What is an international driving permit (IDP)?

March 08, 2024 by

Find out what an International Driving Permit (IDP) is with our comprehensive guide

If you plan on travelling abroad and driving, you may wonder if you need an international driving permit (IDP) and how you get an IDP.

The short answer is that it depends on where you’re going, how long you’re staying, and what type of driving licence you have; there is obviously more detail to an IDP than this, which is what this guide will explain.

International driving permit meaning

An international driving permit can in some ways be thought of as an international driving licence, as it allows you to drive a car in any country that recognises the IDP and requires you to have it in addition to your UK driving licence.

Just to make things slightly more complicated, there are three types/versions of the IDP:

  • 1926 IDP
  • 1949 IDP
  • 1968 IDP

These dates relate to which piece of legislation a country is signed up to, with some countries being members of the 1926 International Convention relative to Motor Traffic, others the 1949 Geneva Convention, and others the 1968 Vienna Convention.

Oh, and if you’re after some guides to driving abroad, we’ve got a load of tips on driving to France, driving to Spain, as well as a guide to the best EU countries for a road trip in an electric car.

Do I need an international driving permit?

If you are driving in the European Union and you have a photocard driving licence issued in the UK, then you do not need an International Driving Permit (IDP); there were fears during the Brexit negotiations that Brits travelling in the EU would need an IDP, but the terms of the Brexit deal meant this is not the case.

Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein are not part of the EU, but as long as you have a photocard UK driving licence, rather than an old paper licence, you can drive in these countries without an IDP.

If you have a paper licence or a licence issued in Gibraltar, Guernsey, Jersey or the Isle of Man, you might need an IDP to drive in Norway and some EU countries.

The Government’s website on IDPs provides a link to contact foreign embassies in the country you will be driving in, which you can consult if you need more information on this detail – or you could just upgrade to a photocard licence via the DVLA.

Outside of the EU, around 140 countries require an IDP, regardless of whether you have a photocard licence or not, including popular tourist destinations, such as Jamaica, Japan, Monaco, South Africa, Turkey, United States and Canada. However, there are a variety of caveats surrounding this: some countries require an IDP if you want to hire a car, while others require one if you are staying for more than a certain period of time. For example, you’ll need an IDP if you’re staying for longer than 30 days in Papua New Guinea, or if your stay in Malawi is longer than 90 days.

You can check if you need an IDP for the country you are visiting on the Government’s website: https://www.gov.uk/driving-abroad/international-driving-permit

The country you are visiting also determines which of the three types of IDP you will need. Again, the Government’s website has details on this. For example, for driving in Canada you need a 1949 IDP, Brazil requires the 1968 IDP, while Mexico needs the 1926 IDP.

It is important to note that an IDP does not replace your UK driving licence and is only valid in conjunction with your UK driving licence; therefore, you should still take your UK driving licence with you as well as an IDP.

How do I get an international driving permit?

IDPs are available at most Post Offices until 31 March 2024. The Post Office has an online tool you can use to check if your local branch fulfils this service.

From 1 April 2024, Post Offices will stop issuing IDPs. Instead, IDPs will be available from participating shops offering PayPoint services. Typically, these are often local convenience stores which are usually open for extended hours (compared to Post Offices). To find your nearest PayPoint location, you can enter your postcode here.

To get an IDP, you will need a full, valid driving licence (you can’t get an IDP with a provisional licence), together with a passport-style photograph, the payment fee (£5.50), and if you have an old paper driving licence rather than the photocard one, you will also need to take your passport. You also need to be at least 18 years of age.

As long as you have the right documents (see above), once you have paid the £5.50 fee, you’ll be given your IDP there and then – filling out the form and completing the process should only take around five minutes.

How long does an international driving permit last?

International Driving Permits are valid for one year, except in the case of the 1968 IDP, which lasts for three. If you already have an IDP, check if it has expired and needs replacing.

What if I drive without an international driving permit?

If you get stopped by the local Police or are involved in an accident and the country you are driving in requires you to have an international driving permit, it is highly likely that without it you will effectively be driving without a valid driving licence. That will probable be deemed as illegal. You could get fined, arrested or jailed. And it could invalidate your insurance.

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