Updated on February 19, 2018
What is an International Drivers Permit (also called IDP or International Drivers License)
The International Drivers Permit is a document that translates your drivers license into 11 languages and is used in combination with your original drivers license. It's recognized in 150 countries. Practically speaking, you pay $20 for a document that translates which type of vehicles your license is valid for. In my case, that means motorcycles (class A) and vehicles lighter than 7,700 lbs (class B). And it's valid for only 1 year.
When or where will I need an International Drivers Permit?
The short version is, unofficially, you may never actually need one if you have a United States drivers license, which has generally been acceptable almost everywhere in my experience. I've read that Japan is strict about requiring it and below I will share my experience in Poland.
The longer version is: you should check with your car rental company before you go. Last year was the first time that I have ever been told I was required to have an international drivers license to rent a car. I've rented cars in countries on 6 continents and it has never even come up once. I heard about it but never looked into it since I've rented cars all over the world.
Then… I rented a car from Sixt in Poland. I've driven in a Sixt car in Poland but I picked it up in Germany and no international drivers license was needed. Sixt Poland was willing to rent me the car without the international drivers as a courtesy but required me to buy their insurance, which by the way was more than the daily cost of the car, conveniently. As usual, I wanted to use my JPMorgan Reserve or Chase Sapphire Reserve card which already provides primary car rental insurance for free.
How do I get an International Drivers Permit?
You can mail in your request or stop by a AAA office to get one made on the spot. Pay attention to the tips below or else you will have to redo the application like I did. Since I don't own a car, I mailed my application which took under 2 weeks from the day I mailed it the correct info.
- Fill out either the AAA form or ATTA form. I used AAA because they have many locations so there would be less mail delays.
- Get 2 passport size photos. I used an app PassportBooth.com (see my review) but you can also let AAA take the photos. (Cheapest places to get passport photos)
- Sign the back of BOTH photos (I missed this and had to redo my application)
- Fee: $20. Accepted: money order or a check (the address on the check must match the license), and credit card. To pay by credit card, you can include a note and AAA will call. They don't want you to include the details on the form and there's no information about credit card payments online.
- Foreign Address (If known): This field is REQUIRED but mislabeled. I left it blank because I didn't know the address yet and had to redo my application because this was missing. At a minimum, include the countries you are visiting on this line.
Recap: My application was returned for the following mistakes: a) not signed on the back of the photos, b) payment was rejected because my check had a different address than my drivers license and c) I did not fill out the “if known” address, even though I didn't know the address.
International Drivers Permit or Inter-American Drivers Permit?
What is this? There are 2 different drivers permits. You need to check the country list in order to choose the correct one. The Inter-American Drivers Permit is mainly for South America. If you're going anywhere else, you probably want the International Driver's Permit. This, I was told, was why you need to fill in the “Foreign Address (if known)” field so they can be sure you are getting the correct one. This could be improved by simply changing the field to “Foreign Address or Countries (required)”.
So do I really need an International Drivers License or not?
Some countries may require you to have an International Drivers License/Permit while other in countries they may just charge you extra fees if you don't have one. I knew car rental companies often play the game of trying to force their expensive car insurance on you. They know that credit cards often cover the rentals yet sometimes act surprised like its the first time they are hearing this. “Credit cards are usually secondary….” yep, I'll just stop you there. You're right, but my card is primary. And anyway, if you only have secondary, and no insurance, it becomes primary so what they say doesn't matter. You get used to their song and dance after a while.
You'll find support for this in Mastercard's Benefit Guide: “If you have no other insurance or your insurance does not cover you in territories or countries outside of the United States, coverage is considered primary coverage. This article is not about insurance but make sure you have or buy liability insurance – the credit cards DO NOT cover that.
I thought, “what kind of bullshit scam is Sixt trying to pull”. They wouldn't budge. No international drivers license then you have to buy the insurance or else no car. I didn't have much choice at that point, and while it more than doubled the cost of my rental, I took it. I suspect they did they because I rented a BMW 3 Series and it only cost about $200 for a week. If I had a cheaper car, my guess is this wouldn't have happened.
What is the Sixt Policy?
I asked Sixt customer service what the policy is, can I use my own insurance or not. Yes, they said via email. When I went back and asked how come I wasn't allowed to use my own insurance, they reached out to the local office and then repeated the rules to me. If I had an international drivers permit I could use my own insurance. They “did me a favor” by letter me rent even though I didn't have the international drivers license. Ok, I asked for a written policy document. Over and over they just forwarded me the email written by a local employee in Poland saying it's required but they could not produce anything on the website or anything official.
Is there an Official Policy or not?
I kept asking for it. And they kept sending the same thing even though I said every time I want an official policy document, not a “policy” made up by the whims of an employee on the spot in front of me. If the employee said I had to pay him $1000 does that make it a policy? It was escalated up to the corporate office and they never produced any official policy. Thanks, Sixt, for confirming that I got shafted (they never admitted that, however, instead they said they were looking into it). That was almost a year ago and still no policy.
What languages does the international drivers permit (IDP) translate to?
Did you get an IDP? Which countries did you need it for and did they require it?