Driving abroad: How to get an International Driving Permit

Feb 6, 2020

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With the U.K.’s departure from the European Union, the situation for travellers is bound to change at some point.

One key area that may affect many travellers is the ability to use your U.K. driver’s licence to drive in Europe. Currently, if you hold a standardised EU photocard driving licence (that is, the standard U.K. one), you can drive in all EU and EEA countries and Switzerland. From 1 January 2021, the European situation may change, and right now, for all other countries around the world, your licence might not work and you might need an International Driving Permit (IDP) to hire cars and drive abroad.

Do I need an International Driving Permit?

For short stays, if you are driving in the EU, EEA or Switzerland in 2020, your U.K. licence will work. There is no need to take action, but keep an eye on any changes that might come in 2021.

For all other countries, or for longer stays, you should check whether you need a permit. The Post Office offers a handy search tool, allowing you to input any country and be told whether you need a permit depending on country and length of stay, and which permit is needed, if any.

Popular destinations that require an IDP include Brazil, Japan and the U.S.A. In my personal experience, I have hired many cars in the USA and have never been asked to produce and International Driving Permit. Conversely, in Japan, I was asked to produce my permit even to drive go-karts around the streets of Tokyo. It was told that without the IDP there is no way I could have done this activity. Be prepared so that you don’t miss out on all the fun.

The 1949 IPD will allow you to drive go-karts on the streets of Tokyo, but as my face shows, it won’t protect you from the wind and rain! (Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

Which International Driving Permit do I need?

There are three types of IDP: a 1926, a 1949 and a 1968 permit. In addition to the Post Office search tool, the UK government website shows a full list of the type required.

The 1926 permit is the most rare, needed only in Mexico and Somalia. There is a relatively even split between the 1949 and 1969 permits.

They all do the same job and look similar, but be aware that the 1926 or 1949 permit lasts for just 12 months. The 1968 permit lasts for three years or until your U.K. driver’s licence expires, whichever comes first.

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

How to apply for an International Driving Permit

If you are older than 18, live in Great Britain and Northern Ireland and have a full U.K. driver’s licence (a provisional licence won’t work), you can apply for an International Driving Permit in person at a Post Office. You should check the Post Office website to confirm which branches offer the IDP service. You will need the following when applying:

  • Your full U.K. driving licence
  • A standard passport photo
  • The £5.50 fee. You can pay with cash, credit or debit card (use a rewards credit card to earn miles!)
  • If you are using an old paper driving licence, you should take a valid passport as photo ID.

When you get to the Post Office branch, the physical forms will be there and the IDP will be issued immediately over the counter.

Bottom line

Always check ahead with the Post Office or with a rental company abroad whether an IDP will be needed. Even if you don’t have an immediate or definite need for an IDP, at just £5.50 and up to three years validity, it could be an obvious investment to avoid any issues when trying to drive abroad.

Featured photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy.

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