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International Driver’s License

Hi everybody,
I was getting my international driver’s license at the AAA office last week and the woman who issued it told me that she had a customer recently that was not allowed to rent a car without an international driver’s license.
This allegedly happened in Poland. I have rented cars in France, Italy, Uk, Iceland and S. Africa and even when I was shook down by the cops in Mozambique, have never been asked for an international driver’s license.
The conventional wisdom is that you don’t need one. I’ve always gotten one so that if I have an interaction with the law enforcement community they’ll have something in a language that they understand.
So, maybe it’s a good idea to get one. They don’t cost much and it could save you a huge headache.

Joe

Posted by
23236 posts

First, it is an International Driver's Permit and must be accompanied by your state issued driver's license. It is often required but may not be be check by the rental companies and it varies via countries. The last time we rented in Italy we were asked for it at the airport. For example - I think I am correct -- France requires you to carry a translation of your driver's license. The IDP does that. It is one of those thing that you may never need it until you need it. Then what do you do? A prior posting here indicated that someone got into a very minor fender bender but the police were going to impound his vehicle because he was not a properly licensed driver. He finally begged his way out. So what is the big deal about not having it? Or is it that a lot of American's don't like be told what they should be doing?

Posted by
6486 posts

You'll find a lot of discussion about this on the forum, with strongly held opinions pro and con. The IDP is basically a certification that your own state-issued driver's license is a genuine authorization to drive, issued by the government where you live. With or without the IDP, you'll need your state-issued license to rent a car in Europe and to show to an officer if you get stopped. The IDP, printed in multiple languages, is supposed to assure the Polish (or wherever) cop that this other card with your picture, from some US state he never heard of, is the real thing.

Some car rental companies may or may not require an IDP, and may or may not want to see it even if they do formally require it. But you can bet they'll want to see your actual license, and the IDP can provide a clerk in a small town rental office the same assurance it provides a cop that your actual license is valid.

So I pay AAA for an IDP whenever I think I might be driving overseas, whether or not I think any law or rental company policy will require one. To me, it's cheap insurance against misunderstandings or unnecessary complications if I want to rent or borrow a car, have an accident, or get stopped for a violation. It wouldn't help much though if I stole a car. ;-)

Posted by
4821 posts

The conventional wisdom is that you don’t need one.

The conventional wisdom? According to whom? The requirement is written into law in many countries. No, you may not be asked for it. But you might. And if you are, and you don't have it, you could be in for a boat load of potentially expensive, trouble.

We needed it on 2 occasions in France. Once at a rental desk and once at a police road block. And we needed it at the rental desk in Italy on our last trip.

Posted by
220 posts

I always get an IDP when driving in Europe. I have been stopped four times and I. Each case I was asked for a driver’s license. None of the police spoke English so my Provincial (State) license was meaningless to the police in Spain, Italy and Portugal.

Get the permit. Relative to the cost of the total trip the cost is nominal. You may not ever be asked for it, but it is an important to have it.

By the way, I was have never been asked for it when renting a car.

Posted by
4509 posts

OP:

France— No recorded or anecdotal issues of an American driving there without having one
Italy—No experience
UK—Not legally required for US driver
Iceland—Not legally required for US driver
S. Africa—Not legally required for US driver

Now that you have an IDP and a current Washington license you can compare them and see that the numbered fields that you paid AAA for (it’s what’s in the IDP booklet) the state had already printed them on your license.

Posted by
16170 posts

The IDP is not a license; it is a translation of your American drivers license into many different languages in case the local police do not read English. You may not be asked to show it when you rent a car, but you better have it to show the police if they stop you for an infraction.

For example, the recent report of the American who was fined €500 after he drove a Fist Panda over the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. The fine was in part for failure to have an IDP.

https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/italy-florence-tourist-arrested-ponte-vecchio/index.html

Posted by
32198 posts

I always get an IDP whether I'm planning to drive or not. It is required by law in some countries (ie: Italy), and having one allows me to to rent if the need arises. I was asked for an IDP when renting in Greece, and that seems to be more common lately.

Posted by
6502 posts

I always have an IDP, but have never been asked to show it when renting a car. They are required in some countries, but not in all.

Posted by
977 posts

First of all it a translation of your current license and has no standing unless supported by your actual license. Secondly there are two different formats, some countries accept and issue both, some only accept one and some countries only issue one format. So it is possible to be refused a rental even when you have gotten the international drivers license.

Posted by
927 posts

I have been asked for it when renting motorcycles: In France and Italy. They want to see the endorsement. So I now, always get it. My rub, is IDPs are only good for a year or two at best. This seems silly as nothing changes with my endorsements or restrictions. And the translation should the the same. So it SHOULD follow the renewal times, of the usual driver's license, of the state it was issued in.

Posted by
7256 posts

Francis, you're talking about Federalism versus States Rights, which almost sank the U.S. Constitutional Convention. When you come right down to it, the IDP issuance is like getting a (business) Carnet from the International Chamber of Commerce - It's a kluge negotiated between a vast number of independent ["foreign", to us] countries, the US Government, and probably indirectly, 50 states. It is quite wrong to think of it as an infringement of your freedom.

Posted by
4077 posts

I think this may have been brought up before but was left unanswered; could not carrying an IDP where legally required, invalidate your insurance?

Posted by
927 posts

One time in a hill town, outside Florence, I don't remember which it was, I parked the motorcycle in a ZTL area, that had a motorcycle designated place to park, and a local Polizia Stradale, really wanted to give me a ticket. And he REALLY WANTED to give me an expensive ticket. I gave him the IDP and my State issued license. And you could just watch his anticipation disappear. He couldn't write the ticket, cause nothing was wrong. And he had me go though the whole thing, of if the motorcycle had all its features working, which I did show him that they all did work. I had the IDP, and I had every privilege to park there, by local convention, with a motorcycle, in the ZTL zone. The IDP did save me here. And was worth, the 30 or so dollars to have.

Posted by
32198 posts

"My rub, is IDPs are only good for a year or two at best. "

In my experience, IDP's are usually valid for one year. This article explains all the details (if you're interested) - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vienna_Convention_on_Road_Traffic .

It's certainly possible for some provisions on a driver's license to change from year-to-year, for example changing from a commercial license to a normal license.

Posted by
4140 posts

I think this may have been brought up before but was left unanswered; could not carrying an IDP where legally required, invalidate your insurance?

That's a distinct possibility . Insurance underwriters don't make money by paying claims . Certainly they do , but they are vigilant when pursuing possibilities for not doing so . I'm 77 and when I was young I had an uncle who ran a large insurance agency in New Jersey . He gave me quite an education about the ins and outs of the insurance world and a healthy dose of what we call in New York " Street Smarts " There was a thread about this some months ago , I'll look for it and post the link if I can find it tomorrow , as I'm headed out shortly for the day .There are some geniuses here who have the naive perspective , that if they don't see this on the internet , it doesn't exist .

Posted by
28 posts

Thanks for setting me straight on the proper name of the document.
The “conventional wisdom” that I wrote of is from I believe Rick Steves. One of his books or on his TV show.

Posted by
4140 posts

Yes , I remember the TV show and it may have been in the books as well. .They have retracted that position in recent years .

Posted by
4821 posts

OP, the following is from the Transportation section of this sites Tips subforum, which may be where you got your assumption.

https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/transportation/rental-car-requirements

You may hear contradictory information on exactly where you need an
IDP. People who sell them say you should have them almost everywhere.
People who rent cars say you need them almost nowhere. People who
drive rental cars say the IDP is overrated, but can come in handy as a
complement to your passport and driver's license. It's a good idea to
get one if you'll be driving in Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia,
Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, or Spain
— countries where you're technically required to carry a permit. If
all goes well, you'll likely never be asked to show it — but the
permit is a must if you end up dealing with the police
. That said,
I've never been asked to show one.

The bolding is mine. Rick's given a very cavalier approach to the subject that I find surprising, and definitely don't agree with.

Posted by
1478 posts

I am renting a car in France next month. The verbage from the rental car website states that an IDP is required. I just assumed that they wouldn't let me have the car if I don't have one.

Posted by
1184 posts

The Zest car rental site also says IDP required by the car rental companies in Portugal. I would prefer to save the cost of getting the IDP, but what if the car rental company refuses to rent to me if I show up without one?

Posted by
4140 posts

" but what if the car rental company refuses to rent to me if I show up without one? " Well , then you threw a major monkey wrench into your plans over a lousy twenty bucks .

Posted by
739 posts

I was in Nice a few years back. Had a car parked in an underground garage and was walking into the alley that lead to the garage a local police officer was going the other way (we were both walking) and he asked what I was doing going into the alley. I told him I was going to the parking garage. He asked to see my drivers license and my international permit. He hardly glanced at them it seamed he simply wanted to make sure I had them.

Actually besides that he was pretty friendly.