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The International Drivers Permit: What it Is and When You Need It

One of the many unique characteristics of The United States is its general lack of public transit. Outside a few big cities like New York, Chicago, or San Francisco, most people living in the US get around in a car. Of course, like many countries, you need a valid driver’s license to drive in the US. In some circumstances, a foreign driver's license will work just fine, but if you’re planning a more long-term relocation, you will likely want to get an International Driving Permit (IDP). 


Can I Drive In the US with my Foreign Driver’s License? 

There are two criteria you must meet to use your foreign driver’s license in the US: 

  1. Your driver’s license is originally in English, or you carry an official translation with you and 
  2. You won’t be driving in the US for more than three months 

If you plan to be in the US for more than three months, you will need to get an International Driving Permit (sometimes referred to as an international driving license). Of course, if you are relocating to the US for an extended period of time, it will be a good idea for you to apply for an official US driver’s license. However, the IDP will still be useful, enabling you to drive legally while you go through the process of applying for a US driver’s license. 


How to Get An International Driving Permit 

The US government does not issue International Driving Permits to foreign visitors, so it’s important you secure one before you leave your home country. To do so, contact the governing body that issued your driver’s license to find out what the process entails. IDPs are generally very easy to get and inexpensive. 


How Long Will My International Driving Permit Last? 

International Driving Permits only last for 12 months, so if you plan to stay in the US longer, make sure you start the process to get a state-issued US driver’s license before your IDP expires. To do so, find your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles and ask about the process for non-citizens. Some states like California will even allow you to apply for a US driver’s license without a Social Security Number.