Getting an international driving license is often overlooked by many tourists. Most people do not know that an international driving license or international driving permit is mandatory to drive in many countries. Many rental agencies will rent cars to you without an international license making it even easier to overlook.
This is compounded with the fact that most people do not know which countries require them. And, most don’t know how to get an international driving license.
In this guide, we’ll explain why you need one, which countries require them, and how you can get one!
What is an International Driving License or International Driving Permit?
A domestic driving license is something almost everyone is familiar with. Domestic licenses allow you to drive in your designated state or country. However, if you intend to drive in another jurisdiction or country, your domestic driving license is often useless.
An international driving license (IDL) or international driving permit (IDP) allows you to drive in foreign countries. It is an essential legal document you will need if you plan to drive a car legally overseas. United Nations issue IDL’s and IDP’s in collaboration with your local government.
The international driving license is one of the many types of non-domestic licenses you can get. For example, there are learner licenses, commercial licenses, personal or individual licenses, etc. An international driver’s license is what you need when renting and driving a vehicle in a foreign county.
For all intents and purposes, an IDL is a translated document of your domestic driving license. As long as the document is valid for the country you plan to visit; you will be free to drive in that country.
Note: An important point of distinction is the fact that an international driver license is not a valid substitute for a domestic drivers license. This means that you will need to carry your domestic license with you as well.
Why Do You Need An International Driving License or International Driving Permit?
First of all, if you plan to drive overseas, it’s often legally required.
Aside from the legality. Imagine if you get stuck on a conventional tour bus or a cruise ship shore tour while on holiday. You are religated to the overpopulated places everyone wants to see. Or, you’re on the tour operator’s schedule – not your own.
We all see people posting photos and videos of super scenic and exciting places off the beaten track. And, we all wonder how people manage to stumble across these places.
One of the best ways to find these places is by driving around freely.
Most of these places are not part of the standard tourist “routes” per se. Some of the off-the-beaten-track attractions require you to take the road less traveled. Hiring a driver can be pretty expensive, plus it isn’t the same as when you drive. Trust me! If you enjoy driving and traveling, an international driving license will help you greatly.
With an IDL, you are free to drive in almost 170 countries. In addition, the license contains critical information such as your name, photo, and driver information. As such, it’s also a great additional form of “official” identification. Most domestic driver licenses do not carry the same amount of detailed information.
So, if you have a passion for driving and love to experience driving around in other countries, an international driving license is a must for you.
International Law and Validity of International Driving License or Permit
An international driving license or permit is a legal document that legally allows you to drive in any country that follows specific International Conventions. The concept and terminology for international driving licenses first came to be in an international convention. The 1926 international convention for motor traffic (signed in Paris) mentioned ‘permit’ relative to international driving licenses.
There is more than just the 1926 convention out there. In total, three conventions dictate IDL’s and IDP’s:
- The 1926 Paris International Convention
- The 1949 Geneva Convention
- The 1968 Vienna Convention
If a country is a part of one of these conventions, you can apply for a license to drive in this country.
Format of International Driving License
A valid license or permit comes in a fixed size and format. Most have a standard size of 148 x 105 mm (A6). Even the color scheme is the same.
TIP: Be aware of fake companies and scams! There are plenty of companies offering fake international driving licenses. You need to make sure that the last pages of your license are printed in French and the rest in English, Russian and Spanish.
International driving licenses display the kind of vehicles you can drive. Categories are divided and distinguished based on vehicle weight and the number of passenger seats.
The Five Standard Driving Classes
- A Class – Under which your international driving permit will allow you to drive three and two-wheeled motor vehicles that do not exceed 400kg.
- B Class – This license category will allow you to drive motor vehicles with passengers and goods in vehicles not exceeding 3,500kg.
- C Class – Motor vehicles in this category can transport goods with a maximum weight of 3,500 kg.
- D Class – This class of international driving license will allow you to drive motor vehicles with eight seats.
- E Class – You can drive motor vehicles of B, C, or D with light trailers.
Knowing these classes is important, and you need to understand which vehicle type you plan to drive.
Class B is the most common license that travelers typically opt for.
How Long Do International Driving Licenses Last?
The latest convention (1968 Vienna) states that:
- An international driving license must have an expiration date of no more than three years from the time of issue.
- You can use your international driving license until the expiration date of your domestic driving license.
Advantages of Having an International Driving License or Permit
- An international driving license or international driving permit is required for most countries.
- It is an important legal identification document that contains vital legal information. You can use it as an identification document in certain situations.
- When you have an international driving license, you are can drive in that country without completing any test or exam.
- You get to drive in over 100 countries that are part of the above-stated conventions.
- International driving licenses are printed in multiple languages. The domestic license you carry might not allow you to identify your driving license and yourself correctly.
- If you choose to rent a car in another country and drive away – you can – headache-free.
- You get to drive around and explore a place on your terms. The liberating feeling of driving yourself around is something that public transportation cannot provide.
How to Get an International Driving License
Many people ask me, how do you even get one of these? Do you need to get more than one? Where do you apply?
The process of obtaining the license is dependent on the place you live. Every country has its own procedure and agencies you must go through to get one.
Do you need one for each country?
You do need an international driving license for every country you plan to visit. However, this is true only for countries that require it. For example, some countries in Europe do not need an international driving license.
TIP: Before booking a car rental, consult with your consulate or the government to find out whether you will need an international driving license for a particular country.
For Residents of The United States of America
If you live in the United States, you need an international driver’s license or permit to drive in foreign countries as per the 1949 Convention. In the United States, it is easy to apply, and most of the process can be completed online.
Complete an online application with The International Automobile Association, then physically mail them any required documentation.
You will need to provide:
- Name and address
- Eye color
- Type of license you need
- Copy of your domestic driving license information
The cost is based on the length required. For example, if you need an international driving license for a year, it will cost you $30. If you need one for three years, it’s $60. If you need one for ten years, it will cost you $90.
Then you will receive an ID card, booklet, a digital copy, and the freedom to drive in more than 157+ countries.
For Residents of The European Union (EU)
Some countries in the EU do not require you to have an international driving license if you are a resident of one of the EU countries. Most importantly, it is still recommended – just in case.
Check the requirements here and apply if needed: Getting a driving license in the EU.
Note: Costs and processes vary by country of origin.
For Residents of India
Indian’s are required to get an “International Driving Permit.” You fill in the form and submit it to the nearest Regional Transport Office (RTO). You are required to show your tickets, visa, passport, and other documents as part of the verification process.
An international driving license or permit is essential for people who prefer driving instead of hiring a driver. Many people opt for tourist buses and tours that take you from point A to Point B. While this is a good option for those not particularly adventurous, you will not have as much freedom.
Sophia Scott is a content creator at escaperoom.com. She’s a passionate young woman, mother to a fantastic nine-year-old, and an avid reader. Above all, writing has helped her explore and understand the world as well as herself. She loves to travel, meet new people, and spend quality time with her daughter.
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