The Bloggers
Subscribe to this Blog

Driving Abroad: A Cautionary Tale

Cindy Loose

Readers of our Coming and Going column might remember an item from last month: A Fort Washington man was able to rent a EuroCar in Spain with just a Maryland driving license, but when Spanish police stopped him they said he couldn't drive another inch because he didn't have an International Driving Permit. He was left on the sidewalk with his luggage as the car was towed away.

At the time we ran the item warning people to check driving license requirements at before heading overseas, the man was unsure how much he'd be charged for the towing and the retrieval of the car from the towing lot. He recently got the bill: $1,885.21.

Anyone have firsthand experience with International Driving Permits, good or bad? I, for one, have vowed to get my butt over to AAA for an IDP, just in case I suddenly decide I need to go somewhere that requires it.

By Cindy Loose |  October 10, 2007; 10:13 AM ET  | Category:  Cindy Loose , Travel Survival Tips
Previous: Green Sans Greenbacks | Next: Maxjet's Rocky Relationship With Dulles

View or post comments


Please email us to report offensive comments.

I got one years ago at AAA and drove in Spain-thankfully I never had to show it. Unless the license has changed within the last 10 years, I always the the IDP was a bit silly. It's a card sized, flimsy piece of paper and I don't remember it having any more information than my DL. I do wonder what the requirements are for foreign tourists to drive in this country.

Posted by: Jule | October 10, 2007 10:53 AM

Good question, Julie. Anyone know the answer? By the way, the permits are only good for a year. We've asked AAA why they can't make them for longer, and turns out the one-year limit is part of the international agreement, and outside AAA's control.

Posted by: cindy loose | October 10, 2007 11:00 AM

I tried to rent a car without one on Mallorca (a Spanish island), and when they found out I didn't have one, just made me pay some additional insurance. I wasn't made aware of any additional penalty, and wasn't stopped while driving there.

Posted by: hemisphire | October 10, 2007 11:37 AM

It's my understanding that the international driver's license serves as a TRANSLATION of one's own national/state driver's license. It is a bit flimsy, but since it provides key information in multiple languages, it provides documentation that the driver really is licensed to drive a normal car in his/her home country. If you're going to be somewhere where they can't read English (and don't know what your home state driver's license is supposed to look like to tell the real thing from a fake), you really should get one.

Posted by: cotopaxi | October 11, 2007 1:26 PM

It would be really helpful if you could point us to a specific page about International Driving Permits at rather than the general site. I did searches and clicked all around and still can't find any information about whether I need to get IDP before I leave next week.


Posted by: DC Gal | October 11, 2007 1:48 PM

D.C. Gal--YOu are right, I should have given better directions on how to find the section on International Driving Permits. Once at, click "international travel," then "tips" then "safety issues" then "road safety."

Easier yet, just call the nearest AAA office, which actually issues the permits, along with a lesser known auto club whose name I forget.

But first, before rushing there before your latest trip, check to see if the country or countries where you are traveling require it---not all do. You again want to go to the state department site. On the home page, to the left, click on "travel information by country." It will have road info among other things, and if you need a permit, it should say so. AAA should know, too. Maybe you're in luck and won't need it this time.

Posted by: cindy loose | October 11, 2007 2:22 PM

I rented a car in Italy last summer and I made sure to obtain an International DL from AAA beforehand. I was able to get the form online and mail it in. Very easy. I wasn't pulled over in Italy (thankfully), but the rental car agency did ask to see my permit before handing over the keys.

Posted by: M Street | October 11, 2007 4:58 PM

we've rented cars in the UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Portugal and Spain - we've never been asked for an international driver's license.

Posted by: annapolis | October 12, 2007 3:56 PM

Everyone is right: Even in countries that require an International Driver's Permit---not to be confused with a license--you might not need one to rent a car. Then again, you might. Only one thing is sure---If by chance you get pulled over for an infraction or if you're in an accident and you don't have the permit, you are in deep do do. Italy, by the way, has long required the permit but until last year the requirement was widely ignored, even by police.

I mention not to confuse an international driver's permit with an international driver's licence--if you google the latter you'll come up with sites selling them, sometimes for major bucks. They are worthless, just a piece of paper someone types up. The permit, in contrast, is a piece of paper representing an international agreement and is a legitimate document.

Posted by: loose | October 12, 2007 7:04 PM

Oh and by the way, you also need to carry your state driver's license.

Posted by: cindy loose again | October 12, 2007 7:08 PM

As an American GI in Italy 30+ years ago in addition to a VA license. I also received an Italian Drivers license and went to the Auto Club of Italy for my IDL to use around Europe. It turns out the only place I got to us it was at home in Richmond, Va. when I made an illegal turn, a traffic change made after my enlistment. Since I could provide a Italian address and license along with the IDL and my Military ID the Richmond PD gave me the ticket. After 2 hours waiting for them checking that the IDL was legal for foreign residents in VA. driving a friends car they let me go. No I never paid the ticket. Being Black, that had to do with the racist attitude of the police officer who stopped me.

Posted by: The Adept | October 17, 2007 12:59 PM

We just returned from spending a few weeks in Italy. Prior to leaving, I discovered that Italy requires all foreign nationals to have an International Driving Permit and a US valid driver's license in their possesion if they are driving in Italy. My husband and a friend's husband both purchased one ($15. at AAA), and while neither of them was stopped, the rental agency did ask to see it prior to renting the car.
It is good for 12 mos. for any country, but I did note there is no Italian translation on the paper. AAA told us if we stopped, involved in a accident etc., the penalties for not having it could range from detaining to thousands of dollars in fines.

Posted by: V Lewis | October 17, 2007 2:07 PM

We found out the hard way that Japan has a very interesting way of dealing with Foreigners who drive and are involved in accidents. We went to visit our son--an American citizen, who is married to a Japanese lady and has lived with her and her family for many years and they have children together (our son is fluent in Japanese). On our third day there, our son was involved in an accident with no injuries, other than HIM hitting his head. He was immediately arrested and detained in jail for 30 days without bail. We contacted the American Consulate and were informed that this was what the Japanese police in small prefectures did to Foreigners, and that it would be a waste of time to get an attorney as they always rule against foreigners. Apparently their reasoning is that until there is a trial showing fault and damages, the foreigner could flee. Why not just take their passports then? It is more likely the anti-Foreigner attitude/policy of the Japanese. Foreigners living in Japan are subjected to rejection on jobs, housing and even restaurants that post "no foreigners" signs. We were not allowed to visit our son in jail for 5 days, until we threatened to go to the American Consulate, then we were allowed 15 minutes to visit him behind a glass wall and were not allowed to speak to him in English so his brother in law had to speak for us in Japanese. He was not allowed books in English during his month long ordeal--what a nightmare. Needless to say, he is no longer driving over there!!

Posted by: E Alexander | October 17, 2007 3:19 PM

Re Driving in Japan: Wow, I knew the Japanese weren't so welcoming to immigrants---a friend of mine who moved there to work about eight years ago couldn't rent an apartment without a Japanese vouching for him, and had a hard time getting a phone line. But I didn't know about the interesting, and chilling, driving issue you outline.

I would add, however, that while you don't need an International Driver's Permit in Mexico, you're well advised to buy insurnace with the rental agency even if you believe you're covered by your own policy back home. Deal there is that if you're in an accident and don't have insurance, you'll likely go to jail until someone sorts out who's at fault (usually the American by coincidence I'm sure) or--in the case of a man I wrote about once in CoGo--until you've paid off enough people.

Posted by: cindy loose | October 17, 2007 8:45 PM

Wonder why Eurocar, a dominant car rental company all over Europe, would rent to someone from the U. S. without making certain he/she had the proper driving documents required for that country? I've been renting cars all over Europe and in other countries for the past 18 years and have never once been asked for an IDP.

Posted by: Joe Graham | November 15, 2007 12:09 AM

An international driving permit isn't requied in every European country, but is in many. But why wouldn't a major car company warn you if you needed one? Getting caught isn't likely, but it's no problem to them if do. Even if you get towed, you pay the bill, not them. On the other, if they warn you and you don't have the permit, they lose a sale.

Posted by: cindy loose | November 15, 2007 7:48 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company