If you choose to drive abroad, this is one time you want to make sure you stay "on the beaten path." It is estimated that more than 200 U.S. citizens die each year because of road accidents abroad. We’re not trying to scare you (well, maybe we are), but it is important to be aware of the rules of the road in the country you’re visiting.
First thing’s first. If you choose to drive while abroad, make sure you obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP) before you go. Many countries don’t recognize U.S. driver's licenses, but IDPs are honored in more than 150 countries outside the U.S. An IDP is not intended to replace a valid U.S. State license and should only be used as a supplement to a valid license. By the way, IDPs are not valid in your home country and you must be 18 to get one.
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: the American Automobile Association and the American Automobile Touring Alliance. Here’s how to contact these organizations:
1-800-622-2136 or 1-800-294-7000
Once you have your International Driving Permit, you’re going to need insurance. Car rental companies worldwide usually provide auto insurance, but in some countries, the required coverage is minimal. When renting a car overseas, it is highly recommended that you consider purchasing insurance coverage that is at least equivalent to that which you carry at home.
Generally, 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 to see if your policy covers you in Canada, Mexico, or countries south of Mexico. Even if your policy is valid in one of these countries, it may not meet that country's minimum requirements.
Here are some quick tips to make your driving experience abroad, an easy ride:
- Obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP) before you go abroad.
- Carry both your IDP, and your State driver's license, with you at all times, and know the country's rules before you get behind the wheel. Information may be available from the foreign embassy in the United States, foreign government tourism offices, or from a car rental company in the foreign country.
- Always "buckle up." Some countries have penalties for people who violate this law.
- Many countries require you to honk your horn before going around a sharp corner or to flash your lights before passing.
- Before you start your journey, find out who has the right of way in a traffic circle.
- If you rent a car, make sure you have liability insurance. If you do not, this could lead to financial disaster.
- If the drivers in the country you are visiting drive on the opposite side of the road than in the U.S., it may be prudent to practice driving in a less populated area before attempting to drive in heavy traffic.
- Always know the route you will be traveling. Have a copy of a good road map, and chart your course before beginning.
- Do not pick up hitchhikers or strangers, and when entering existing your vehicle, be aware of your surroundings.
- Never drive under the influence of alcohol or other intoxicants. Doing so can have severe criminal penalties in other countries.