It is illegal to drive without a valid license and insurance in most countries. Many countries do not recognize U.S. driver's licenses. Some, however, will accept an International Driving Permit. You can read additional information about auto insurance and International Driving Permits below. International Driving Permits may not be valid for the length of your stay abroad, and are often only valid if presented along with a valid U.S. or local license. So it is a good idea to plan ahead and check on the requirements for using your current license or qualifying for a local driver's license in the country you will be visiting or residing in. You should check with the Embassy of the country you plan to visit or reside in to find specific information about driver's license requirements. Foreign embassy and consulate contact information can also be found on the Country Information page for each country.
Car rental companies overseas can usually provide auto insurance, but in some countries, the required coverage is minimal. When renting a car overseas, consider purchasing additional insurance coverage that is at least equivalent to what you carry at home.
In general, your U.S. auto insurance does NOT cover you abroad; however, your policy may apply when you drive to countries neighboring the United States. Check with your insurer before you leave to see if your policy covers you in Canada, Mexico, or elsewhere.
Even if your policy is valid in a particular country, it may not meet that country's minimum requirements. If you are under-insured, you can usually purchase additional auto insurance in the United States or in your destination country.
International Driving Permits
Although many countries do not recognize U.S. driver's licenses, most countries accept an International Driving Permit (IDP). An IDP functions as an official translation of a U.S. driver's license into 10 foreign languages.
Before departure, you can obtain an IDP at a local office of one of the two automobile associations authorized by the U.S. Department of State:
To apply for an IDP, you must:
- be age 18 or over
- present two passport-size photographs and
- present your valid U.S. driver’s license
The cost of an IDP from these organizations is less than $20.00.
Tips on Driving Abroad
- Obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP).
- Carry both your IDP and your U.S. state driver's license with you at all times, since many countries have different driving rules.
- Try to obtain a copy of the foreign country's driving laws before you begin driving in that country. Information may be available from the country's embassy or consulates in the United States, foreign government tourism offices, or from a car rental company in the foreign country.
- Certain countries require special road permits instead of tolls to use their divided highways (the equivalent of our interstate highway system). Authorities may fine those found driving without a permit.
- Always "buckle up." Some countries have penalties for people who violate the seatbelt law.
- If you rent a car, make sure you have sufficient liability insurance.
- If the drivers in the country you are visiting drive on the left side of the road, it may be prudent to practice driving in a less populated area of the destination country before attempting to drive in heavy traffic.
- Always know the route you will be traveling. Have a good road map, and chart your course before beginning.
- Use common road safety sense: Do not pick up hitchhikers or strangers, and be aware of your surroundings when entering or exiting your vehicle.
Learn About Your Destination
Familiarize yourself with local conditions and laws: While in a foreign country, you are subject to its laws. Check out our country-specific safety and travel information about the places you will visit.