Do I need an international driving licence?

Do I need an international driving licence?
What documents do you need to take with you when you drive abroad? And is there such a thing as an international driving licence?

Driving licences and their restrictions are normally straight-forward, as you can usually find out what you can drive on the licence itself, but when driving in another country, it's not always as clear whether you licvence is still valid or how long for.

Here we look at what you need to accompany your driving licence when driving abroad and what you need to consider when driving in the UK with a foreign licence too.

Guide contents

What is an international driving licence?
Do I need an international driving permit?
What documents do I need to drive in Europe?
What documents do I need to drive in the US?
What documents do overseas drivers coming to the UK need?

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What is an international driving licence?

There isn’t actually such a thing as an international driving licence. It’s not a legally recognised document, so be wary of websites claiming to sell it.

It’s often confused with an international driving permit (IDP), which is a recognised document allowing you to drive in more than 140 countries.

An IDP is used in conjunction with your UK driving licence, not instead of it – so make sure you carry both with you when you drive abroad in the countries you need it in.

You can find out a full list of what countries you need an IDP to drive in here.

An IDP is slightly larger than a passport and includes photo ID as well as driver information.

It translates your licence details into several languages and is valid for 12 months.

If you are driving in the UK and have an EU licence you can drive any type of venicle that is listed on your licence.

But, if you have a licence from outside of the EU you are only legally permitted to drive a small vehicle in the country for 12 months before you will have to pass a UK driving test. You will also need to have held the licence for at least a year before driving in the UK.

Remember if your licence isn't in English or another latin-based language, you will need to have an accompanying International Driving Permit with your licence. Arabic and chinese are not latin based.

Do I need an international driving permit?

International driving licence

To drive in most European countries, your UK driving licence will be sufficient. That includes nations not in the EU, including Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. But if you’re venturing further afield, you might need to carry an IDP too.

In some countries, it’s a legal requirement. In others, it’s not obligatory but car rental companies might not let you hire a vehicle without one.

Most countries require you to get what’s called a 1949 Convention IDP, but a few ask for a 1926 Convention IDP, such as Brazil, Iraq and Somalia.

An IDP can be ordered up to three months in advance of the start of your travel date but it can’t be backdated.

The IDP should give you peace of mind if you’re driving abroad. If, for any reason, you happen to be stopped by foreign police or officials and you’re not able to speak the local language, you can just hand over your IDP, which should provide them with all the information they need.

What documents do I need to drive in Europe?

While you don’t need an IDP to drive in Europe, there are other documents you’ll require, whether you’re driving in France for a sightseeing journey through the Loire Valley or embarking on a 2,000-mile road trip across the continent.

You may be asked to produce your documents at any time. If they’re not in order you could be fined or even have your car towed.

It’s also vital that your car is insured in all the countries you plan to visit, so check with your insurance company that you’re fully covered. If you’re not, you might be able to enhance your existing insurance for the duration of your trip or take out separate insurance.

Required documents:

  • Full and valid driving licence
  • Proof of insurance
  • Proof of ID (passport)
  • Original V5C certificate to prove you are the registered keeper of the vehicle
  • European breakdown cover policy number and documents

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What documents do I need to drive in the US?

Driving in the US

Dreaming of cruising down Route 66 with the wind in your hair? Or going for a spin along the dazzling Pacific Coast of California? You can rent a car in the US with your UK licence as long as you’ve held it for at least a year.

In most instances you have to be aged 21 or over to be given the keys to a rental car, but some companies require you to be at least 25. You’ll need a passport and ESTA to enter the US, and these will also be needed to rent a car.

Although an international driving permit is not a legal requirement in the US, it’s recommended having one because some insurance companies will want to see one if you have an accident.

Required documents:

  • Full and valid driving licence
  • Proof of insurance
  • Proof of ID (passport)

What documents do overseas drivers coming to the UK need?

Tourists can typically use their full valid driving licence issued in their own country for up to a year while in the UK.

They won’t need an international driving permit in addition to their licence, but it might come in useful for proving legitimacy if the licence is not printed in English.

All drivers are legally required to have valid car insurance in the UK, even if they only plan to drive occasionally or stay for a short time. Drivers hiring a car won’t need to take out their own insurance cover as this will be included in the rental costs.

Required documents:

  • Full and valid driving licence
  • Proof of insurance
  • Proof of ID (passport)
  • Breakdown cover

For more information, check out the UK Government’s advice on driving in Britain on a non-GB licence.

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