Don't throw away your driver's license just yet if you intend to get an international driver's license. If you take the scissors and snip up your California, Florida or other state license, you'll regret it very quickly. An international driver's license won't get you very far with a police officer when you get stopped in the United States. In fact, it's not actually a license at all.
Not a License at All
An international driving permit is essentially a translation of your state driver's license into 10 languages. The international permit, recognized in 174 countries, also serves as an identification card since it includes your name and photo. It is not a substitute for your state driver's license at home or abroad, however. Nor is it required in most foreign countries for a U.S. citizen to rent or drive a car. However, it may make it easier to communicate with traffic authorities in foreign countries, especially if you don't speak the language.
Requirements to Get an IDP
Each country issues international driving permits that, when their citizens travel abroad, can serve as an addendum to their national license. The procedure to get an IDP may vary from country to country. In the United States, you can get IDPs only for U.S. driver's licenses. Foreigners coming to the U.S. need to get their IDPs in their home country.
If you are going abroad and intend to rent a car, you may want to get an IDP. To apply, you'll have to be at least 18 years old and hold a valid driver's licence. Your license must be valid for at least six months beyond the IDP issue date.
Application Process in the U.S.
The U.S. Department of State has authorized only two agencies to issue the permits, both automobile clubs. They are the American Automobile Association and the American Automobile Touring Alliance. Each has its own downloadable application on its website and will process only IDP applications from their own websites. Download either one.
Fill in the information on the application and be sure to sign it. You can take it in person to an automobile club office together with two passport-type photos and your regular license. Alternatively mail it with a photocopy of both sides of your license. The fee is currently under $20 and the wait time to get the IDP is about two weeks. Your new IDP is valid for one year.
An international driving permit, often mistakenly termed international driver's license, is a document that, together with a state license, makes it easier for you to drive in another country. Apply with either of two U.S. automobile clubs: American Automobile Association or the American Automobile Touring Alliance.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.