply for an IDP no more than six months before you plan to travel. The document is good for one year, but may not be used to drive in the U.S. without a valid U.S. driver’s license. If you apply in person, you will receive your permit on the same day. Mailed applications are usually processed in 10 to 15 business days, though expedited service is often available for a nominal fee.

You do not need to be in the United States to apply for an IDP with your U.S. driver’s license. If you have already traveled overseas and wish to obtain this documentation so that you can drive, send your application by mail. This option takes up to six weeks for processing and requires an express mail charge of up to $100 according to AAA.

Keep in mind that the U.S. Department of State has issued warnings about fraudulent or counterfeit IDPs. To avoid this issue, apply for an international license only through the AAA or AATA.

If you do receive a driving citation while operating a motor vehicle on an IDP in another country, your U.S. driving record will not be affected. For domestic driving offenses, however, you need the legal advocacy of experienced traffic ticket lawyers.