Can I Drive in Europe With My US License?

by Michael on Sep 9, 2013 · 3 comments

Photo of European Speed Limit Sign

This is just a quick note about driving in Europe with a license from the USA…

I’m leaving in a few days for western Europe and just realized that I (technically) need to get an International Driving Permit (IDP).

Why? Because certain countries (Spain included, which is where I’ll be renting a car) require an IDP. Though I could probably get away without one, I’m not interested in creating extra drama while on the road. Thus, I’ll obey the law.

What is an IDP?

An IDP is essentially a translation of your US driver’s license, thereby making it easier for a police officer to write you a ticket. If you’re driving in a country that requires an IDP and you don’t have one, you could be subject to additional fines if you get stopped for a traffic violation.

It’s also possible that the car rental agency will refuse to rent you a car if you don’t have an IDP, though I’ve heard that this is rarely (if ever) a problem. Regardless, they’re easy enough to get, so why not?

How to get an IDP

If you want/need an IDP, you can pick one up at your nearest AAA (or, in Canada, CAA). The cost is $15 for non-members, or free for members (at least for AAA around here). You’ll also need two passport-sized photos — these were likewise free for members, otherwise they would have cost $10.

For me, the biggest hassle is not having realized this requirement sooner. If I had, I could’ve handled it by mail. Instead, I had to make an unplanned trip to AAA during an otherwise busy week of preparations.

Another minor annoyance is that the IDP is only good for a year, even if your driver’s license is good for much longer. Oh well. C’est la vie…

(Yes, I’ll also be visiting France on this trip.)

1 Dividend investing Martin September 11, 2013 at 12:58 am

My first thought was why not. Thanks for letting us know 🙂 I didn’t know IDP would be required. It looks like Spanish police officers don’t speak English and need it translated. Just kidding.

2 Little House September 11, 2013 at 9:56 am

Good tip to know! I never thought about whether or not my driver’s license would be sufficient traveling and driving in another country. Food for thought. Enjoy your trip!

3 Jon @ MoneySmartGuides September 11, 2013 at 10:25 am

I went to Ireland and my US license was accepted. The only issue was getting used to driving on the wrong side of the road! The hardest parts were pulling into parking lots (always want to enter on the right vs the left) and looking both ways before turning/crossing a street.

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