Representational image of woman driving car. Matthew Henry/Unsplash

NEW YORK CITY - Going abroad can oftentimes be a stressful adventure. Carrying all the necessary documents needed, from passports to visas and vaccinations, traveling internationally requires patience and dedication. While tourists spend a large portion of their planning period deciding how to get to their destination and making sure they have everything they need, one question is often missed from the equation; once we get there, how will we move around?

While some major tourist cities like Paris or London have an efficient public transportation system, some smaller, perhaps less-tourist ones may not. In that case, an International Driving Permit (IDP) may make your life easier if you plan on driving in another country.

Here is a comprehensive guide on how to get an International Driving Permit.

What is an International Driving Permit (IDP)?

An IDP is a legal travel document regulated by the United Nations, which means that it is valid in more than 150 countries around the world. They are oftentimes a requirement for renting a motor vehicle in many countries and can be helpful if you find yourself in need of identification or assistance.

While driving abroad may be tricky due to different laws and regulations, an International Driving Permit allows the holder to drive in all of the UN's contracting countries other than their country of residence, without further examination, as long as they hold a valid domestic driver's license.

This documentation contains your name, photo and driver information in several languages— so it is more likely to be understandable to most of the local officials and authorities of the country you visit.

Understanding IDP Requirements

Before you travel to a foreign country, it is recommended you check which countries allow you to drive with your domestic U.S. driver's license, and which require an International Driving Permit.

As a U.S. citizen your state driver's license is valid while driving in Canada and Mexico. Driving abroad in countries like France and Germany, requires an IDP.

Offices that issue a permit to drive abroad vary by country. In the U.S. AAA is responsible for issuing said documents, whether that is by mail or in a travel office.

Eligibility Criteria for Obtaining an IDP

Obtaining an IDP is not difficult, mostly because of its basic requirements, most of which are highly similar to the ones placed by the DMV to get a U.S. driver's license.

To get an International Driving Permit you must be at least 18-years-old and carry a valid domestic driver's license. A temporary learner's permit or interim driver's license is not accepted when applying for an IDP.

Documents and Information Needed for Applying for IDP

In the U.S. citizens and residents have two options to apply for a permit for driving abroad— by mail or in person through AAA.

To apply in person at a AAA Travel Office, you will need to provide:

  • A filled out application, which you can bring to your nearest AAA Travel Office
  • Two original passport pictures
  • A valid U.S. driver's license
  • Pay $20 USD permit fee

If you are unable to stop by a AAA Travel Office, you can obtain your International Driving Permit by mail. To do so you will need to provide the following:

  • A completed IDP application form
  • Two original passport pictures each signed on the back
  • $20 USD permit fee
  • A photocopy of both sides of your driver's license

Processing time for an International Driving Permit varies depending on the administration which issues the document and the process established by the authorities. AAA typically advises to allow for 4-5 weeks from receipt of application for processing.

The role of the DMV in the process

Because AAA is the office responsible for issuing IDP, the role of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in this process is minimal.

If you are seeking to apply for an International Driving Permit, you will need to go to the DMV to first issue or renew a driver's license if you do not have one already. A learner's permit, or another form of temporary driver's license are not eligible for an IDP application.

Foreign drivers however, can drive in the States without an IDP. In the state of New York, for instance, it is not required to apply for an International Driving Permit, but it can be helpful, as it verifies in several languages that you have a valid driver license. Police officers who can't read the language on your foreign driver license will be able to read the permit.

For more information specific to your case, you can contact the authorities in your home country.

IDP Validity and Renewal

Because IDPs are regulated by the United Nations, they are valid in more than 150 countries.

It is always recommended to check which territories accept and/or require an IDP before you make your travel plans. Here is a list of countries that accept IDPs, per the United Nations.

Because an IDP is a translation of your home country's license, rather than an independent permit itself, you will always need a valid license to drive abroad. IDPs are valid for a period of one year from the date of issuance, with a six month grace period. So you must apply for a new IDP each year.

To renew an actual driver's license in the U.S. or get a learner's permit, you must go through the DMV, which varies depending on the state.

Bottom Line

IDPs are a great asset when driving abroad. Because they contain several translations of your personal information and are regulated by the United Nations, International Driving Permits can make it easier when attempting to drive in another country.

Because laws and regulations vary when driving in another country, it is always important to check your destination's policies and allow for plenty of processing time before making travel arrangements.

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