Driving has its charm, be it driving in your own country or driving in a foreign land. Who doesn’t seek a road trip and drive with those never-before eye-pleasing views? But what mainly bothers the travelers is how they can accomplish this without a license for driving in that country.

With all this, we encounter the term “International Driving License”, which we think is mandatory. One might believe that this is something different from the conventional license, the one you already have. Let me clarify that you don’t need an International Driving License to drive abroad. Astonished!!!

No wait, I have something more, it should rather be, and there is no such thing as International Driving License. The term that should be used here is International Driver’s Permit (IDP).

International Driving License or International Driver's Permit

An International Driver’s Permit is a document that translates your national driving license into multiple languages, making it easily understandable for the foreign countries you may be visiting. It is nothing more than a translating tool and is not a substitute for your national driving license. More than 150 countries accept it, including all EU countries and the United States.

So what do we need or can we just go rent a car and roll on?? The International Driving Permit (IDP) is not a license in itself. It is a permit that the relevant authority in your home country issues on your existing valid driving license to allow you to drive in foreign countries. Some automobile associations (e.g. AAA) also issue IDP for their members. To apply for IDP one requires a valid driving license along with a passport and travel insurance. My favorite international travel insurance providers are Insubuy Visitor Health Insurance and World Nomads.

Some countries also ask for visas and confirmed travel tickets for your IDP application. In most nations, IDP is valid for a certain period, which is usually 12 months. You can apply online for IDP in many countries. It is important to note that your IDP expires automatically upon the expiration of your driver’s license, regardless of whether it still has validity.

From a historical perspective, the IDP concept came into effect because the license was previously issued in booklet form in a vernacular language. Hence, to eliminate linguistic barriers, they issue IDP in English, making it globally sustainable. In the smartcard era, IDP has become history, but travelers are unaware of this fact. In any case, you still need an IDP if your license does not spell your name in Roman characters.

It may surprise you to learn that you can drive in most countries with just your driver’s license from your home country. An International Driving Permit (IDP) is only necessary for a handful of countries and even then, it’s more of a “nice to have” than a “must have.”

My experience taught me something more about this issue. Initially, I also used to carry an IDP with me on my international travels. When I presented my IDP to rental cars in the US they failed to recognize it and asked me for my smartcard-based DL. A cop halted me once while I was driving in Europe. Since I had the IDP ready, I showed him. To my surprise, he did not recognize the documents and said he had no idea what they were and would like to see a driver’s license issued by the country I reside in.

As they issue smartcard-based licenses now in English, a globally accepted language, most cops have no idea what IDP is. What they accept is a valid driving license from your country that should match your passport. In the past 10 years, I have driven in 20 countries including the US, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia on my smartcard-based DL issued in India. My IDP was never requested, and I don’t apply for one anymore.

So, finally, you must understand that International Driver’s Permit is not a mandatory document for foreign travel and is neither a substitute for your driving license. It is a supplement, which is sometimes necessary and should make your travel easier.

Remember that there is no such thing as an International Driving License when you are planning a foreign vacation. Now you can go abroad, rent a car, and rock on.


This blog may contain affiliate links. At no extra cost to you, we may get a small commission if you buy anything. All products and services we endorse have been personally used or come highly recommended to us. These incomes allow us to keep the community supported and ad-free.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *