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If your travel fantasy involves driving along the coastline of a stunning foreign locale, check that you don’t need an International Drivers Permit (IDP) before booking that trip—because in some places, your U.S. driver’s license may not be enough. Take it from me, as I made this error while on vacation in Santorini some years ago. I had looked forward to renting a motor scooter while on the island, but once in Greece, every rental company denied me my fantasy because I lacked this critical piece of identification. I had my U.S. driver’s license, but not an IDP. It was a bucket list bummer. Become familiar with the IDP so that you don’t make a similar mistake.

RELATED: Does my pet really need a passport? 

What is an International Drivers Permit (IDP)?

Often incorrectly called an “international driver’s license,” the International Driver’s Permit (IDP) allows you to drive a vehicle in another country, so long as you also carry a driver’s license issued by your home state or nation. (The IDP, in other words, doesn’t replace a driver’s license; it complements it.) The IDP includes your name, photo and driver information translated into 10 languages and is recognized as a valid piece of identification by more than 150 countries.

Who needs it?

If you plan to drive in a foreign country that requires it, you want to have this in your wallet when picking up your car. When pre-booking online on sites like Orbitz, this is usually noted in the terms and conditions, or rules and restrictions. In some cases, it’s in the fine print and unfortunately not always obvious at the time of booking.

Which countries require it?

Check AAA (and scroll to Page 2) for a full list of countries that recognize the IDP. Among them: Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Austria, Greece and Hungary. Because rules are subject to change, it’s best to check with the U.S. Department of State website or your rental car company for the latest country-specific requirements.
Tip: If you plan to drive internationally in a non-English-speaking country, an IDP is a good idea.

Is it really enforced?

While some countries that require an IDP aren’t always good about enforcing it, it’s not worth the risk. Also keep in mind: While a certain country’s government may not require an IDP, car rental companies located in that country may require an IDP to rent a car. So, read that fine print when booking.

ALSO: Earn rewards on your next trip with Orbitz Rewards—it’s free to join!

What if I don’t plan to drive? Do I still need one?

Even if you’re not planning to drive, this form of identification is valuable. It includes your name, photo and driver information translated into 10 languages, including English, Chinese, Spanish, Russian, Italian, German, Arabic, Swedish, Portuguese and French. The ID can provide an extra level of security and peace of mind should the unexpected occur and you need to communicate with foreign authorities—it speaks their language, even if you don’t. Plus, there’s always a chance of changing your mind once in the destination. You might be inspired (or need) to rent a car, so it’s best to be prepared.

How do I get an IDP?

You can apply for an IDP with either the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA). These are the only two private entities in the U.S. authorized by the U.S. Department of State to issue an IDP; going through another source is likely a scam, not to mention illegal. Note: You do not need to be a member of AAA or AATA to obtain an IDP.

What’s the application process like? How much does the IDP cost? 

It’s easy. First, you must be at least 18 years old; be a permanent resident of the United States or America or its Territories; and hold both a valid driver’s license and U.S. passport. Assuming you tick these boxes, you’ll need to supply the following either by mail or in-person at your local AAA branch:

How soon before leaving for my vacation should I apply?

Obtaining an IDP can take anywhere from a day to several weeks, depending on whether you apply in-person or by mail. Plan ahead so that you have the card in hand before leaving on your trip. Also, keep in mind that an IDP is only valid for one year. If you have an old IDP card from a previous vacation, you’ll likely need to submit a new application for a new IDP (as you cannot simply renew the old one).

But seriously, do international rental car companies really check for an IDP

So you have a driver’s license and a flawless driving record… You don’t really need an IDP, do you? As someone who cares about your trip, all that we can say is: Do not risk it! You’re likely to be told “No” at the rental car counter if you’re unable to provide an IDP in a country that requires it. Better safe than sorry, especially if a bucket list travel fantasy is on the line.

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Tagged: Feature

Note: Orbitz compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site.

Erica Bray

Erica Bray

Erica is a practical free spirit who loves travel, yoga and ice cream. A Northwestern University-trained journalist with more than 15 years of experience straddling digital and broadcast media, Erica can be found doing handstands everywhere she travels -- even risking arrest in some cases. Learn about her at www.erica.media.

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