We rent cars frequently when in Europe and elsewhere and have never needed an international driving permit. Just prior to our most recent roadtrip from Belgium, I came across information that really changes things. We’re in Antwerp house- and cat-sitting for a couple of months again and had some days away to do something with while the owners were home between their travels. I booked a rent car awhile back, but hadn’t settled on where we should go. We’d been thinking northern France and the Channel Islands, but were starting to lean more towards Switzerland since David had never been. A “why not” run to Lichtenstein had also piqued my interest so I began plotting out a drive south through France to Switzerland, factoring in a stop in Dinant, Belgium, that had been on my want-to-see list for some years.
In the course of surfing the Internet, I came across a mention of France now requiring the international driving permit (IDP) or a notarized translation of American driver licenses. Hmm. I’ve dealt with notarized translations for other things when living in France, but this was new. Before, an American driver license was fine in France. An American notary or a random French notary (a different beast than in America) won’t do; drivers need a notary/translator specifically endorsed by the nearest French embassy. Costly and a hassle.
AAA and AATA are the only authorized sources of the international driving permit, and you have to get those back in the States before leaving, or have the physical IDP shipped overseas to you, a process that takes some time and expense. A printable IDP is not available from the legit sources. Sites promising printable IDP’s are not official and, according to some posts I read, have sometimes led to fines and charges of using counterfeit documents. Not worth it!
I started doing a country-by-country search through the embassy websites via the U.S. State Department site and, sure enough, France has changed their rules. So much for cutting through France (and that earlier Normandy/Brittany/Channels idea was right out for sure now). Fortunately, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Lichtenstein still allow American driver licenses for stays under 90 days, so we were good to go with a re-route around France. It added a little time to our trip, but the risk of getting stopped driving illegally in France wasn’t worth it… and we ended up in a really charming part of Germany we might have missed, so we considered it a win all around.
We’ve decided to head home in November via trans-Atlantic ship again, so I looked into renting cars in some of the ports we’ll be in and discovered both Italy and Spain to absolutely require IDP’s now for non-EU foreigners. Anyway, just sharing this heads-up for any Americans considering driving abroad. The IDP is relatively cheap and easy to get in the U.S. We’ll be getting ours back home before we head overseas again.
To research driving laws and requirements on a country-by-country basis, go to the U.S. State Department travel site and enter the country in the box in the right column. On the page that pops up, scroll to the bottom and click the “+” to expand the dropdown menu under “Travel and Transportation” where the local laws are listed and/or links are provided for that information.
Note: IDP’s support, not replace, a valid driver license. A valid, current driver license is a prerequisite to getting an IDP.