International Driving Permits – Are They Really Necessary?

During our first round the world trip we opted to get an International Driving Permit (IDP) but I honestly did not remember ever using it so when we started off again in 2012 we decided not to get one.  Then came Italy…

Our International Driving Permit - Playing it safe!

Our International Driving Permit – Playing it safe!

We had booked a car through one of the major car rental companies and a few days prior to pick up I noticed the reservation confirmation listed requirements for a driver:  International Driver’s License is MANDATORY and a valid driver’s license from the driver’s country of residence when driver is not a resident within the European Union. Residents within the European Union are not required to have an International Drivers License (unless the European Union resident has a non-Roman alphabet license). “

We were days away from picking up the car and were depending on it to get to a remote house sit.  This was not good!  We went to our social media networks to ask other travelers about their experiences and they ranged from not having been asked for an IDP to being turned away at the rental desk for not having one.

Next stop was the US Embassy website for Italy where they too suggested it was a requirement to either have the International Drivers Permit OR you could have your American license translated into Italian by one of their official translators.  That was going to save us – until I contacted one of these official translators only to find a charge of €200 (about $275 USD!)  We decided to take our chances with the car rental counter and hoped the person helping us out was in a good mood that day…

We arrived at the counter in Italy and I anxiously handed all my documents to the clerk – all the documents except my International Drivers Permit that is… He had my passport, US drivers license, and credit card before he could even ask me for them. I figured I wasn’t going to give him the opportunity to ask for anything more!  Yep, that was my strategy – throw him off guard by not being a typical tourist rifling through my things to get all the necessary documents.  Maybe that was why I was handed the keys without a further question, maybe the guy at the counter just didn’t care about my lack of an International Drivers Permit – I will never know.  What I DO know, is that for this next trip, I already have my IDP in hand. No stressing over this anymore!

We did read up some more on the issue and found countries and car rental companies vary about the requirements. For example, when we booked a car in Spain by the same rental company this message was found in the fine print on the Spanish reservation: “Spanish Law does not require <COMPANY NAME> to verify that the renter has an international driver’s license. As far as <COMPANY NAME> is concerned a driver’s license from country of residence is sufficient. However, Spanish Law requires both a driver’s license from country of residence and an international driver’s license.”  We concluded the car rental companies cover themselves by telling you it is a requirement whether they see it or not.  Should you be stopped by the local police for any reason (and there were a ton of road side checks in Italy!) you were breaking the law by not having an International Drivers Permit.  That could cost a lot more than the $15 it costs me to get one before leaving the US.

How to Get Your International Driving Permit

It is always better to play it safe and for just a little bit of your time and money you can be sure all the requirements are met should you decide to rent a car while traveling abroad.  Here’s how:

  • If you are a US citizen, holding a US drivers license it is a simple process and only costs $15.  Head to the AAA Website where you can either apply online and send a copy of your license, or better yet stop into the local office and in 10 minutes you will have one in hand.
  • If you are an Australian Citizen, your requirements and application process varies by state.  The links for each state can be found on the Smartraveller site.
  • For those of you in the UK, you will find details and requirements on your AA Website.

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About the author

Cheryl MacDonald left the corporate world in 2007 to pursue a dream of living life to the fullest. She and her partner, Lisa Chavis continue to travel the world inspiring others to Live Their Dream!


Leave a comment
  • Funny you should write this – I got slammed in Spain last year when I rented a car with my passport and NIE, which is like a green card here. I had zero problems renting the car and paying for it with my Spanish account.

    After stopping for coffee on a remote highway, a Guardia Civil pulled us over and demanded we show him the IDP. Since we didn’t have one, we were forced to pay a 100 euro fine. In hindsight, it would have been worse if I had shown him my green card – 500 euros and up to four months in prison!!

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