international-driving-permitWe were all ready to go on a ten day trip through Germany and Switzerland.  I had created packing lists and checklists and researched and purchased the best stroller for international travel as well as many other items that would make the trip easier.  A question suddenly dawned on me, “Will our driver’s licenses be recognized in Europe?”

I asked the question over dinner and my husband put down his fork and looked at me, incredulous that we hadn’t thought of this before.  “I honestly don’t know.  Let’s ask Google.” as he picked up his Droid phone to find out.  

Do you need an International Driver’s License or using its proper term, an International Driving Permit when renting a car abroad?  The short answer is “No,” but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get one.

After a little research we found out that an International Driving Permit offers essentially a translation of your drivers license in nine different languages including the six United Nations official languages (English, French, Spanish, Russian, Arabic and Chinese.)   It it itself is is not a license to drive a vehicle, but it is a translation of your current driver’s license.  An International Drivers License is a tool to help you communicate with foreign authorities and must be presented with your current driver’s license from the state in which you live.  If you are pulled over, it will make life easier for everyone.

We looked at getting an International Driving Permit as an insurance policy towards making our trip easier.  We are not speeders and had no intentions of being pulled over, but you just never know what will happen or if you might be pulled over and what kind of mood the officer might be in.  Anything that can simplify communication and make the foreign officer rest assured that your Kansas drivers license isn’t a fake from Missouri, both states he has never heard of, it is worth it.  

In our case, we did get the permits and despite not being aware we were speeding, we did get a speeding ticket on our way into Zurich.  Rather than being pulled over though, we received our rather expensive speeding ticket in the mail a month and a half later when we were back in Idaho.  At first we thought the ticket was a joke from one of our friends and we emailed the Swiss authorities to find out if it was legit.  As my husband sent the email questioning the legitimacy of the ticket, the need for the International Driving Permit became abundantly clear.  In their language, it simply lets others know that your credentials are legitimate.  Now they just need to come up with an International Traffic Ticket so next time the Swiss send us a speeding violation, we know we are not being scammed…

Obtaining an International Driving Permit will cost you around $15 plus shipping from your local AAA office or online.  You must have a current driver’s license in good standing and will need to provide one passport size photo and your passport number. If you get the License in person, you may need to show your passport.