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Do You Need An International Driving License?

There’s no doubt that expat life is exciting and adventurous – but even so, the decision to move to another part of a continent or the globe is never an easy one. From applying for or updating passports and visas to setting up bank accounts and finding suitable accommodation, there are a number of things that you have to think about and organize both before making the move and once you arrive.One important aspect that every expat must consider before they move is transportation in their new home. Options for public transport vary widely around the world, and are often drastically different within a country from one location to the next. In some countries, travelling by public transport is far from ideal due to a lack of proper infrastructure, safety concerns or simply the level of comfort that expats from developed countries might be used to. In some situations, the distance between of your place of work and your place of residence might require you to own a car. Being able to drive also provides you with a certain degree of freedom in your new home, giving you the opportunity to explore more of your new surroundings on your own. In addition, many expats simply enjoy driving.

Who Needs An International Driving License?

Whether or not you need to invest in an international driving permit (IDP) depends on a number of different factors. One of these is the duration of your stay. Most countries consider the driver’s license from your home country valid for around 30 days before you’ll need to apply for a local license. A few others require expat citizens to have a valid IDP from day one. In some countries, if the duration of your stay is expected to be less than a year, you might not need to obtain a license from the authorities; the license from your home country is all you need. However, if you plan on extending your stay beyond a year, you may need to either get an IDP or a locally issued license.

The rules vary considerably from country to country, in terms of requirements for international drivers in your new country as well as whether licenses issued by that country are valid in other places around the world. Many European countries will accept a US driving license, for example. However, the reverse may not always be true. Some countries explicitly require an international license, while in others, even if it is not required, it might just make your life easier, and local police may not be familiar with licenses from your home country. There are a handful of countries that do not recognize any driving licenses apart from the ones that they themselves issue. China, for example, requires you to have a Chinese license if you want to drive within the country.

You will therefore need to research the specific requirements of the country you are moving to. Even if not required by law, be sure to find out if having an international license will make things easier – this is often the case if your destination country uses a different language than your home country.

What Is The International Driving Permit?

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The international driving license is technically known as the International Driving Permit (IDP), and is an official document issued by the traffic authority of your home country, recognized by more than 100 countries around the world as a valid proof of identity and fitness to drive a motor vehicle. The document essentially translates your existing driver’s license into 10 different global languages as well as English, and includes your photograph and vital statistics. The permit, along with a valid driver’s license from your home country, enables you to drive in all the countries that signed the 1949 Geneva convention on road traffic. A normal IDP is valid for a year, after which you can get it renewed.

A full list of countries that accept the IDP can be found here.

There are a lot of online sites that claim to provide you with an international driving license that will give you the freedom to drive anywhere in the world. However, these are almost always scams. Be aware that although in colloquial speech the two phrases are used interchangeably, the IDP is NOT the same as an international driving license. The latter is a meaningless document that does not make one eligible for driving in other countries.

Obtaining An International Driving Permit

Obtaining an IDP is fairly simple in most of the participating countries. Expats moving abroad must get an IDP in their home country before leaving. While the laws may differ in each nation, here are a list of things you’ll need to obtain one:

– Valid address proof, stating your current address
– Valid proof of identity with your date of birth
– 2-3 passport sized photographs
– Your current valid driving license

You will need to look up the specifics of the procedure in your home country. Some countries require the application to be made only to the local driving authority, while others extend the service to post offices. In some countries, you may also be able to apply by post. You may also be able to hire an agent or an agency to help you through the process. However, be wary of frauds, since only a designated governing body can provide you with an IDP. A bogus IDP from an unauthorized agency can cause you a lot of trouble – some countries are very strict about traffic laws, and a fake IDP might even land you in jail.

Expats must also remember that their IDP must be procured from the same country as their original driving license; that is, your home country. However, you may be able to apply while you are abroad.

Advantages Of International Driving Permits

Although many countries recommend using the IDP, as it helps cut down on translation cost and time, there are a few that legally require non-native drivers to procure one. Experts say that even when a IDP isn’t legally required, it will most certainly come in handy in a sticky situation. For example, imagine being pulled over for a minor infraction, being involved in a crash, or having a breakdown on a highway in a new country – things can get a lot more difficult if you and the local traffic authorities can’t communicate effectively, and if a language barrier means they can’t decipher your driving license to ensure that it is valid.

What happens if you’re caught for a traffic infraction without an IDP? That depends on the country you’re in and the legal system there. In Europe, the laws are relatively lenient – you may have to pay a fine, and/or your car insurance might be rendered invalid without an IDP. However, places like Japan take legal infractions by expats much more seriously, and here, you could be jailed or deported for driving without an IDP and your original license.

What An International Driving Permit Isn't

While it is an important piece of documentation for driving all over the world, remember that the IDP is not a driving license that can stand by itself. When you’re driving abroad, you must remember to always carry both the IDP and the license that was issued to you in your home country. The IDP is more a multi-language translation of your original license than a legal document by itself – it does not guarantee or certify that you’re a qualified driver. It is a document that is issued on the basis of your local license, and not on the basis of a driving test. As a result, the two documents must therefore always be produced together.

Overseas Driving Tips

As well as carrying a valid IDP along with their driver’s license, expats must of course also ensure that they are fully aware of all the local traffic rules and regulations in their new country. Ignorance of local laws will almost never be accepted as an excuse.

Contact your embassy ahead of time and ask for a list of things needed to drive in the country you’re heading to. Do some research yourself; read expat reviews and blogs concerning the traffic norms in the country or the specific city that you are planning to live in or visit. For example, some countries in Europe require you to stick vignettes on your car for driving on highways. These are stickers that you can obtain from a governing traffic body, and they allow you to drive on highways for a specific amount of time instead of paying tolls. While most vignettes have an annual validity, some countries also have provisions for short-term validity. Some of the countries that require drivers to put on these vignettes are Switzerland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania, Moldova, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Austria.

If you’re moving to a country where drivers keep to the left, such as India, the UK, or Australia, you must perfect your left-hand driving skills beforehand. Some expats find the switch considerably more challenging than they imagined it might be. Of course, expats moving from one of these countries to a right-hand-drive country must also be cautious and well prepared. It is advisable to practice driving on secluded roads before testing your skills in city traffic. Remember to keep a map handy, as not all regions of the world have great GPS coverage. If you’re relying on GPS for navigation, it is recommended that you always carry an alternative GPS device in case something goes wrong with the first one.

Some countries also require you to keep certain items in your car when you’re on the road. For example, while many countries require you to carry warning triangles to be put up if you face a breakdown, France and Austria require you to carry a fluorescent jacket in the passenger section of your car. Belgium also requires drivers to carry a fire extinguisher with them at all times, while most countries have a law stating that drivers must always carry a well-stocked first aid kit. A few countries also have laws regarding seating babies in the front of the car. Usually, these laws specify that only children above a certain age and/or height can sit in the front passenger seat. Know the laws of the place where you’re headed to avoid any unfortunate encounters with the local authorities.

Finally, even though your IDP makes you eligible for insurance claims abroad, you must always check with your insurance agency to know exactly what your requirements and eligibility are. Driving in a different country can alter your coverage while still extending your insurance beyond your home country’s borders. It is recommended that expats check whether third-party liability and physical damage coverage are the same abroad as in their domestic policy.

Further Reading
Rhino Car Care
The AA
CN Traveler

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