If you plan on renting a car abroad, you should consider picking up an International Driving Permit (IDP). This is not the same as your driver’s license – you’ll still need your state issued license. It’s also not the same as an International Driver License which actually doesn’t even exist. Instead, the IDP is a translation of your driver’s license and is recognized in ~150 countries as identification.
Do you need the IDP to rent a car? Depends. Based on research I’ve done as part of my own trip planning, the word on the street is that some car rental companies require you have an IDP to rent a car but not all. That said, if you get pulled over or run into issues driving abroad, the IDP is the document you’ll want to have to get you through it. Also, at only $15 per permit (valid for 1 year), it’s a small price to pay to avoid potential trouble abroad.
It’s super easy to get one. You can pick them up at AAA or at the National Automobile Club even if you’re not members of either. Both websites have PDF applications you can download and print out. If you want to get the IDP via mail, just fill out the application, include 2 passport photos, $15 for the application, shipping fees (if any), and send it to either company to get the IDP. If you’d rather get it in person, you can walk into AAA with an application (or fill one out when your there) and bring 2 passport photos and get the IDP the same day.
Here are some other tips based on my own experience getting an International Driving Permit at AAA:
- If you need passport photos, AAA offers them to members for $8. For non-members, it’s $15.
- On the application, there’s a line to indicate the date you want the permit to be effective AND another line to indicate your date of departure. For some unexplainable reason, AAA uses the date of departure as the date your permit is effective so the 1 year IDP validity starts from that date. This drove me crazy because I wasn’t planning to rent a car until a whole month and a half after my date of departure so I was totally getting gypped! When I tried to tell the associate that I wanted her to start my permit based on the effective date I indicated, she shrugged her shoulders and told me that at AAA they always start the permit on the date of departure (a great example of corporate policy that makes no sense). So, if you’re applying for an IDP and want to maximize the year of validity, make sure to indicate a date of departure that is the same date as the date you want the permit to be effective.
- Don’t lose the permit! I stupidly lost the first one and they don’t issue replacements. You have to pay for another one.
As a final note, not all countries require an IDP so do your research beforehand! For instance, if you’re going to Brazil, Uruguay, or Trinidad & Tobago, you’ll want to look into the Inter-American Driving Permit.
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