A person can drive their own vehicle or a vehicle they’ve rented while abroad. In order to do so, they’ll need a document called an international driving license. It’s issued alongside a national International Drivers License and it’s only valid when you have both.
This is the document you can use to rent a vehicle abroad or that you need to show when you’re stopped by the police in a foreign country. It’s easy to obtain and there are no driving-related requirements other than having a International Drivers License itself.
What International Drivers License Refers To?
The document is often referred to as an international driving license, but it’s called a driving permit. That’s because it’s not that document licensing you to drive, but the other, national one. Sometimes using the wrong term is a mistake, but in some cases, it can also be a sign of fraud.
If an institution is marketing their international driving document as a license rather than a permit, it can be cause for alarm. If the term “license” is used anywhere on the document itself – it’s not a valid one and you shouldn’t try to get it.
How is the Permit Issued?
There is a lot of information online on how to get an international driving license, but it will depend on your location. The permit is usually issued by the same institution as the one issuing a national license and it can be done in person or online. You’ll need to provide photos, fill out a form, and pay a small fee. Once you do all that, the document can arrive at your address, in the mail.
There are no driving and medical tests to go through since you’ve already done all that when getting a national license. The permit is valid in all the countries that accept it as a legal document, which is most of them.
How Long the Permit is Valid for?
An international driving permit is valid for a year and then you’ll need to obtain some sort of local license made for tourists or foreign residents, depending on your circumstances. It’s possible to renew the license while abroad, just as easily as you’ve had it made in the first place.
It’s also important to note that the permit will only be valid if you have a valid national driving license with you. Those usually last for about 5 years depending on which institution has issued them, and you need to make sure that one doesn’t expire before the other.
Which Countries Accept the Permit?
The system of international permits came to be in 1949 when an international accord was signed with that purpose in mind. Over the years about 150 countries have signed the agreement and all of them now accept the permit as a valid document.
There are some exceptions that are resolved by bilateral agreements and by the local laws of the country in question. The biggest of these exemptions is probably China which doesn’t recognize the permits at all and issues special driving licenses for tourists.
What You Can Use The Permit For?
The most important thing to do with a permit is to be able to drive legally. It’s not allowed to do so without one. However, there are other important uses for the permit that you should consider. You’ll need a valid international permit to rent a car while abroad. There are also some additional insurance payments you’ll need to pay as a foreigner renting a car abroad.
The permit can’t be used as proof of ID since that’s not what it’s meant for. In order to prove your identity, you’ll need to have another document with you.
Age and Other Limits
There’s an age limit as to who can get the international permit. The limit is set at 18 years and you can’t drive with an international driving permit if you’re younger than that. Some countries allow their own citizens to get a license before they are 18 and the rule still applies in those countries when it comes to international driving permits.
The permit is only issued for personal vehicles and you can’t use it to drive a truck or a bus abroad. Those would require an additional license and usually a professional one, issued to your employer.
What Can Happen if You Don’t Have a International Drivers License ?
There are fines you’ll have to pay if you don’t have an international permit with you while driving abroad. For the most part, these are monetary but they can sometimes be more severe and you can get your vehicle impounded until you resolve the issue with the local authorities. The severity of the fine also depends on what other traffic violations you’ve made
Some countries are notable for having rather strict rules for foreign drivers. Japan can even deport you if you’re caught driving without the proper permit. That’s a rare outliner, however.
US drivers need to use international permits just like any other drivers, but the US also has numerous other treaties and arrangements with other countries that define the rights and obligations of US drivers further. For instance, they can use a US license to drive in Canada and Mexico.
Russia also allows Americans to drive with their own license for a period of six months after which they can obtain a short-term local license or use an international permit for another year. There’s also an intra-American permit that the US also acknowledges and uses and it’s mostly used for traveling to Brazil, which doesn’t recognize the international permit.
A Few Tips for Driving Abroad
Even though you have an international permit, local traffic laws still apply to you and you need to obey them. Make sure you’re careful on the roads you’re not familiar with and try to be respectful to the local authorities when you face them.
It’s also important to be aware that the overall approach to driving and traffic culture can be different in foreign countries and that you’ll do best to drive slowly and with extra care, until you find your way in a new country. This will also make everyone safer and more comfortable.