International driving permit: do you need one?

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When driving abroad, being the proud owner of a full UK driving licence often means you’re covered from a purely legal point of view. A small minority of UK motorists can’t use their licences alone to drive in Europe, however, and in countries further afield, it’s often a good idea to have something more than a British licence to hand to the police just in case of a problem.

That’s where the International Driving Permit (IDP) comes in. It’s issued by the authorities here in the UK, but printed in multiple languages to ensure that anyone who needs to see your driving licence abroad is able to understand it. This may be police or enforcement officers, but hopefully, it’s much more likely to be an agent at a car hire desk. 

Some countries do make it a legal requirement to carry an International Driving Permit, so in those cases it becomes a sort of de facto international driver’s licence (or international license as our American friends would say) as you can be in trouble if you drive without it. In other countries carrying your IDP is voluntary, but it’s definitely worth having up your sleeve for the reasons mentioned above. In particular, it’s occasionally the case that foreign car rental firms will refuse a hirer who can’t show an IDP, even if it’s not actually a legal requirement to have one.

This online guide will help you determine whether an IDP is necessary on your foreign travels, and will also steer you in the right direction when it’s time to apply.

With the United Kingdom now fully out of the EU, there is no legal requirement for the vast majority UK licenced drivers to apply for an International Driving Permit when driving in France or in any other EU country.

For those drivers heading beyond the EU borders, it’s vital that you check whether an IDP is needed, as driving abroad without a valid licence is not only illegal, but could have implications for insurance. 

What is an International Driving Permit?

Don’t worry, you won’t be expected to take another driving test, as the IDP is essentially a translated copy of your UK-issued driving licence. It means foreign officials are able to quickly check your credentials without delay. Do remember to keep your driving licence with you at all times, too, as the IDP is not valid on its own.

It’s always best to check with the relevant tourist offices or embassies to get the exact details of what you need to do, but to make things simple for you here’s a list of all the countries that require an International Driving Permit, or IDP. If you’re hiring a car, you should check with the firm you are using to see if they require a permit.

Do I need an International Driving Permit after Brexit?

The Brexit transition period came to an end on 31 December 2020, with a UK-EU deal having been reached in the nick of time. As such, British motorists who hold a photocard driving licence issued in the UK do not need an IDP when driving in the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein.

You may, however, need an IDP in some EU and EEA countries if you have a paper driving licence or your licence was issued in Gibraltar, Guernsey, Jersey or the Isle of Man.

Government advice says that the version of the IDP you require depends on which country you are visiting, and that drivers may be turned away at the border or face other enforcement action, for example fines, if they don’t have the correct IDP.

Do I need an IDP outside the EU?

The GOV.UK website has a list of each country’s IDP requirements. There are three different types of IDP. One is governed by the 1928 Geneva Convention on Road Traffic, while the others is covered by agreements from 1949 and 1968. Different countries have their own requirements for licences, so you may need more than one permit.

How to get an International Driving Permit

To get hold of an IDP, you need to be a resident of Great Britain or Northern Ireland, be over 18 and have passed your driving test. It costs £5.50 and you can apply for one from certain larger branches of the Post Office. Be sure to get one in plenty of time before your trip, as there was a shortage of IDPs ahead of the last Brexit deadline in March 2020. 

If you’re still unsure about the requirements for the country you wish to visit, contact the relevant embassy for details.

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