How to get an international driver's licence

By Chris Chamberlin, September 26 2016

Renting cars abroad can be a great way to get around on business trips, but even though you may already have an Australian driver's licence, many countries also require you to carry a separate International Driving Permit, or IDP.

An IDP doesn’t replace your traditional Australian licence – you’ll still need to keep that in your wallet – but it presents that information in a format recognised in over 150 countries and which is written in nine languages.

Here’s what you need to know about IDPs and how you can apply for one before your next international trip.

International Driving Permits: the basics

In Australia, IDPs can only be obtained from the various state and territory motoring bodies – such as NRMA in New South Wales, RACV in Victoria, RACQ in Queensland, RAA in South Australia and RAC in Western Australia – so if you find them available anywhere else, know that you’re buying an invalid counterfeit.

With IDPs usually costing just $39 from the official motoring bodies, there’s no need to chance it elsewhere: and once issued, your IDP is valid for 12 months or until the expiry date shown on your licence, whichever is first.

To obtain an IDP you’ll also need to be over 18, submit a passport-style photograph with your application and hold a valid Australian drivers licence issued in any state.

As you’d expect, holding only a learners permit won’t get you an IDP, although both ‘open’ and ‘provisional’ Australian licences are eligible.

Your IDP will also come printed in English, Spanish, Japanese, Greek, German, Arabic, Russian, Chinese and French if obtained from the NRMA or RACV, while the RACQ swaps Japanese and Greek for Italian and Swedish.

That makes an IDP a perfect form of ID when visiting countries where English isn’t the main language – try explaining your usual Aussie drivers licence to local authorities or rental reps in Russia or China, for instance, will be much harder than whipping out an IDP printed in the local tongue.

Applying for an International Driving Permit

Getting your own IDP is a simple task: just visit your local motoring body’s nearest branch, search their website for “IDP” or obtain a paper form and submit your application by mail.

Along with the information shown on your current licence, you’ll usually also need to include a mobile number and email address – and if you’re applying by mail from overseas, also attach a photocopy of your Australian passport, travel plans and the date you expect to return to Australia.

If applying in person, IDPs can usually be obtained straight away, while online and postal applications take more time as the document needs to reach you by snail mail.

And just remember: when driving overseas, you might need to drive on the right rather than the left, so consider creating a reminder note to leave on your dashboard, or have a passenger remind you – particularly as you approach roundabouts and busy intersections.

Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin is the Associate Editor of Executive Traveller and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a great latte, a theatre ticket and a glass of wine!

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

17 Mar 2016

Total posts 42

Unlike what you have stated in your article, if you show almost anyone your licence or IDP in most of China, you still will have to do some explaining as neither are recognised on the Mainland. This is because Taiwan (Republic of China) recognises the IDP, so the People's Republic of China (PRC) does not. To drive in China you must hold a Chinese Government Issued Licence, however a temporary 30 day licence is available for tourists and business people in the arrivals hall of Terminal 3 at Beijing International Airport, which requires you to have an IDP, your national licence, 3 passport photos and a health check in a nearby clinic. Beyond that, foreigners in other parts of China are required to obtain a full local licence. Hong Kong and Macau allow foreigners to drive freely but they are so small, limited expensive parking and public transport being convenient, driving is not recommended for travellers.

Thanks for sharing Graeme. Note that some countries may have additional requirements over and above an IDP (as you've noted for China) - this article is simply a basic guide on how to obtain an IDP and what they're used for, not that it's necessarily the only thing you need to do. As always, travellers need to do their own research on the laws and requirements of the specific countries they plan to visit to ensure they comply with them.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Mar 2013

Total posts 137

I find the other passenger more incline to give a ribbing when using the wipers instead of the indicators...

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 May 2014

Total posts 97

That happens to me just switching between mine and my wifes car!

QFF

06 Nov 2012

Total posts 47

Does anybody know which countries actually require an IDP? I've purchased them in the past but have never actually used them, so I just rely on my WA license. That's been accepted in the US, Canada, South Africa, Ireland, UK, Austria, Italy, France, New Zealand, Malaysia and a few others I can't think of off hand. 

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

08 Jun 2014

Total posts 222

I've not once had to use my IDP when overseas, even Mexico! I found it a waste of time and money and on one occasion, checked in at the airport, past security... all that, sat at the gate and said to my self, I left the license in my car! :/ China on the other hand as Graeme explained, you can get a license there!

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

27 Apr 2013

Total posts 2

The IDP is not required legally to drive in quite a few countries but insurance companies require them if you plan on using your rental excess coverage.

05 Oct 2016

Total posts 5

Most countries that drive on the right have the steering wheel on the left so I've always found the simplest thing is to remember is keep yourself in the middle of the road as you do here.

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