I think it’s fitting that I make my first post ever on JetLust.com by writing about one of the main ways that a person like myself that suffers from wanderlust – jet lust – gets around in the foreign countries that they visit – the rental car. That’s right. Car. If you visit major cities in foreign countries, you can get by on public transportation or taxicabs, but let’s face it, if you want to really explore, you’re going to want to be driving on your own, particularly if you’re leaving the city centers. Otherwise, how would you ever find all the awesome little places you’ve never heard of without the ability to get completely and utterly lost and be a little adventurous? Stumbling upon places by accident is the magic, baby!
That’s right. You’ve got to drive in that foreign country.
If you weren’t the adventurous type you wouldn’t even be on this website so I’ll skip the lecture. You know you’ve got to tackle signs you can’t read, languages you can’t speak on signs and on maps you can barely read, and do it all with a smile on your face. The problem is, jail sucks, and legal trouble in a foreign country is a triple suck threat, so let’s keep it clean, people – getting an international driver’s permit / international driver’s license is easy! Hell, it only takes fifteen or twenty minutes, tops…
What exactly is an International Driver’s Permit?
Well, in 1949, the United Nations created a treaty through which people of the participating nations of the world can obtain – with the backing of their respective departments of state – a standardized document to accompany your regular driver’s license to make it easier for the powers that be in other countries to verify that you are able to drive and have a valid driver’s license in your home country. In the United States, the U.S. Department of State has designated two entities to handle the process of certifying that your license is valid and printing your IDP (which has to have a passport-style photo attached to it.) The only one I am familiar with also happens to be the most widely available – AAA.
How do I get an International Driver’s License in the United States?
First and foremost – whatever country you are in – remember this: you have to get your IDP in your home country. For me, that’s the United States, so this information is most directly applicable to someone living in the U.S., but there is a very similar procedure in just about any country you might be living in. So get your valid state-issued driver’s license and head to your local AAA office. Like I mentioned above, you will need a passport photo, but don’t even worry about it – the travel department of the main AAA office in your city most likely takes these photos that you will need. I live in Las Vegas, Nevada, and I went up to the AAA office at 3310 West Charleston Road. You do not have to be a AAA member to get an International Driver’s Permit from AAA (although if you are a member you get a little discount.) The regular price is $15 for the IDP and if you don’t already have a passport photo laying around somewhere (who would?) it’s $15 in addition for the photo, so $30 total and you’re good to go. It seriously only took me fifteen minutes from start to finish. Sure, there wasn’t a line, but I don’t think people are just lining up to do things at AAA on a regular basis – it’s not the DMV we’re talking about here and this isn’t a really important legal document like a passport – it’s a piece of cake!
Do all countries require an International Driver’s License?
In a word, no. But the non-third world countries you visit will. I’m leaving for France and England the second week of April, and they both require IDP’s to drive in their country. I was in Costa Rica last Summer and drove all over the country and didn’t have to have an IDP, but I’d think that’s one of the exceptions to the rule. My guess is that the smaller and needier the country is for tourists’ money the less likely they are to require an IDP. Why even sweat it? It’s $30, quick and painless, and if you travel as much as I do, that’s a small price to pay for a year’s worth of international driving privileges (that’s the length of time the permit valid.)
Using your International Driver’s Permit
One thing to make sure you keep in mind is that you must take your regular state-issued driver’s license with you and keep it with your IDP at all times when driving abroad. The IDP is meant to standardize information and augment your regular license, not replace it. Don’t forget it at home or you’ve wasted your time, $30, and screwed up your international road trip!
I hope this helps and happy driving!