How to Get an International Driver’s License in the USA

How to Get an International Driver’s License in the USA

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If you’re an American citizen planning to travel overseas or a non-resident living in the United States, you may want to get an international driver’s license.

Having an international driver’s license will let you rent a car, drive your own car, or drive someone else’s car legally in the country and in select countries around the world — although you may want to get listed on that “someone’s” car insurance policy before you get behind the wheel.

However, even if you don’t plan on driving while in the U.S. or another country, an international driver’s license will come in handy when you have to show proof of ID, which you’re required to do at many places nowadays.

Having said that, this guide on getting an international driver’s license in the U.S. will show you what requirements you need to meet and how to apply. So, let’s jump in.

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Good to Know

Here are a few important facts about international driver’s licenses.

First, an international driver’s license is called an International Driving Permit (IDP). However, we’ll stick with international driver’s license throughout the rest of the article.

Second, an international driver’s license is a permit that lets you drive in the U.S. or another country for up to one year. It’s not like a U.S. driver’s license, which you apply for once and never have to worry about again (unless you let it expire).

Third, if you drive with an international driver’s license in the U.S. or another country you must have your home country driver’s license with you at all times.

Fourth, an international driver’s license doesn’t let you drive in the country if you don’t have a U.S. driver’s license.

Lastly, you can use your international driver’s license in 174 countries.

Which License Can You Drive with in America?

Before you find out how to apply for an international drivers’ license in the U.S., take a lot at the most common licenses and whether you can drive with them in the country.

United States License

A valid U.S. driver’s license lets you drive anywhere within the U.S. or its territories.

Moreover, a license comes in handy for proving ID, which you need to do to sign up for utilities, phone plans, and more.

International Driver’s License

As mentioned above, an international driver’s license lets you drive in the U.S. and 173 other countries as long as you have your home country driver’s license with you.

If you plan to travel outside of the U.S. or move here for months or years, it’s wise to apply for an international driver’s license.

Having said that, here’s how you apply for the permit the U.S.

Can You Use Your Home Country License to Drive in the US?

If you’re not a U.S. resident, you may already have a driver’s license from your home country, but that doesn’t mean you can drive in the U.S. legally.

For example, if you get caught driving without a U.S. license or international driver’s license you could be arrested and fined and the car you’re driving could be impounded.

So, you shouldn’t drive in the U.S. with only your home country license.

Getting an International Driver’s License

Let’s take a look at how to get an international driver’s license both from the inside and outside of the United States.

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Inside the United States

To apply for an international driver’s license in the U.S., you have two options:

  • apply in person
  • apply through the mail

Moreover, you have a few choices on where to apply for your license, but AAA (known as Triple-A) is the most popular method.

Let’s look at each process a bit closer.

In Person

You can apply for an international driver’s license in person at any AAA in the U.S. However, be sure to download and submit the application on AAA’s website, as they won’t accept any other third-party applications.

Here’s the list of requirements:

You can use AAA’s office locator to find the nearest office to you.

If you can’t make it to an AAA office in person, you have another option to apply for your international driver’s license.

Through Mail

If you want to apply through the mail, the requirements are almost the same, except you don’t have to send your original license.

Here’s the list of documents you’ll need:

  • application from AAA
  • two passport-size photos
  • a signed photocopy of both sides of your U.S. driver’s license
  • a check or money order for the US$15 payment

Again, you can use the AAA office locator to find out where to send your application.

How Long Does it Take to Get Your International Driver’s License?

Generally, it takes two weeks from the time AAA receives your application to send your permit back to you.

If you’re planning on traveling overseas and think you’ll need your international license, you should apply well in advance of your trip.

Outside of the United States

If you’re living outside of the country, you can apply for an international driver’s license in most country’s as long as you have a license from that country.

For example, if you’re an expat living in Thailand and have a Thai driver’s license, you can apply for an international driver’s license with your Thai license.

The requirements may vary in each country, but you usually need your license, passport, and two passport-size photos — plus the application fee.

Now, on to You

Applying for an international driver’s license in the U.S. is nothing like going to the DMV and getting your U.S. license.

Moreover, as long as you have the required documents and payment, you shouldn’t face any issues when applying.

Once you’re done, you’ll be able to drive legally in most countries throughout the world.

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John Wolcott is the global editor for ExpatDen. He's a New Jersey native who now lives in Bangkok with his wife and two daughters.

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