International Drivers Permit: What Is It and Do You Need One?

international license online

Being able to drive internationally has clear advantages such as ease of movement, freedom to choose exactly when and where you go, not to mention when and how often you stop. But is it as simple as just taking your national drivers licence abroad with you? Apparently not. At this point in time, I've now driven abroad more than in my home country (the UK). I've been driving in Italy, Canada, Ireland, Iceland, Australia and, my favourite place to drive, Germany. But I just learned that in some places in the world it's not only preferable but required to have an International Driving Permit. Travel along with me (or dare I say drive along) as I learn when and where an International Driving Permit is needed around the world, and how to get one:

International Drivers Permit FAQ 

Here are some of the most common questions asked about the International Drivers' Permit - hopefully our answers will help you!

Do you need to have a drivers licence before you can get an International Drivers Permit?

The short answer: yes. You must have a drivers licence before you can get an International Drivers Permit. Sorry. This was my own first question because learning to drive in the UK was an expensive and humiliating experience for me. I failed my test not once, but twice before passing the third time. So my first question when I learnt about IDPs was "hey, can you skip getting a licence at home and just get an International Drivers Permit?" No. You cannot. You must have a valid drivers licence before you can get an International Drivers Permit.

What is an International Drivers Permit?

An International Drivers Permit allows you to drive internationally in over 150 countries worldwide. Although it's called a permit, it would be more accurately described as a translation document - it complements your home licence thus allowing you to drive abroad. Unlike your driver's licence, it doesn't have to be physical at all, it can be a digital document that you keep on your phone or iPad. Or you can do what I did and get a physical copy too (see more below).

Do I have to have an International Drivers Permit (IDP)?

This depends on where you are from and where you are going. As I'm from the UK I've only done the research for you if your driver's licence is also from the UK (sorry), and even so it still really depends on the country you're going to (and, in some cases for how long):

  • Some places (like countries in the EU) don't require an International Drivers Permit;
  • Some countries (like the Bahamas) don't require it for the first 90 days of your stay, but then require it afterwards (why? Like you can drive for 90 days and then you suddenly forget?);
  • Some countries (like Canada) don't require it if you want to drive in general, but most car hire companies in Canada do require it if you want to hire a car... (so unless you're planning on buying or borrowing from a friend, you will need an International Drivers Permit in these countries);
  • And some countries just straight out require an International Drivers Permit (like Egypt). 

But even within that group of countries that do require an IDP, there are three different types of IDP - 1926, 1949 and 1968... for a list of who requires what, you can find that here (if your licence is from the UK). But put simply, if you're going on a world-wide trip and want to simplify things, just go ahead and get your International Drivers Permit.

driving licence international

Long story short, the International Drivers Association will allow you to hire a car in over 150 countries. So if you're not sure about the rules for the country you're going to or if you're not sure how long you're going or if you're going to multiple countries with different rules or or or you just want the flexibility of going to random countries and knowing you'll be able to drive - get an International Drivers Permit!

Where can I get an International Drivers Permit?

From the International Drivers Association which is a website that's dedicated to giving you your IDP - which will allow you to hire a car in 150+ countries. Once on the website the process is very straightforward so I'm not going to babysit you through it but I will tell you that this association offers unlimited replacements and 24/7 live chat customer care. You can choose between a 3-year, 2-year and 1-year permit, depending on the time that you need it (see below). You can also choose whether you want digital only (sent to you within 8 minutes) or digital and print (the latter sent to you by mail).

Do I have to have a printed International Drivers Permit or is digital enough?

Having a physical, printed International Drivers Permit ensures compliance with driving regulations. Digital-only reduces the risk of loss or damage, because you can't really lose or damage a digital permit, but for just 6.33 euros per year more (price difference based on the assumption that you have gone for the 3-year permit, for more details see below). I personally think it's better to have both the digital and  print versions - whilst print versions can of course get lost or damaged, so can your phone. Imagine turning up to hire your car and your phone is out of battery because you listened to too much Spotify and played too much chess on the plane (guilty) - or what if you lose your phone altogether on the road?

driving in foreign country

After all, if you are mugged (I hope you won't be but if you are), your mugger is going to be taking your wallet and, of course, your phone, maybe they'll take your watch too, but what they might not care about is your physical drivers permit. Better to be safe than sorry and have a back up - the print backs up the digital, the digital packs up the print. It's also worth noting that not all countries will accept the digital version - for some countries a physical copy is essential. Again, it's better to be safe than sorry.

How much does an International Drivers Permit cost?

It depends on how long you need it for and whether or not you want the printed version. I will break it down presently, but first let me say that I believe the short answer to this question is 'it's priceless'. Because, trust me, if you get to your well-planned out trip and find out that you can't actually hire a car because you don't have your IDP, things can get annoying and expensive real quick (e.g. having to get a taxi to your hotel because you don't have the proper IDP to hire the car and there are no buses running). But enough about me and my mistakes, here is how much the International Drivers Permit actually costs:

  • 1-year:
    • digital only: €46
    • print + digital: €65
  • 2-years:
    • digital only: €52 (aka €26 per year and a 43% discount from the 1-year price)
    • €71 (aka €35.5 per year and a 45% discount from the 1-year price)
  • 3-years:
    • digital only: €56 (aka just €18.67 per year and a 59% discount from the 1-year price)
    • print + digital: €75 (aka just €25 per year and a whopping 62% discount from the 1-year price)

So of course, if you can for absolute sure only get one year off your national life, by all means go for the 1-year permit. But if you have a sprinkling of doubt that you might extend it - go for the 2 or 3 year permits. Take it from someone who had a graduate job all lined up for them after their one year trip to Australia, but got bitten by the travel bug and ended up travelling for the next ten years, and in fact is still travelling... I'd go back and beg past me to go for the 3 year permit. In fact, even if you are set on just a 1-year trip, but feel like in that 2nd or 3rd year you might take a break from the grind and go on a week's holiday abroad (or even just a weekend!), it's still worth getting a 2 or 3 year permit. With discounts like 59% or 62% you might as well take advantage.

Anything else you need to know before driving abroad?

Firstly, and don't hate me if this is obvious to you, but not every country in the world drives on the same side of the road: some countries - like Ireland, Pakistan, Botswana and Lesotho drive on the left; some countries - like Albania, Ghana, Turkey and Yemen drive on the right side of the road. Some countries see their official LHT or RHT status as 'more of a guideline really' and just drive wherever there's a gap (this is kind of a joke, kind of true lol). You can see the full list here but please check it before you go, and please don't panic about driving on the other side - the rule of thumb is if you're driving in the same car type as road type (e.g. RHS car on LHT road and vice versa), your brain just kind of goes with it - the real challenge is driving the wrong type of car on the opposite road - because as the driver you will be sat near the edge of the road not the centre. Anyway, you can do it, please check first.

international drivers license online

Another thing I highly recommend before driving abroad is travel / health insurance. Really, you should have this anyway (and good news USAmericans - your insurance abroad will probably be way cheaper than paying for healthcare back at home), but you should especially have this if you are driving. Driving a vehicle is the most dangerous form of transportation that there is - statistically, passenger vehicle death rate is 17 times higher than for trains, 20 times higher than for buses, and a whopping 595 times higher than for planes!

buy international drivers license

Of course, you won't need health insurance if you're dead but if you get into an accident you will, so please get insurance. On that note, it's also important to get car insurance too. And if you're hiring a car (as opposed to borrowing a friend's or just buying one) make sure you take clear photos or even a video of the car before you start driving it so you have proof that you returned it in the condition you were given it in.

international drivers permit application

We're at a strange moment in time where some countries have switched to card payment - and will only take card payment - and some countries still accept cash (an of course there are the countries that accept both). But it's worth being aware of this, especially before you fill up on gas / petrol /diesel - it would suck to try to pay with card when they only accept cash and there's no cash machine for miles or try to pay with cash when they only accept card. On that note, and again excuse me if this is obvious, but do check which type of fuel the car you've bought / borrowed / hired runs off - because if you put petrol in a diesel car it will break and vice versa.

Wrap Up: How to Get an International Drivers Permit

If you're anything like me, you might not have known that an International Drivers Permit is an essential to have in some countries. Now that we know, I hope I have helped explain what an International Drivers Permit is, whether you need one or not and where to get one. If I had to give a big sweeping statement piece of advice to everyone, I would recommend going for the 3 year physical and digital versions. This might not be true for you, but don't forget - in some countries the physical version is a must. Furthermore, even if you 'only' travel for one year and 'just' take 2 weeks vacation in year 2 and 3, cost effective wise, it's still a good idea to get a 3 year plan. All in all, I hope this blog post has been useful.

If you have any questions, ask the International Drivers Association - or feel free to reach out and ask me. What I lack in knowledge, I make up for in a enthusiastic desire to do the best I can to find answers for you!

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We overland. We eat plants and fungi. We live outside as much as possible. We are all connected. A female travel blogger overlanding and writing about ecotourism, ethical and sustainable travel, socially conscious travel and housesitting. An online travel magazine since 2015.


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