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Driving in Another Country: International Driving Permit

Know the Difference

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If you're moving to another country or even traveling overseas to scope out the prospects of a move, it's a good idea to carry an International Driving Permit (IDP) with you, even if you won't be driving. It provides an extra piece of photo ID and you never know when you might need to rent a car or drive a friend's.

According to the American Automotive Association (AAA), this card is recognized by over 150 countries, and is a special license for tourists, authorized by a UN treaty, to allow motorists to drive vehicles in international traffic without any tests or applications. It is proof that the holder possesses a valid driver's license issued by their country of residence.

Along with a photo ID, the International Driving Permit provides translation of your valid drivers license and is printed in in 10 languages: English, French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, German, Arabic, Italian, Scandinavian and Portuguese. Most Car Rental agencies will request an IDP even though one is not required to drive in their country.

For more information or to apply for an IDP, contact your local AAA office (USA) or the CAA (Canada). Note that International Driver Licenses are available over the internet, but only the IDP obtained from a recognized source is valid and legal.

Once you've made a permanent move, you'll need to investigate how to obtain a license for your new home country. Before you leave, check with the embassy or consulate of the country where you will be moving to to learn about requirements for driver's license, road permits, and auto insurance. You should also learn the rules of the road for that particular country and keep in mind that road conditions and road safety varies. Find out about road signs and the laws and penalties associated with a traffic violation. Know all the rules before you step behind the wheel.

Tips for Driving In a Foreign Country

  • Obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP).
  • Carry both your IDP and your state driver's license with you at all times.
  • As many countries have different driving rules, obtain a copy of the foreign country’s rules before you begin driving in that country.
  • Information may be available from the foreign embassy in the United States, foreign government tourism offices or from a car rental company in the foreign country.
  • Check the minimum and maximum driving age.
  • Check road permits that you may need to use their divided highways.
  • Always "buckle up." Some countries have penalties for people who violate this law.
  • Many countries require you to honk your horn before going around a sharp corner or to flash your lights before passing.
  • Find out who has the right of way in a traffic circle.
  • If you rent a car, make sure you have liability insurance.
  • If the drivers in the country you are visiting/moving to drive on the opposite side of the road, it may be prudent to practice driving in a less populated area before attempting to drive during heavy traffic.
  • Always know the route you will be traveling. Have a copy of a good road map, and chart your course before beginning.
  • Do not pick up hitchhikers or strangers.
  • When entering your vehicle, be aware of your surroundings.
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