To drive in most foreign countries, you must have a valid driver’s license from your nation of residence, a passport and car insurance.
If your license has Roman letters…
For many countries, if your driver’s license is printed in English or with Roman letters (i.e., A, B, C, D), you can rent and legally drive a vehicle using just your driver’s license and passport. Most local car rental companies offer car insurance that’s valid in that country.
Some countries like Italy and Japan require foreign drivers to carry an International Driving Permit (IDP) in tandem with their license. An IDP is a certified translation of your driver’s license into 10 languages. You have to get it in your home country before your trip, and it is valid for 1 year.
You can purchase it online or in-person from an authorized retailer, which is oftentimes a national auto club like AAA, CAA and the AA. You don’t have to be a member of the auto club to purchase an IDP; and they cost around $20 USD.
During your trip, you must carry the IDP, your driver’s license, passport, proof of insurance, and car registration at all times when operating a motor vehicle in that country.
To determine whether an IDP is required in the country you plan to visit, check out our BYG (Before You Go) Country Guides.
If your license doesn’t have Roman letters…
In most cases, you should get an IDP before your trip because there is a good chance local authorities won’t accept your foreign driver’s license if it’s printed with non-Roman letters they don’t recognize or understand.
In rare cases…
Some countries like China, won’t accept your driver’s license or an IDP. Instead, you must get a temporary driving permit on arrival from local authorities.
Erring on the cautious side…
The IDP is recognized in over 150 countries. Even in nations where you aren’t required to have an IDP, you may benefit from carrying one just in case you encounter a traffic cop who doesn’t read or trust the language on your driver’s license; and may trust the IDP’s translated version instead… even if it’s past its expiry date.
This is especially useful if you plan to drive in rural areas or off-the-tourist-path in regions where one of these languages is widely spoken: English, French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, German, Arabic, Italian, Swedish or Portuguese.