Health & Medical

International Driving Licenses

Reading time: 3 minutes

Do I need a license to drive?

In most countries if you have a valid driver’s license from home you’re ok to drive. There are a few countries where you require a locally issued license, Vietnam for example, and Laos. You’ll need to sit a written test in the local language and take a driving test. There’s usually a waiting list of several months to get a test, which is not much help for a visitor.

Wherever you are, you must be authorised for the vehicle type. So despite what the guy at the scooter rental shop tells you, unless you have a motorcycle license from home, or are prepared to line-up and get one from the local authority, you are NOT legally licensed.

I don’t have a motorcycle license?

You’ll have heard tales about travellers bribing their way out of trouble with police – usually in poorer countries. In fact “license checks” are a lucrative side income for poorly paid traffic cops in Thailand, Indonesia, Peru, and eastern Europe. But these countries are beginning to understand lax license enforcement is to blame for the high road death toll and are conducting genuine license checks – in these instances handing over “tea money” with your invalid license will get you into even more hot water.

Don’t forget, if you have an accident and need medical assistance (sadly, very likely in Southeast Asia) we’re going to want to see your driver’s license before we pay the tens of thousands of dollars in hospital fees.

I’ve heard you can “buy” a license!

Yes there is a black market in fake licenses. They are not legal documents, do not make it legal to drive/ride and we discourage their use.

It’s actually fairly easy for investigators to spot a fake – if you don’t have a license of the same class from home and you were able to ‘jump a 3 month waiting list and ‘magically’ obtain a license, expect to answer a lot of questions and be able to prove the license is legitimate.

What about the International Driving License?

It’s called an International Driver’s Permit and it’s NOT a license to drive. It’s an authorised (multi language) translation of your home license which is supposed to make it easier for the police (who may not speak English) to determine if you’re legally entitled to drive the vehicle you’re in or astride at the time. Here’s a list of places where you can get one.

Will the cops really check my IDP?

Maybe, maybe not. Talk to travellers and they’ll tell you cops from Bangkok to Berlin have turned their noses up at the IDP and asked to see your “real” license.

Is it compulsory to have an IDP?

Many destinations require you to have an IDP, and for others it is recommended you have one. Check out the whole list here.

However some countries only require you to have a translation of your license in their language (Spain for example). A DIY translation could do the job, probably notarised by a lawyer, JP or a cop would be more believable. The official IDP will save you a lot of questioning (and probably cost less than an appointment with your solicitor!).

So tell me again, why do I need an IDP?

1. For European car hire – many rental companies insist you have an IDP and they won’t hand over the keys to your underpowered oil-burner (that’s diesel fuelled) until they see one. Because you can’t use an IDP in the country where it’s issued, that’ll mean swapping your self-drive holiday for a bus tour.

2. The IDP translates your license into Spanish, Japanese, Greek, German, Arabic, Russian, Chinese and French, so you’re not resorting to hand signals and shouting to explain yourself when you’re pulled over.

3. Because it has your photo and is an authorised document it can act as a second type of official ID.


Author

Travel Insurance Direct and World Nomads author Phil Sylvester offers insights and advice to keep our customers safe and informed when they travel. With 20 year’s experience, Phil has turned his journalist’s eye to the things that could take the fun out of your holiday, researching issues and destinations that keep you informed so you can travel with confidence. He is also co-host of The World Nomads Travel Podcast.

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