Driving Abroad? Don’t Forget Your International Driving Permit

Most warm-blooded American auto enthusiasts fantasize about renting a sports car and hitting a buck-fifty on the German Autobahn or tearing up the twisty tarmac on the Stelvio Pass in Italy (yes, the Eastern Alpine mountain pass made famous by Top Gear) at some point.

Did you know that you need an International Driving Permit (also called International Driver’s Permit or IDP) to turn this dream into reality?

It’s true—many countries, including Germany and Italy, require Americans to obtain an IDP to rent a car and drive legally—even if you’re just briefly passing through.

Don’t let this requirement thwart your international road trip or business trip, because the process of getting an International Driving Permit is actually fairly simple and affordable.

What exactly is an International Driving Permit?

A UK International Driving Permit (IDP) placed on a map of Europe.
A U.K. International Driving Permit | Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty Images

An International Driving Permit (incorrectly referred to as an International Driver’s License) is an official form of ID in 150 countries worldwide and contains your photo, name, and information. An IDP translates your driver information into 10 different languages, letting you rent and legally drive an automobile in several countries across the globe.

An International Driving Permit is valid for one year upon your arrival in a foreign country. Once your IDP expires, it cannot be renewed. You must submit a new application for the new permit.

Which countries require an IDP for American drivers?

A map of Europe focused on Germany.
A map of Europe focused on Germany | Pixabay via Pexels

Check out the tourist board for the country you’re planning on visiting to obtain the most current legal information on whether or not you need an IDP to rent or drive a car.

Generally, most European nations require you to have an International Driving Permit to rent or drive that sweet sports car. For example, the following European countries require you to have an IDP along with a valid United States’ driver’s license:

  • Austria
  • Bosnia-Herzegovina
  • Greece
  • Germany
  • Hungary
  • Italy
  • Poland
  • Slovenia
  • Spain

Even if you’re never asked for your International Driving Permit at a car rental desk or elsewhere in one of these countries, it’s best that you err on the side of caution because the fines for failing to carry an IDP can be quite hefty.

How do you apply for an International Driving Permit?

A waiting room for an establishment that accepts and processes International Driving Permit applications.
International Driving Permit process | Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Obtaining your International Driving Permit is a prompt and painless process.

Currently, only two organizations are authorized by the U.S. Department of State to provide IDPs: The American Automobile Association (AAA) or The American Automobile Touring Association (AATA).

The AAA and AATA both have different processes for obtaining an International Driving Permit:

How to get your International Driving Permit through AAA

According to AAA, you’ll need the following to get your International Driving Permit:

  • Download and complete an application, and bring it to your nearest AAA branch office.
  • Two original passport pictures (AAA also offers this service for a small fee).
  • A valid U.S. driver’s license.
  • Pay a $20 USD permit fee.

You’ll get your IDP the very same day you complete the above process!

If you can’t make it into a AAA office branch, you can mail in your International Driving Permit application. Check out the AAA website for more information, including how to apply for an IDP if you’re already overseas.

Note that you’ll receive your IDP in 4 to 6 weeks if you choose to apply through snail mail.

How to get your International Driving Permit through AATA

According to AATA, you need to do the following to get your International Driving Permit:

  • Complete an application form.
  • Submit two passport pictures.
  • Submit photocopies of the front and back of your driver’s license.
  • Submit your check or money order for the IDP issuance fee plus your choice of shipping and handling options.
  • Mail the above items to the address shown on the application.

Visit the AATA website for more information about obtaining your International Driving Permit through this organization

Drive legally and enjoy your trip

A busy highway in Germany.
Driving in Germany | Moritz Frankenberg/picture alliance via Getty Images

Regardless of which route you choose, getting your International Driving Permit is affordable, easy, and fast.

Happy motoring, fellow traveler!