Tips & advice

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

BMW M235i 2014 side desert

Brexit licence fears may have receded in the rearview mirror with UK driving licences being recognised across EU countries as part of our exit deal, but you’ll still need an International Driving Permit for many other destinations.

Of course with the Covid pandemic still in full swing across the globe there aren’t likely to be many chances to drive abroad for quite a while. However when the limitations on international travel are finally lifted, you can bet there’s going to be a rush as business and tourism bounce back with a vengeance. That’s why it makes sense to get ahead of the curve if you’re planning a driving trip beyond Europe’s borders post-Covid. The last thing you want is an International Driving Permit application stuck in a bureaucratic back-log when you’re itching to get behind the wheel abroad.

There have been changes to the regulations around green cards, insurance and GB stickers when driving in the EU post-Brexit, so make sure you’re up to speed with those. However the International Driving Permit (IDP) regulations apply mostly when you’re intending to drive in farther-flung destinations. That said, residents of Gibraltar, Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man will still need an IDP to drive within Europe - you can check out the GOV.UK website for more information if that applies to you. 

Wherever you’re headed, driving abroad is easy when you’re properly prepared, and having the right paperwork is definitely one of the most important things you can do. 

That’s where the IDP comes into play. Often, foreign governments have agreements in place that recognise a UK driving licence as legal in their country, but that’s little use when you run into a policeman or other official who doesn’t speak the same language. 

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. 

Driving abroad

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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