If you’re planning to rent a vehicle or drive while overseas, you may need an International Driving Permit. It’s something that is often overlooked by Australian travellers, but it could cause a lot of problems for you if you don’t have one.
An International Driving Permit (IDP) is essentially an internationally-recognised translation of your Australian driver licence. It’s a small grey booklet that contains information about your Australian licence in 9 languages; English, Spanish, Japanese, Greek, German, Arabic, Russian, Chinese and French.
The International Driving Permit is not in itself a licence, and you’re still required to carry your Australian driver’s licence with you when driving overseas. It merely translates your Australian licence class (which dictates the types of vehicles you’re allowed to drive) into the internationally-recognised form based on the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic. (Australia is not a signatory to this convention.)
For example, if you have a Class C licence issued in NSW, this is equivalent to a Category B licence using the international standard. This category of licence permits you to drive cars with a maximum of 8 seats, with or without a light trailer attached.
Which countries require International Driving Permits?
If you’re planning to drive in Japan, you must have an International Driving Permit as this is a legal requirement which is enforced in that country.
In other countries, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. AFF members have reported being asked for an International Driving Permit in various countries, including Thailand, Italy, Estonia and Greece. But other members say they haven’t been asked in some of these countries. So, it could also depend on which car rental agency you use, or just luck of the draw.
There is a reasonable chance that you could rent a car overseas and never be asked for your International Driving Permit. But it’s not worth the risk for a couple of reasons.
AFF member goldenhorn experienced huge inconvenience while recently in Italy due to not having an IDP.
Just back from 30 day driving holiday in Italy and our entire holiday was almost screwed because we didn’t have an [International Driving Permit].
We’ve rented cars in Italy numerous times without one (June 2018 most recently) so when we went to pick up our car at Rome Termini they asked for one and refused to rent us our car that we had booked 5 months earlier.
They told us the police are now cracking down on this and fining drivers and rental companies thousands of Euros.
Further, the NRMA warns that travel insurance might not cover you in a car accident if you don’t have an IDP.
That said, there are some countries where permits are not required. These include New Zealand, the Philippines and some Pacific Island nations. You can check requirements for other countries on the Australian Automobile Association website.
How to get an International Driving Permit
In Australia, International Driving Permits are issued by the Australian Automobile Association (AAA) and are valid for 12 months. As of 2019, the cost is $42.
You can request an IDP online, however this takes 3-8 business days and you have to pay for postage. Alternatively, you can visit any branch of your state’s local motoring association (NRMA, RACV, RACQ, RAASA, etc.) and show your driver’s licence to receive your permit on the spot.
If in doubt, there is no harm in getting an IDP. It’s better to have one and not need it, than to be caught out. As opusman says:
The only time I’ve ever been asked for one (and of course I didn’t have one) was in Estonia when trying to rent a car. We had to change our plans on the fly and work out how to get to Riga another way. This experience has convinced me that they’re worth having even if you never get asked for it – just in case.
Join the discussion on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: International Driving Permits/Licences