If you wouldn’t like the ability to drive yourself around another country by car, motorbike, truck, etc. when you visit, you are going to need to get an international driving permit (IDP). There are two things you need to do before you can consider obtaining one…(1) make sure you have an up to date drivers license that s valid during the entire time you are traveling and (2) the country you are going to recognizes the IDP. If you are traveling to China, for example, they do not recognize it.
There are two places you can obtain your international drivers license (IDP) in the US: AAA (American Automobile Association) or the AATA (American Automobie Touring Alliance). The applications are fairly straight forward and can be found here for AAA or here for AATA. Both applications ca be obtained through the mail or in person. Once you print out and read the application you will need two passport sized photos (2×2).
These photos can be done at Costco, Walgreens, CVS, pretty much any store these days. The prices range from $9 to $20. Don’t pay more than $15 if you are able to. You can try taking the passport photos at home too, but if you want to ensure they meet all of the State Department requirements, I’d go to a professional. Think of it as an investment (US passports are good for 10 years and the IDP for 1 year).
The passport photos need to be taken within the last 6 months. For the IDP specifically, you will be asked to sign the back of the photos. One of the photos will go on the IDP and the second will go on the application for the IDP. The fee is $20. It is important to note that the IDP does not replace your actual driver’s license. Once you are issued the IDP, you must carry it along with your actual license.
Another note: you will be asked what type of vehicle you will be driving. Make sure your current drivers listened matches the boxes you check. For example: if you want to drive a motorcycle, but your US drivers license is only for cars, you will not be issued the IDP for the motorcycle.
If you are traveling to South America, there is a separate type of international permit you can get: the Inter-American Drivers (IADP) permit. It is only good in Central and South America. Like the IDP, ensure you check what country you are going to recognizes the IADP. For example: Brazil and Uruguay require the IADP and to not recognize the IDP.
Bottom line is that if you intend to rent or drive a vehicle of any type, get an IDP or IADP. It’s a small price to pay that will at the very least translate your driver’s license information into the language of the country you are traveling to. I’d recommend checking with your car insurance as well just to make sure you are covered. Hope this post helps, comment or feel free to e-mail me if you have any questions. Happy travels!