Public transit makes getting around Europe very accessible. In fact, you can likely train from country to country if you don’t drive but for most North American’s driving when traveling abroad is a popular choice.
Driving in Europe allows you to travel to your destination at your own pace and on your own schedule. Perhaps you enjoy a good road trip or if you’re like me, you want to visit small towns and explore off-beaten-path places along the way to get a real feel of the locale.
Before you hop into a rental car and set off to that famous German castle or cute little seaside town in Spain, you need to know why obtaining an International Driver’s Permit (also called an International Driver’s license or IDP) is important if you plan to drive abroad.
Note for clarity: I use the terms international driver’s license, international driver’s permit and IDP interchangeably in this post.
Do you need an international driver’s license in Europe?
For Americans and Canadians, having a passport and valid driver’s license is usually all you need to rent a car and drive in most European countries. However, some countries do require an international driver’s permit but this requirement is dependent on which country or countries you plan.
What European countries require an International Driver’s License?
The following countries in Europe require an international driver’s license: Austria, Bosnia – Herzegovina, Greece, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Italy, Slovenia and Spain. It’s possible you may not ever be asked to show your IDP in these countries but it is best to obtain one so that you avoid the possibility of being fined for not having the proper documentation.
What is the Purpose of an International Driver’s License?
An international driver’s license is not the same thing as a European driver’s license. The IDP is used along with your U.S. or Canadian driver’s license. It is a recognizable form of identification in 150 countries as well as with many rental car companies. It is important because it provides basic information such as your photo, address and legal name along with translating your license into 10 different languages.
How Do I Get an International Driver’s License?
Obtaining a permit is pretty easy – just apply with an application. The IDP application asks for basic information such as your name, address, U.S. or Canadian driver’s license number, place of birth and date the permit should go into effect as it is valid for one year. There is an age restriction – anyone over the age of 18 with a valid license for more than 6 months can apply.
American’s can apply with either the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA). Just download the application and mail it in with the required documentation (copy of your license and 2 passport photos) and $20.00 USD or apply in person at any full-service AAA branch.
Canadians can apply for an IDP through the Canadian Auto Association (CAA) at any CAA store in person or by mail. Send the completed application and required documents along with $25.00 CDN to a CAA store.
Be sure to check the respective sites at the time of your application for the most updated information on the required documents. Also only apply with reputable application sites such as the ones listed in this post because there are several scam/fake sites out there.
So, what if you’re traveling to a European country that doesn’t require an IDP? Well, then you don’t technically need one but it’s still a good idea to have one for peace of mind. Remember, the permit also serves as an additional form of photo identification while traveling abroad.
If you’re still on the fence as to if you really need an IDP, you can clarify with your rental car agency to see if one is required in the country that you plan to visit. Additionally, you can also check with the foreign embassy or contact the consulate of the country you plan to visit with additional questions.
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