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Is an international driver's license

My husband and I will be in France for about four weeks this summer. He does all the driving. Does he really need an international driver's license for our visit?

Posted by
21844 posts

Yes, it is a driving permit used with his normal drivers license

Posted by
5745 posts

It's an International Driving Permit ("IDP").

Technically, in France you can drive with a valid US drivers license and a "notarized translation" of your license.

Practically speaking, getting a "notarized translation" would be a lot more hassle than getting an IDP. So, unless you have a Notary Public in your family, yeah, you will need the IDP.

The IDP is (essentially) a translation of key data from your actual driver's license with your photo attached. Get one at your local AAA office. Takes about 5 minutes and costs roughly $25 IIRC. Good for a year. You need to bring your actual license along, too - it's not a substitute for your license.

Getting an IDP is quick, easy, not expensive, and makes you feel like you're about to head off for an adventure. It's a no brainer - get one.

Posted by
3493 posts

It's not a license, it is a permit and is available at any AAA office for less than $30. It must be carried along with your actual driver license to be valid.

Some will say they have never been asked for the permit, some will say they couldn't even rent a car without one. For the small cost, why not get one and be certain you can get the rental.

Posted by
340 posts

just to clarify a bit, it is called a "permit" but it is not issued by any gov't the way you might think a permit would be. It is simply a translation of the information on your drivers license into several different languages. In some countries you are required to carry it along with your drivers license and show it on demand. Remember that the laws in many countries (including France) are not the same as the US; they don't have to have a reason to pull you over, they simply can if they want.

Posted by
82 posts

As the others have said, it is really easy to get an IDP at your local AAA office and well worth the few $$ that it will cost you. I've never had anyone stop me in Europe and ask to see my license, but I always get an IDP "just in case". It is a simple solution for a potential problem.

Penn

Posted by
2574 posts

When you go to AAA take 2 passport photos as they are required.

Posted by
7980 posts

Or you can have photos taken at AAA. This IDP is only needed if you are stopped by the police, rental car companies do not care if you have one. Best to get it.

Posted by
6779 posts

If you have an accident, and the police need to see your license, how would they know whether its a real valid license? Not every cop in the world knows and recognizes each of the 56 states and territories licenses (they look different, you know). They may not be able to tell what country its from. They may or may not speak or read English for that matter. The IDP is a certification that a recognized authority (the AAA person who notarizes it) has looked at your state-issued license and determined it is valid. Thats the reason for them.

Posted by
5745 posts

I was stopped by police while driving in rural Japan last summer. I had been stuck behind a slow truck for quite a while; I passed the truck on a long, straight section with no traffic coming the opposite direction. Unfortunately, it was a no-passing zone - I saw the sign right after I passed it - right about the same time I saw a policeman step out from behind some bushes at the side of the road and wave me down with a red flag. Ouch.

I pulled over and handed the policeman the car registration, my US driver's license, passport and IDP. It seemed like his mood may have brightened a little when he saw the IDP. He stepped away for a couple minutes, conferred with another policeman hiding behind the bushes as they both passed our papers back and forth, then he came back. He handed me my documents, leaned in and said, "Today, only warning. Go, careful!!" He smiled a little, bowed, and motioned me to get going.

I always have my IDP when driving overseas, even if it's not required. The experience with the cops in Japan cemented that.

Posted by
784 posts

I always get an IDP when I am going to drive in France, but I was surprised when I was involved in an accident in rural France and the police wanted only the paperwork for the rental car. They didn't ask for my driver's license, IDP, or passport. Fortunately, it was determined that I was not at fault, but I did have to go to the police station while they filled out the report. Nonetheless, I would still get the IDP - this might have been an oversight, or the rules have changed since 2005.

Posted by
676 posts

I carry a non-notarized translation of my driver's license. So far I haven't felt a need to give AAA and extra $30 a year (they just arbitrarily give it a one year expiration). I haven't been pulled over yet, so can't say what a cop would think. My guess is as long as you make it easy for him/her to read and understand you license, and are respectful, they won't have a problem unless they have an real attitude—in which case they'll find something else to pick on me for. However, I work hard at keeping at or below the speed limits. I drive fast in the states, but I still find the current French speed limits very reasonable (besides, I'm on vacation). I rent a car every year and have never been asked for a translation of any sort to pick up a car. Now for the fun part, watch me get flamed on this forum by holier-than-thou people who will accuse me of being a scofflaw. Been there before...

Posted by
6720 posts

The AAA offices will do the photo for no extra charge. We have only been stopped once (had a few electronic tickets) in decades of driving in Europe but the cop expected the IDP and actually seemed a little disappointed that we had it; I think he enjoys giving tickets for not having it. We got a warning on that stop. Rental companies have never asked to see it.

Posted by
8889 posts

Just correcting a couple of misconceptions.
IDP's are regulated by international treaty (the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic), which the US, French and many other governments have signed, same as passports are regulated by international treaty.

  • The IDP is a government document. The US government has subcontracted the issue to another organisation. This is allowed in the treaty.
  • The one year duration is not arbitrary, that is what it says in the treaty. This is because in one year your licence may have been withdrawn.
  • It is not just a translation, it is also a certification that the original licence is valid and for what types of vehicle. Same as a foreign birth certificate needs certifying. Regardless of language issues, no policeman in any country can be expected to know the licence laws in the 190-odd countries in the world and how to recognise and interpret licences. This way they only have to learn their own licences and the IDP.
  • You do not need an IDP to rent a car. You need one to drive a car. Period. Driving a car without a licence may not be a major offence in the USA, but in France and other countries the police will stop you driving that car, and possibly imprison you.
Posted by
2916 posts

The AAA offices will do the photo for no extra charge.

No, they do charge, even if you're a member (as I am).

Posted by
676 posts

Chris F., You are simply wrong. There is no requirement for an IDP in France, and AAA does charge for photos.

Posted by
1023 posts

We’re talkin $25 bucks here, people. What is the downside to an IDP.? $25 is two drinks, or a lunch in a cafeteria. Peace of mind is worth something.

Posted by
8832 posts

You may drive with a valid U.S. driver’s license if it is accompanied by a notarized translation in French. It is strongly recommended that you carry an International Driving Permit. You must be 18 years of age or older to drive in France.

The above is from this website-- https://franceintheus.org/spip.php?article376

Technically an IDP is not required. It is simply the easiest way to comply with the French requirement

Posted by
2916 posts

The one year duration is not arbitrary, that is what it says in the treaty. This is because in one year your licence may have been withdrawn.

It is arbitrary. Not on the part of AAA; the treaty figure is arbitrary. First of all, very few licenses are cancelled; they're valid until the expiration date. And since theoretically they could be cancelled the day after you get your IDP, or a week later, or a month later, the one year figure is arbitrary.

Posted by
401 posts

A few other things that were mentioned in prior comments:

The one year duration is not arbitrary, that is what it says in the treaty. This is because in one year your licence may have been withdrawn.

Different nations have implemented the treaty differently. In the U.S., AAA, perhaps hungry for revenue, has stuck to the one year validity period. Other nations have relaxed that. For example, France issues an IDP for use in foreign countries that costs nothing and is valid for three years (https://www.service-public.fr/particuliers/vosdroits/F11534). That's not an outlier: Switzerland also issues an IDP that is valid for three years (https://www.ch.ch/fr/permis-de-conduire-international/). This could be the case in the U.S., but someone, somewhere, apparently thinks more and better revenue is better than no revenue.

You do not need an IDP to rent a car. You need one to drive a car. Period.

That's not factually true. What would be true is if it were worded "You probably will not need an IDP to rent a car. You are required to have a driver's license in French or a driver's license in a foreign language accompanied either by an IDP or an official translation in French if you wish to legally drive a car in France on a short-stay visa."

Don't take my word for it. Here is the official French administrative site related to this topic: https://www.service-public.fr/particuliers/vosdroits/N19126

Traffic stops in France are rare. Very rare. It's almost as if French police and gendarmes view traffic enforcement as beneath them. They generally rely on speed cameras and red light cameras outside of exceptional cases. To be legal and to be safe, I would recommend getting an IDP or official translation. But the probability either will be needed is very low for a visitor to France.

I met an American who's lived in France for five years--he now has NO license at all because he lost the one issued in the US. Owns a car. Drives around--and gets electronic speeding tickets sent to his home. But never been stopped by police.

  1. I doubt it.
  2. It wouldn't matter if he had his American license. It would have become invalid in France after one year.
  3. I agree that stops by police are rare and that they rely on cameras for traffic enforcement outside of exceptional cases.

If he really is driving as you've described, he could be looking at potentially years in prison and fines over 15,000 € (or over 75,000 € if he has a forged document) because he would be driving with no license, because he wouldn't be able to honestly obtain auto insurance (legally required) without a valid license and because if he has been getting speeding tickets he would have had "virtual points" removed from his license and may well have an invalid "virtual license" (in other words, if he were to be a good boy and get on down to the testing center and actually pass a test, it would be automatically rescinded because of his poor driving record).

You can read up on his legal problems here: https://www.service-public.fr/particuliers/vosdroits/F17698 (driving without a license), and http://www.securite-routiere.gouv.fr/connaitre-les-regles/reglementation-et-sanctions/conduite-sans-assurance (driving without insurance).

I hope he doesn't get into an injury or property damage accident. He could have major, major problems. Seriously, what a reckless choice. It's hard to believe. That's why I listed my opinion in No. 1.

Posted by
28086 posts

police got other issues to deal with

you mean, look the other way???

Posted by
3329 posts

I am always amazed at the amount of agitation the IDP question provokes, especially the hot air. Get a grip travelers; we’re talking about an expenditure of less than $30 for a trip costing thousands. I suspect there is a principle of logic that deals with fallacy of the kind of advice that says, “i’ve never gotten an IDP, and I’ve never had a problem.” I’ve never had a house fire. Would you advise me to drop my fire insurance? Someone knows someone who has gotten away with driving without any license at all is no basis for advising the op on the IDP issue. I’m sure there are many many people driving without licenses in the US. Would you advise a person not to bother with one?
Just for the record, I was required to produce my IDP for a rental in Greece one time, but not for a second one. Random traffic stops are common in Italy. I don’t know what they were looking for, but when we were pulled over, the officer seemed happy when I produced my IDP. In sum, get the damned IDP.

Posted by
2574 posts

Rosalyn-amen! My bacon was saved in Montenegro when I got caught in a speeding trap. The IDP bought a smile to the face of the officer and a warning. Before digging that out it looked like a day in court including a prescribed bribe for the judge. Like you I’m amazed at how some folks perseverate over a trivial amount of money, or use the “I never” logic, which is so illogical. I agree, get the IDP!

Posted by
8493 posts

Bob's post summed up all the details beautifully. Thank you.

Posted by
5669 posts

I had a work colleague run into this issue in Greece two weeks ago. They did not have an IDP and so they had to cancel their rental car. It turned out that taxi's worked just fine for them, but it's really best to just get it if you are driving outside the UK. I've never had to produce one there.

Posted by
45 posts

Forgive me if someone already posted here and I missed it, but below is a copy and pasted reply to an older post on this subject that I think is important:

"One more incentive for having an IDP , if you are involved in an accident and don't have one , your insurance underwriter can easily void your coverage on the grounds that you are technically an unlicensed driver . Given that insurance companies have a well deserved reputation for squirming out of paying claims , it would be wise not to take chances."

This issue alone is persuasive enough for me to take the time to get over to AAA for the permit. Knowing what a nightmare it is to deal with auto insurance for even the simplest customer service problems here in the states, I cannot imagine what kind of hell it would be to have the added complexity of dealing with an accident in a foreign country, basically on my own, because my insurance company denied coverage

.