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International Driver's Permit

Rick Steves' article on rental cars (https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/transportation/rental-car-requirements) originall reassured me that an International Driver's Permit was not necessary for travel in France. However, some recent posts here have made me start to question, and I leave next week, so I want to be sure I'm prepared! What has your experience been? Is an IDP necessary to drive a rental car in France?

Posted by
16941 posts

They may not even rent to you without it. I was asked for mine at a rental desk in Germany, and that isn't on anybody's radar. It is so easy. Takes about 30 minutes at AAA and you walk out with it in your pocket.

Posted by
24 posts

Hello. I have always made sure that I had a valid IDP when driving in Europe. It's a $15 insurance policy against trouble from the local police. The only time I had to produce it was at a Europcar Rental counter in Barcelona; no IDP = no rental. They're very easy to obtain at any AAA office; just take your own valid driver's license (which you must have with you in Europe) and a passport-sized photo, and after filling out a short application you'll be on you way with the IDP in hand.

Posted by
2282 posts

We have rented cars in France twice in the past six years and were not asked for one. Which was good because we didn't have one. However, you can't really go wrong with one, so maybe get one to be safe.

Posted by
5265 posts

I don't recall having to show the IDP to rent a car in France, only my home-state license. But I've always had an IDP because it's a certification of the validity of my home license, in French and many other languages. That means if I were in an accident, or stopped for a violation, the local police could tell that I'm a licensed driver. So I don't risk a charge of driving without a valid license in what would already be a difficult situation. Not having been stopped or in an accident, I can't speak from any further experience. But what's the harm in getting one, as easy as it is?

Posted by
13081 posts

It takes just 10 minutes and $15 to get one at any AAA office.
They can even take the passport photos there (for an additional $10), in case you don't bring your own.
Are you trying to save the $15 for a bottle of French wine? All you need is a couple of euro for wine.

Posted by
6800 posts

kdwinn22 there are two different questions that get conflated: (1) does the law in whatever country require me to have an IDP to drive; (2) will the rental car office let me rent a car without checking that I have one. I'd be more worried about the first. The rental agency is not necessarily a law enforcer in this regard. Maybe a third question - what will a local policeman do if he can't read your license.

Posted by
4535 posts

A certified translation in French of your drivers license is required by law. The IDP fulfills that requirement. Get one.

Like insurance, chances are slim you will actually need it. But if you do need and don't have it...

Posted by
6728 posts

We have never had a rental office ask for it. But the one time we were pulled over, we were expected to have it and glad we did. It is the law to have it in France and in Italy (perhaps other places as well)

Posted by
781 posts

I had to show my IDP at the Rome Airport to get my rental car and was once stopped in Italy by the police and it got me out of trouble.
Mike

Posted by
31522 posts

kd,

Strictly speaking, an I.D.P. is not required for driving in France, as long as you have a certified translation of the terms of your home D.L. (which is what an I.D.P. does). For the small cost and ease of obtaining one, I don't see why travellers don't get I.D.P.'s? I pack one along every year whether I'm planning to drive or not.

Posted by
760 posts

It is not necessary to have an IDP to rent a car but if you plan on driving it you better damn well have one. I have just read the link you referred to. Rick writes very good tour books, but that is the biggest most out of date piece of crap I have ever read. He makes very lightly about something that is really serious and he should be ashamed of it.

What happens at the rental desk doesn't mean anything. They are not the law, they make money renting you cars and are not about to turn you away. They don't care what happens because they ultimately have you by the credit card. Not having an IDP when you need one can have a virtually unlimited financial downside depending on the event, If you get stopped in a roving check point or for a traffic violation, after they fine you a couple hundred Euros on the spot for no IDP, they will then decide whether to impound your car since you are not legally licensed to drive it. If, God forbid, you have an accident, you then have to pray that the insurance company doesn't void your insurance because you weren't licensed to drive the car. (Not that an insurance company would put profit above your welfare)

None of these things are likely to happen to you but as Dirty Harry famously said, "How lucky do you feel?"

Posted by
8293 posts

It amazes me that the IDP is the subject of much angst for some travellers to Europe. The trip is costing thousands of dollars but paying about $20 for the IDP is debated and debated, even when for some countries it is mandatory. It is puzzling.

Posted by
28129 posts

I don't get it either, Norma.

The vast majority of the people who argue this - to death - are North Americans. These are the same people who think nothing of never leaving the house without a wallet containing their driving license.

They carry that wherever they go. Why? So that if they want to use primitive payment methods they can identify themselves, and if they have an incident with their car or a policeman they can identify themselves and get on with their day more quickly.

Given an opportunity to get on with their day with less hassle (when they are paying thousands to make that valuable short vacation trip) they dig their heels in, listen to poor advice from RS, and argue as if they are saving the walls of Jericho (not New York).

I just don't get it.

Posted by
8293 posts

There are actually people who are philosophically opposed to AAA? Are they also philosophically opposed to being fined for driving without an IDP in, say, Italy? Or are they just opposed to laying out twenty bucks?

We did get pulled over once in France near Gap for a routine check and it felt very good being able to show our IDP with our Quebec licence. Would we have been in trouble without it? I don't know but who needs the stress?

Posted by
12 posts

Thank you for all of the helpful responses! I'm surprised at how quickly the tone turned negative- I am not at all opposed to paying to get the license, I had just thought after reading the Rick Steves article that it was unnecessary, and wanted to hear from others who had experience. I'll be getting the IDP this weekend! Thanks again!

Posted by
43 posts

I have traveled to France four times, and to the UK 9 times - all with car rental necessities. I have never been asked for an International Driving License, even while getting a speeding ticket in France....yep, two years ago, I was definitely speeding, and I definitely got a speeding ticket. My Texas driver's license, along with the car rental information, was all they needed. I wouldn't bother - it's a waste of money.

FYI - for collision coverage, if you use a VISA, Mastercard, or AMEX from North America, they cover your collision costs. And, my mother got to test that one out about 6 years ago in Ireland. And, Mastercard's coverage paid for the damage she incurred when driving too close to one of those brick walls that are about a 1/2 inch from the road. You just need to use that card for the rental. The coverage needs to be verified with your individual account, but it's standard on North American cards (and not anywhere else, interestingly enough). You pay to have those cards, so use their benefits!

Good luck to you
Lisa

Posted by
5265 posts

Lisa -- Your Texas license must have intimidated the French cops! They know about the Lone Star Republique! ;-)

Posted by
3714 posts

I'm with Norma and Nigel on this one.

We always get IDPs, whether we plan to rent a car or not. I also don't get the resistance to them, even when they are required by the country a person is driving in. They are indeed a very small cost compared to that of the trip. They are easy to get. They last for a year. And we always get new pictures taken at AAA when we get ours. Our passport pictures may be old, but those IDP ones will be up-to-date.

I don't know why, but this reminds me of people I used to work with who would argue and whine for 3 hours about something that would take 3 minutes to do. Just do it and move on.

And don't expect that things are the way they were 6 years ago or even last year. France has made some driving changes very recently. I'm sure other countries have as well.

Full disclosure: I was raised to think that if I did anything wrong, I would get caught. My folks were about 80% right about that.

Posted by
4535 posts

There are actually people who are philosophically opposed to AAA?

I don't know, but there are people out there that think AAA created the IDP as some sort of money-making scheme. In reality, AAA is merely the authorized US provider of the IDP. It is each country that makes laws on whether it is required or not.

People are free to chose whether to "waste their money" on one and take the risk, but there are plenty of examples of people that HAVE needed them to make it a really good idea when it is legally required and even when not required.

Posted by
3486 posts

I am of the school ( for many reasons , I particularly liked Irv's response , above ) that if you are overseas . having the IDP is prudent as well as legally necessary . To address the OP's question about France , my rental agreement from AVIS for this coming October ( I am picking the car up in Lille for a week to tour the WWI areas in Belgium and Northeastern France before ending in Paris ) clearly states that you MUST have an IDP . Whether or not they check for it is immaterial , it is a legal requirement .

Posted by
6800 posts

Does anyone know the legal requirement for an IDP in the US (possibly different in each state & territory)? I wonder what would happen if you presented a foreign license in Cyrillic, Cantonese, Bantu, or whatever, to Sheriff Roscoe P Coltrane, expecting him to recognize it as valid.

Posted by
6511 posts

Stan, to answer your hypothetical question:

"If you are a visitor from outside the United States and Canada who plans to drive in the U.S., check with the motor vehicle department of each state you will drive in for its requirements. Some of the states will require an International Driving Permit (IDP) in addition to a valid license from your own country."

From the website: https://www.usa.gov/visitors-driving

Posted by
2251 posts

As long as we are going whole hog on the IDP question (cue Forrest Gump) again, for those averse to AAA, which says on its site "AAA is one of only two private entities in the U.S. authorized by the U.S. Department of State to issue an IDP", there is also this site, National Automobile Club, that is apparently the other choice for an IDP in the U.S.

http://www.thenac.com/international_driving_permit.pdf

Posted by
6800 posts

Thanks for the information on IDPs in the US. Confirms that its not just a quirky european nuisance. The expectation that a foreign police officer would recognize your home state license was valid on its face value is too risky for me. Plenty of fake licenses for sale out there anyway, as many of us know.

Posted by
9363 posts

I don't see it as a quirky European nuisance, but more of an advantage in communication. Yes, it costs a few dollars, but it doesn't leave any room for doubt about what my license says when I am in countries where I don't speak the language.

Posted by
6800 posts

Nancy, I meant that many people seem to think it is a nuisance, not a legal requirement even in the US. I understand the purpose and the benefit of having one, and have had gotten one, even when driving a non-rented vehicle in Europe.

Posted by
28129 posts

not just a quirky european nuisance

That's right. It is required in dozens and dozens of countries worldwide.