It’s allowed to drive your own car or to rent one and drive it while visiting a foreign country. Those who plan to do so don’t always need to get a driving license in the country they are visiting. Sometimes, it’s enough to obtain an international driving permit.
However, if you’re staying in a foreign country for a long time, you may be eligible to get a local permit after a while. In any case, driving with your national permit isn’t allowed unless it’s specifically agreed upon between the two countries.
Getting an International Driving Permit
The most common way to get a permit to drive abroad is to obtain an international driving permit online. That’s done based on your national license and doesn’t require any additional documents other than the application and proof you’ve paid your fee.
The permit is only valid if your national license is and if you have both of them with you while driving abroad. It’s issued by the same authority that has issued the national license and there’s no driving test or a medical examination to pass when obtaining it.
Which Countries Accept International Permits?
About 150 countries in the world recognize international permits and that covers most of the world with a few rather large and noticeable exceptions. The permits as we know them today came to be in 1949 with a small circle of countries that have signed an international treaty to that effect. The number has grown from there, and now international driving permits are common.
China, for instance, doesn’t recognize the permit and you’ll need to get a local tourist permit in order to drive your own car in China. The same goes for Brazil which only recognizes an Intra-American Driving Permit.
How Long Can You Use the Permit For?
The permit can be used for a year. After that, it expires and it can be renewed online. However, some countries don’t allow you to use an international permit for more than a year. In those cases, you’ll need to get a local permit and sometimes that means you’ll have to pass a driving test and go through the medical examination.
The permit is also only valid if your national license is. It usually expires after five years and you need to make sure that you don’t lose one because of the other.
Driving to Canada and Mexico
US citizens don’t need to get an international driving permit or obtain a local one while driving to Canada and Mexico. These countries allow US citizens to drive with their own national permits and they would be valid for your whole stay, regardless of how long it is.
However, it’s important to note that you need to get separate car insurance while visiting those countries since US car insurance won’t cover your trip abroad. It’s also sometimes necessary to translate your national driving permit into Spanish while visiting Mexico.
Driving in Russia
Russia also has a separate agreement with the US and it allows the US drivers to get favorable treatment. It’s allowed to drive in Russia with the US national license for a year without having to obtain either an international permit or a local permit.
After that, you can apply for a driver’s license in Russia and you’ll have to pass an exam and go through the classes needed to obtain the license as any other Russian citizen would have to go, for the first time. However, a year covers the needs of most tourists.
What to Do When Your International Permit Expires
Once your international permit expires it’s no longer valid and you may be subjected to fines if you’re caught driving with an expired international permit. You can easily renew it online and the process takes and costs the same as it does for getting a new one.
The same happens when your national permit expires since you can’t use the international one without it. Getting a national permit renewed while abroad is much more difficult than it may seem. Some countries and some US states don’t allow for it at all.
Foreigners Applying for Licenses
For the most part, you’ll have to prove that you live in the country you’re trying to get the license from, in order to apply for it. Proof of residence is easier to get in some countries than it is in others and the rules depend on where you are and what your business abroad actually is.
If you reside in the country long enough, you’ll probably have the same driving rights as anyone else but this does mean you’ll have to pass a driving test and go through the process everyone else goes through.
The Process for Getting a License
The process of obtaining a license varies from country to country but chances are it will be the same for foreigners as it is for the natives. There are medical examinations and in some countries even a consultation with a psychiatrist. You’ll also have to go through the driving school and pass both written and practical exams.
In Europe, the process is usually more difficult than in the US. In some countries, it also includes having to go through basic first aid training and that can be somewhat startling to an American driver.
Why Is It Important to Have a License?
It’s a legal requirement to have a license if you plan to drive abroad and there are penalties to pay if you don’t have the license with you. How severe the penalties are, depends on the country and how many other traffic issues you’ve had before.
It’s best not to tempt your faith and to stick to the rules while you’re abroad. It will make the whole trip less stressful and more comfortable. It’s easy enough to get a license and to renew it when it’s the time to do so and staying responsible isn’t that difficult in this regard if you plan ahead.