While you may have had a valid driver’s license for a passenger vehicle or motorbike in your home country, you may be wondering whether it could be worth having an international driver’s license for use during your study abroad journey.
Not every city, state, or country offers the same public transport opportunities - and depending on your student accommodation and your physical distance to your campus, you may need to decide what mode of transport you’ll use to navigate in your country of study.
An international driver’s permit can assist you in not only driving legally in your new country of study, but can further help enhance your understanding of road safety and can bring you up to speed on driving regulations that you might not be familiar with following in your home country.
What is an international driver’s license?
An international driving permit is often incorrectly referred to as an international driving license - and, unfortunately, the latter doesn’t exist!
An international driving permit is a translation of your domestic driving license that legally enables you to drive a private motor vehicle of a certain class in your home country or jurisdiction where your original driving license was issued.
International driving permits are governed by three international conventions - namely the 1926 Paris International Convention relative to Motor Traffic, the 1949 Geneva Convention on Road Traffic, and the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic. Certain countries may subscribe to one or more of these international conventions, but generally follow the more recent convention in the event of contradiction or dispute.
An international driving permit, physically, is an A6 document slightly larger than a typical passport issued in multiple languages - most usually English, Russian, Spanish, and French. When in use, it must be accompanied by the actual and original drivers license that the driver in question was issued in their home country.
Countries where international driving permits are recognised
Antigua and Barbuda
Bosnia & Herzegovina
Cape Verde Islands
Central African Republic
Congo Democratic Republic
France & French Overseas Dep
Italy and Vatican City
Myanmar (formerly Burma)
North Macedonia (FYROM)
Papua New Guinea
Portugal, Madeira and the Azores
Sao Tome and Principe
Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon)
St Kitts and Nevis
Suriname (former Dutch Guiana)
Trinidad and Tobago
United Arab Emirates
United States of America
Should I get an international driver’s permit?
The choice of whether you’d like to get an international driver’s permit is entirely up to you, and can also be informed by your choice of student accommodation while abroad and your physical distance from your place of study.
It’s important to note that if you already have a valid driver’s license, obtaining an international driver’s permit can be helpful even if you don’t plan to rent or purchase a car for your own transport while studying abroad.
Emergency situations hopefully won’t - but may - require you to one day drive a car for essential reasons, and for these circumstances having an international driver’s permit can enable you to drive legally should you need to.
Additionally, if you choose to remain in your study country to pursue work opportunities once your course has concluded, an international driver’s permit could enable you to either seek out work in more distant locations in your immediate surroundings, or commute to work until you are able to obtain a local driver’s license instead.
Where to get an international driver’s permit
You can apply to get an international driving permit from the international Automobile Association (AA) through your local chapter of the organization.
Although your international driving permit will be intended for use internationally and exclusively outside of your home country, you will need to ensure you apply and successfully receive your international driving permit in your home country before your departure - the reason for this is to ensure that your national driving permit is valid and can accordingly be associated with your new international permit.
How to get an international driving permit
To get an international driving permit, you’ll need to visit your local AA website to apply online or visit a local store should one be available in your area.
Apply online for an international driving permit
Applying online for an international driving permit takes 10 to 15 minutes. You’ll need to supply a valid driver’s license from your home country, your ID document or other means of authentication, as well as one passport size photograph.
You will then be able to upload your required document and select either the AA outlet you wish to collect your permit from, or specify your shipping address. Lastly, you’ll be required to settle a once-off service fee that will differ according to your location.
Apply in-store for an international driving permit
Depending on your location, you may also be eligible to visit a physical AA outlet in order to apply for an international driver’s permit.
When visiting a store, you’ll similarly be required to supply a valid driver’s license, ID document or a valid passport, as well as one passport-sized photograph which you may be able to take in-store.
Prior to receiving your international driver’s permit, you’ll still be required to settle a once-off service fee.
Frequently asked questions
Can you drive with a foreign license in the US?
Various states may change their regulations over time - however, at the time of writing, all territories in the United States enable international visitors to drive on a valid driver’s license issued in their home country for at least 3-4 months after their arrival.
After that, drivers will be legally required to obtain an international driver’s permit to continue driving after this period.
What foreign drivers licenses are valid in the US?
Unfortunately, no foreign drivers licenses are strictly valid in the US for long-term stays; visitors will only be able to drive using their local driver’s license for an initial period of 3-4 months depending on the state they are visiting.
How long does an international driver’s permit last?
An international drivers permit may have varying expiry dates depending on the international convention under which it was issued.
Generally, an international driving permit is valid for one year or until the expiry of your original driver’s license - whichever comes sooner. However, an international driving permit issued under the 1968 convention is valid for 3 years or until your original driver’s license expires.
Can I use my international driving permit in the US?
Yes - if you’re a foreign visitor to the US, you are able to drive legally using both your original driver’s license from your home country as well as your international driving permit.
You’ll be able to use your international driving permit for up to 3 years following your arrival in the US - however, if you plan to stay in the country and do not return home to obtain a new international driver’s permit for future visits, you will eventually need to obtain a US driver’s license.