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International Drivers Permit, Renting a car overseas

Do You Need an International Drivers Permit?

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A few days before taking off for a big trip, I start obsessing. It’s like clockwork. I double-check our flight reservations to make sure I didn’t book the wrong dates. I sneak another look at our passports to confirm that they are not (a) lost and are (b) valid. I check our car reservation and travel insurance paperwork.

A few days before a recent trip to Europe, which included a 12-night stay in Italy, I stumbled upon the official Italy Tourism page and clicked on the link, Driving in Italy.

I read the following passage, which sent me into a tizzy:

Drivers in possession of a license issued by any EU country do not require an international driving permit or a sworn translation of their own license.

The implication, of course, is that drivers who do not carry an EU driver’s license, need an international drivers permit (IDP). As my heart began to race, I closely examined my car rental voucher (which I admittedly had not done before, except for checking the dates/locations and price).

The language on the voucher stated:

* An international drivers license is strongly recommended. If the drivers license is not in the Roman alphabet it is mandatory to have an international drivers license, in addition to home license.

* While the rental car company may not require an International Driver’s License, the police can request you present this and fine you, if you cannot provide one in addition to your national drivers license.

I then called Auto Europe, the broker that I use to book car rentals in Europe. I was informed that an IDP was not required from Europcar (the company I was renting from) to secure our rental vehicle so we were technically in the clear. But the car rental agent said it would be good to have one because the Italian police will issue a fine on the spot if you are stopped and do not have one.

We traveled to Italy five years ago, blissfully unaware of the requirement and had no problem. It could be because we picked up our car in France and had no run-ins with the police in Italy.

Getting an International Drivers Permit

Because we live close to an American Automobile Association (AAA) office and they issue these permits on the spot for $20 (plus the cost of passport photos), we decided to bite the bullet and get the IDP. We may not have needed it to secure our car rental, but it would certainly make any dealings with the Italian police more pleasant. The document is recognized in 150 counties and is basically an official translation of a U.S. driver’s license.

My advice? Go ahead and spend the extra money for the peace of mind, especially if you are traveling to counties like Italy that technically require the permit.

More tips for renting a car overseas

1. Always check with your car rental company to determine whether you need an International Drivers Permit. In Italy, for example, Europcar does not require an IDP to pick up a rental vehicle, however, Avis and Hertz do.

2. Make an extra copy of your driver’s license and keep it somewhere safe.

3. If you do not live near an AAA office and need to apply for an IDP by mail, allow 4-6 weeks. Be aware of internet scams.

4. Make sure that the car you reserve is large enough to accommodate all of your luggage and your family members. All intermediate-sized vehicles are not created equal.

5. If you want to save money (both in rental fees and gasoline), stay away from automatic transmission. Most rental cars in Europe are stick-shift.

6. Use the correct type of fuel when filling up your vehicle (gasoline or diesel). If your car suddenly stalls and starts smoking after a pit stop the gas station, you likely put in the wrong type of fuel. I know this from personal experience.

7. When you rent a car, be sure that the name on the car rental agreement is the same as the name on the credit card used to hold and pay for the rental. This will be important if you ever need to put in a claim for damage.

8. Even though some credit cards can cover collision damage, consider opting for comprehensive coverage, including theft. When renting overseas, we have started to purchase comprehensive coverage after learning that our personal auto insurance did not cover car rentals outside the U.S. Check with your auto insurance company and your credit card provider to see what type(s) of insurance may be available.

9. Some car rental companies offer free GPS devices. For our recent rental, we paid only shipping charges for the GPS that was mailed to us a few days before our departure and was preloaded with English-speaking maps.

10. Watch out for drop-off fees. If you want to rent a car in one country and drop it off in another, you will most likely be charged a huge ($300-500) drop-off fee. Keep this in mind when planning your itinerary.

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A self-proclaimed Jersey Girl (with a soft spot for Jon Bon Jovi), Amy currently resides in Austin, Texas with her husband and 11-year old daughter. She picked…

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