Get an International Driving Permit When Moving to a New Country

Know what you need to drive in another country

Man driving right-hand-drive car
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If you're moving to another country or even traveling overseas to scope out the prospects of a move, it's a good idea to carry an international driving permit (IDP) even if you don't think you'll need to drive. It provides an extra piece of photo ID and you never know when you might need to rent a car.

According to the American Automotive Association (AAA), this card is recognized by over 150 countries and is a special license for tourists authorized by a UN treaty to allow motorists to drive vehicles in international traffic without any tests or applications. It's proof that the holder possesses a valid driver's license issued by their country of residence.

Along with a photo ID, the international driving permit provides a translation of your valid driver's license and is printed in 10 languages: English, French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, German, Arabic, Italian, Scandinavian and Portuguese. Most car rental agencies will request an IDP even though one is not required to drive in their country.

For more information or to apply for an IDP, contact your local AAA office (USA) or the CAA (Canada). Note that if you hold a Canadian or American driver's license, you're allowed to drive in North America, including Mexico.  However, even though you can use your current license south of the border, it's a good idea to have an IDP as it's translated into Spanish and local authorities recognize it as a valid document. 

Once you've made a permanent move, you'll need to investigate how to obtain a license for your new home country and the international driver's permit can give you the needed time to practice driving in your new space. Before you leave, check with the embassy or consulate of the country where you will be moving to learn about requirements for driver's license, road permits, and auto insurance. You should also learn the rules of the road for that particular country and keep in mind that road conditions and road safety varies. Find out about road signs and the laws and penalties associated with a traffic violation. Know all the rules before you step behind the wheel.

Tips for Driving In a Foreign Country

  • Obtain an international driver's permit (IDP) from your local automobile association
  • Carry both your IDP and your state driver's license with you at all times
  • As many countries have different driving rules, obtain a copy of the foreign country’s rules before you begin driving in that country.
  • Information may be available from the foreign embassy in the United States, foreign government tourism offices or from a car rental company in the foreign country.
  • Check the minimum and maximum age that you're allowed to drive.
  • Check road permits and speed limits and other rules that you may need to know to use the local highways and streets.
  • Always "buckle up." Most countries have penalties for people who violate this law and it will keep you safe.
  • Many countries require you to honk your horn before going around a sharp corner or to flash your lights before passing.
  • Find out who has the right of way in a traffic circle and if you're not used to driving in traffic circles, make sure you're careful and understand how to properly navigate them.
  • If you rent a car, make sure you have liability insurance.
  • If the drivers in the country you are visiting or moving to drive on the opposite side of the road, it may be prudent to practice driving in a less populated area before attempting to drive during heavy traffic.
  • Always know the route you will be traveling. Have a copy of a good road map or GPS system, and chart your course before beginning.
  • Do not pick up hitchhikers or strangers.