9 Things to know about International Driver’s License (Permit)

An international driver’s permit is a document that you’ll need to obtain if you want to drive in a foreign country. That document is only valid if you also have a driver’s license issued in your own country and if you carry both with you while traveling.

Before you take a trip and enjoy the freedom that comes with exploring a country in your own vehicle, you should take the time to learn about the proper documents that you need to obtain and how to do it. This includes the international permit without which you can’t drive at all, in most countries.

What is the Permit Used for?

The permit is used as proof of identification and a license to drive abroad. In order to do that, you’ll also have to produce a national license since there’s no test taken before you obtain an international permit.

In some cases, this permit is also needed when you’re renting a car abroad since it’s proof that you’re able to drive. The permit doesn’t serve as proof of insurance; you’ll need a separate document for it.

A Permit or a License

Both terms are often used to describe the same document, but the only correct term is a permit. That’s because you’ll need both of them with you in order to be able to drive legally. The permit itself doesn’t license you to drive abroad.

There are some fraudulent websites out there that sell a document that they call “an international drivers license”, but that’s not a valid document since no such document exists. Be aware of these scams they can be both costly and cause legal trouble once you’re caught without proper documents.

How to Obtain an International Driver’s Permit?

It’s a relatively easy process that can be done remotely or when you are abroad. Numerous agencies provide this service. Read more about it on which has comprehensive reviews and a database that you could go through and choose the one that suits your needs.

You’ll need a copy of your national driver’s license and two photos similar to those used for passports. There are also some small fees and forms that you have to fill out. It’s one of the least expensive documents to obtain and since the whole process can be done online, it’s stress-free.

When Does an International Driving Permit Expire?

An international driver’s permit lasts 12 months. After that, you’ll have to renew it, the same way you obtained the first one. Some countries have stricter rules, and you can only use the license for 6 months – Russia is one such example.

However, if your national license has expired, the international permit won’t be valid either. It usually lasts for about five years. Make sure that your national license doesn’t expire before the international one, and you’ll be good to go. National licenses can’t always be renewed while you’re abroad.

What Countries Accept International Driving Permits

International permits came to be in 1949 based on the international agreement on traffic. At this point, 150 countries all over the world have signed the accord and these are the countries you can drive in with the international permit if you also have a national license. There are a few notable exceptions.

Some South American countries don’t recognize these documents and the US has a separate international deal with them. An inter-American Driving Permit is a document that has come about as a part of these agreements. The most notable South American country that doesn’t recognize an international permit is probably Brazil.

What About China?

China doesn’t recognize the International driving permit. You are not allowed to drive in China if you have this document or if you have a national driving license issued outside of China. The authorities only accept the driving permits that are issued in China and if you want to drive while visiting you’ll need to get one.

Luckily there are temporary licenses in China that last for 3 months. This is the best option for tourists since the process of obtaining them is easier and you probably won’t stay longer than 3 months on a tourist visa anyway.

Canada and Mexico

Canada and Mexico have separate deals with the US when it comes to driving licenses. You won’t need an international permit when traveling to these countries. They will accept a US-issued license as a proper ID document. However, it may be useful to translate your driver’s license when traveling to Mexico.

Keep in mind that licenses aren’t proof of insurance and you’ll need to make sure you have proper insurance when traveling abroad. That’s a separate document you’ll need to obtain before a trip. It’s best to make sure you’re properly insured in case something happens.

What Can Happen If You Don’t Have the Proper License?

Driving without an international license is illegal. The fines that you’ll need to pay for it depend on the country you’re in. In some cases, a fine is all you get and in others, you may get your vehicle confiscated for a while.

Some countries, such as Japan can even deport you if you don’t have a proper license. It’s best not to try your luck, and make sure that you have the proper documents and that they are up to date before going on a trip.

Drive Safe

Driving abroad can be additionally challenging when you don’t know the area or aren’t familiar with the local traffic regulations. Having the proper documents is important but it’s only a part of the story. It’s also essential to stay safe on the road and to be on your best behavior.

If you encounter traffic authorities while in a foreign country make sure you’re respectful and honest about the situation you’re in (especially if you’ve done something you’re not supposed to). In most cases, you’ll do fine and you may get some leniency based on the fact that you’re a tourist.

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