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An International Driving Permit is a document recognized by over 150 countries. It is a booklet that translates the information on your existing driver’s license into 10 or more languages. An IDP may help your next foreign road trip go more smoothly; most foreign authorities will appreciate you carrying this document, and some even require it. But the U.S. government does not issue an International Driving Permit–you’ll have to go to your local AAA branch for that.

How do you get an International Driving Permit?

U.S. citizens can only get an International Driving Permit (IDP) through their local AAA or the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA)–according to Applying from abroad can take six weeks or longer, so it’s a good idea to get an IDP in-person before your trip.

An International Driving Permit booklet on a wooden table with a passport booklet visible in the background.
The writer’s International Driving Permit | Henry Cesari Motorbiscuit

To get your International Driving Permit, you’ll need a valid U.S. driver’s license, a $20 fee, and two original passport photos. Some AAA offices are equipped to take these passport photos on site, but it’s worth calling ahead to confirm this.

You simply need to fill out an application form with all of your information and present your driver’s license. The team at AAA will then attach your photo to a fresh IDP booklet and fill in your name, town of birth, birth date, and town of residence. Once you’ve signed it and they’ve stamped it, you’re ready to go.

More tips for getting an International Driving Permit

Firstly, an AAA International Driving Permit (IDP) is valid for a maximum of one year. So if you won’t be leaving on your trip for a while, ask the team at AAA to put down a permit start date for some time in the future. Note that if your domestic driver’s license expires before a year is up, your IDP does as well.

The author's International Driving Permit (IDP) folded open with picture visible.
The writer’s International Driving Permit | Henry Cesari Motorbiscuit

If your IDP does expire while you’re abroad, you can renew it by mail. This should be a faster process than applying for a brand new IDP from AAA while abroad. But it would not be a bad idea to get this application in far ahead of when you need it.

Finally, make sure to point out any special endorsements you have on your U.S. license so the team at AAA can note those on your IDP. The IDP used by the U.S. was created by a convention of 101 countries that took place in Geneva back in 1949. Therefore, it considers any vehicle above 7,700 pounds or with more than 8 passengers as a special class.

When I pointed out that even a standard U.S. license allows me to drive vehicles with up to 15 people and GVWRs up to 20,000 pounds, the team at my AAA checked off that I had these “special” endorsements. I have yet to find out whether foreign authorities will honor these special endorsements, but I can’t imagine it will hurt to at least have the specifics of my U.S. license translated.

Do you need an International Driving Permit to drive abroad?

The truth is that many travelers drive in many foreign countries without an International Driving Permit. You will have to check the specific laws of the country you’re traveling to. Even if your destination doesn’t require an IDP, it might still be an important document to have.

Blue Vespa scooter parked on a cobblestone street with a blue door visible in the background.
Vespa scooter | Ruslan Bardash via Unsplash.jpg

Many countries actually allow you to drive on their roads without an IDP during a short-term vacation. But many also require an IDP for longer-term travelers or expats.

In any country foreign, local authorities will appreciate the thoughtfulness of you carrying a translated driver’s license. Anything that can make an awkward foreign travel stop go more smoothly is a good investment.

Finally, even though a foreign government may not require an IDP, private companies may require one to rent a car. If you plan to rent while traveling abroad, make sure to check the fine print before arriving without an IDP.

Next, learn how to unlock an electric scooter abroad or learn more about getting an IDP in the video below:


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