How to get an international driver's licence in Australia

Hit the road on your next business trip, or just climb behind the wheel for a well-earned weekend getaway.

By Chris Chamberlin , February 4 2020
How to get an international driver's licence in Australia

Renting cars abroad can be a great way to get around on business, let alone indulging some well-earned downtime – especially to out of the way places such as wineries, golf courses or just a weekend getaway, or even a fun road trip just for the sake of it.

However, many countries require you to carry a separate International Driving Permit or IDP along with of your Australian driver's licence. Obtaining IDP is a thankfully straightforward 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.

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 be obtained only from 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.

If you see them available anywhere else, you're almost certainly paying for an invalid counterfeit. This includes overseas companies, which are not permitted to issue international driving permits to Australian licence holders.

An IDP from those official Australian motoring bodies costs less than $50 and 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 identification 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.

Cathay Pacific - The Marco Polo Club

02 Jul 2018

Total posts 40

You are right. IDP is governed by the International Conventions signed at Geneva on 19 Sep 1949. Taiwan is one signing body. Mainland China hadn't exercise their power until two weeks later.

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 98

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. 

11 Apr 2018

Total posts 6

In regards to the IDP I actually have a lot of experience with it since i own a car hire comparison site carhire.global
Having said that, if you are travelling to Europe, USA you actually don't need an IDP as our driving license is in Roman Alphabet and all car hire companies will accept it as is.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

08 Jun 2014

Total posts 227

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.

29 Jan 2020

Total posts 4

Japan and Greece

09 Oct 2018

Total posts 9

Iceland and Antarctica

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jan 2017

Total posts 51

You definitely need the IDP to drive in Japan.

06 Jun 2017

Total posts 34

I've been asked for and had to show my IDP in Japan (you even need them for those Mario Kart hire places).

In Bali I've not had to use one, though I've heard if the Police catch you without one you need to bribe them. I'd be curious about what would happen with insurance if you crashed and didn't have an IDP...

09 Oct 2018

Total posts 9

In Bali, nothing you're carrying will validate your right to drive, to the "Police" (aka self-employed tax agents). Apart, that is, from US dollars and Indonesian Rupiah's. They'll just keep finding things to charge you with until the Simoleons are produced. Whatever you do, don't be too slow in producing the bribe, or they'll charge you with drug offences which will result in your holiday being changed to accommodate you in Kerobokan Prison. You'll need all your vaccinations up to date if you're thinking of staying there.....

04 Aug 2017

Total posts 1

I needed my IDP in India, Mumbai, to hire a motorbike. They drive on the left, and the right, and the wrong way down oneway streets, makes driving a lot easier!

09 Oct 2018

Total posts 9

Also seen driving on roofs.

22 Oct 2014

Total posts 10

Had to show an IDP in France in 2015 and again in Italy 2017. Both tines was renting from Avis and was told no IDP no car

28 Nov 2018

Total posts 3

So why does it cost A$48 for an an IDP in Australia, but only 7.50 Pounds in the UK?

Air New Zealand - Airpoints

31 Oct 2016

Total posts 73

Because the cost is incurred by the issuing body, and they can charge you whatever they like?

09 Oct 2018

Total posts 9

They don't have Scott Morrison running the UK!

However, on the plus side, you can do pretty much anything you like in Aussie if you pay the Government of the day a fee, or maybe even a donation?

Our Aussie system also likes to hand out time-limited, temporary licences for everything, so they can continue to keep gouging us on a regular basis.

AJW
AJW

16 Nov 2011

Total posts 525

Good story, but not sure what it has to do with IDP's as these are not issued by any government department, either state or government.

09 Oct 2018

Total posts 9

Dear AJW.

You're absolutely right, and that shows how much I know!

It seems to be the state motoring organisation that issues these permits. Maybe they should give a discount to their members, or charge a more reasonable fee to everyone who needs one. It surely doesn't cost anything like $48 to produce one.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

06 Oct 2016

Total posts 114

I've driven in Italy 7 or 8 times and never been asked, but last time I was, and I didn't have it and the hire company would rent to me unless I paid the additional insurance (which was covered on my Travel policy anyway) basically double the cost but what can you do in Milan with no notice.

On the same trip I had two hires in France and no issues... but I will be getting one just in case next time I hire


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