Why You Would Need an International Driving Permit

“Over the course of my travels, I’ve rented cars all around the world. When renting a car, I haven’t needed to show much more than my passport and driver’s license”, according to this article written by Michael W. of Michael W Travels… “For our trip to South Korea, Kim noticed something interesting while reading about our destination. She saw that to rent a car, I’d need to get an International Driving Permit.”

Why You Would Need an International Driving Permit

I have heard some people call an international driving permit an international driver’s license, which would be incorrect because your driving skills, knowledge and experience are not required to be tested to obtain one; and it consequently does not grant driving privileges.

An International Driving Permit is considered to be a valid form of identification in 199 countries and autonomous territories worldwide and contains your name, photograph and driver information — and many countries highly recommend carrying one along with your driver’s license…

…but an important reason to carry an International Driving Permit is because of the translation of your identification information in ten different languages — which is why one is needed to rent a vehicle in a country like South Korea, where English is not the native or predominant language. If you are stopped by law enforcement officers in that country who do not know English, the International Driving Permit at least helps them identify you and the information on your driver’s license.

According to this article pertaining to road safety overseas from the Bureau of Consular Affairs of the Department of State of the United States, driving without a valid license and insurance in most countries is illegal. “You should check with the embassy of the country you plan to visit or live in to find specific driver’s license requirements. Many countries do not recognize a U.S. driver’s license, but most accept an International Driving Permit”, which may not be valid the entire duration of your stay abroad; and may only be valid with a license issued by the United States or your local government.

Prior to departing on your trip, you can get an International Driving Permit through these automobile associations:

What You Need to Obtain an International Driving Permit

To obtain an International Driving Permit — which is valid for one year — you must be a minimum of 18 years of age; and you will need to:

  • Complete an application
  • Have two original passport photographs
  • Hold a valid driver’s license which was issued by a governmental agency within the United States or its territories — or copies of both sides of the driver’s license, if permitted
  • $20.00 United States to pay the fee


I have driven in at least 23 countries — some of them whose native language is not English; and at least 11 of them in which driving on the left side of the road is compulsory — and I have never needed an International Driving Permit.

Once you acquire an International Driving Permit, you must keep it with your driver’s license at all times; it must be in effect within six months of the application date; and it is not valid for driving in the United States.

Keep in mind that while many countries around the world accept an International Driving Permit along with your license for you to be allowed to drive, a few countries have an additional stipulation: for example, countries such as Dominica and Barbados require that you present your International Driving Permit to local police and pay a special registration fee upon arrival; while Cambodia requires that you exchange your International Driving Permit for a local driving license. You will need an Inter-American Driving Permit issued by the American Automobile Association if you plan on driving a motor vehicle in Brazil, Uruguay or Trinidad and Tobago — although I never had one when I drove a rental car in Uruguay.

Rental car companies will typically warn you of any special stipulations prior to renting one of their vehicles in another country; but checking another source as to what is required for you to drive in that country — as well as obtaining an International Driving Permit prior to a trip to another country where you know you will be driving a motor vehicle — is never a bad idea.

Photograph ©2004 by Brian Cohen.

4 thoughts on “Why You Would Need an International Driving Permit”

  1. DaninMCI says:

    I have an international drivers permit and have needed it in a few countries I’ve visited. My big complaint is that it should be good for a longer period of time. At least 2 years. I don’t mind paying more for the fee but it’s a pain to go renew it.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Although I had no specific period of time in mind, DaninMCI, I thought the same thing, as one year does not seem to be enough time, in my opinion.

  2. James says:

    My friend from a southeast asian country, who drives in the left like british, often rent car from hertz in US. He only showed his country driver license (which contained english translation of name, address, etc). And lied about having a car insurance. He told me he never had trouble with it.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Although it may not matter all that much when no incident occurs, lying about having car insurance is not a good idea in my opinion, James

      …but I do wonder if your friend was covered by insurance anyway with the credit card he or she used…

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