We were recently in the Cayman Islands where we rented a car, and the rental car counter asked us for 20$ extra for a local license. This had happened to us once before in Rarotonga also where they actually issued a plasticized picture ID driver license from New Zealand (ready in 10 minutes), which made for a great souvenir!
The recent experience had us thinking about some of our upcoming international trips, and I realized that we had taken for granted that we could rent a car with our US drivers license worry free. Is that really the case? Well, it may depend on the country and from what I can gather from the State Department website it may even depend on the rental car agency. Government of Canada website
Getting an IDP (International Drivers Permit). is a simple matter and can be done in a short visit to an AAA office. For 20$ and a couple of passport pictures you get yourself an international license which is valid for a year. Having one in hand could be worth the price of peace of mind alone. While you can apply by mail, it can all be done on the spot (pictures taken, license made and ready to take home with you) in less than an hour, so we would recommend going to the AAA office and getting it all done in a day. Check their form and procedure here
For Canadians, CAA offers the same services: get the info here
Even while most European countries do allow rentals with a US license (again, it may depend on the rental car company), there are some notable exceptions when it comes to travel destinations. Japan for example absolutely requires that you obtain an IDP and you must do so in your home country before your arrival in Japan or you will be refused your rental car. Further, if you are caught driving without a permit, fines can be very expensive and you could even be deported or end up in jail. The Czech Republic is another destination that requires an IDP.
Even in countries where you are able to obtain your car and drive off with your local license, you may appreciate having your IDP if for whatever reason you happen to be stopped by the police for a moving violation or have to try and communicate with police who can’t read or speak English. The IDP translates your US driver’s license into 10 different languages.
Finally getting the IDP from AAA also enticed us to join the AAA program which gave us free European maps. Membership also extends discounts across a wide array of travel related products and services including hotels.
So with IDP in hand, we are ready for some exotic trips. Let’s go do some traveling…
Related post: Sweetening up your ride!