International driving permit: do you need one?
Driving abroad is easy when you have the right paperwork - here’s how to apply for your International Driving Permit
British driving licence holders can breathe easy when driving in Europe after Brexit, given that UK licences continue to be recognised across the EU as part of the exit deal. However, for many other destinations you will still need an International Driving Permit.
Many drivers won't have driven abroad during the Covid-19 pandemic, however reduced travel restrictions mean an increasing number of drivers are heading abroad. If you plan to drive in a non-EU country, you'll want to get an International Driving Permit sorted early, to avoid any licence issues.
You may not be aware of changes to regulations surrounding green cards, insurance and GB stickers when driving within the EU since Brexit, so make sure to up to speed with those beforehand. International Driving Permit (IDP) regulations usually apply when you’re driving in destinations further afield, but it’s worth noting that residents of Gibraltar, Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man still need an IDP to drive within Europe. Check the GOV.UK website for more information if you’re from one of these territories.
Driving abroad and ensuring you have everything you need might seem daunting at first, but it's simple as long as you’re properly prepared. One of the most important things is to get the right paperwork ready before you set off.
This is where the IDP comes into its own. Although many foreign governments have agreements in place that recognise the UK driving licence as legally valid in their country, it's of little use when you run into a policeman or other official who doesn’t speak the same language.
The beauty of the IDP is that it comes printed in multiple languages so anyone who needs to see your driving licence abroad should be able to understand it, whether they are a government authority or an agent at a car hire desk.
In some countries the IDP is voluntary, but it’s worth having for the reasons mentioned above, especially because some foreign car rental firms can refuse to let you hire a car without one. In others it is a legal requirement to carry an IDP, and you can get in trouble for driving without it.
The IDP is designed to bridge that gap. 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. For 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 are 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 Post Office branches. 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.