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International driving permits

By Jade Harding

Planning to drive abroad this year? Here’s everything you need to know about the International Driving Permit – where you need it, how to get it and what happens after Brexit

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The International Driving Permit (IDP) is a multi-language translation of your driving licence and is required in many countries throughout the world including a number of states in the US. But like many other road laws, requiring an IDP depends on the country you plan to drive in.

If the permit is compulsory, make sure you also carry your licence along with your IDP – the permit will not be valid without it.

The IDP should not be confused with an international driving licence – a document that can be purchased online but is not an official certificate and won’t be accepted globally.

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Is a UK driving licence valid in the EU after a no-deal Brexit? 

No. A UK driving licence will not be valid on its own after the 29 March if there’s a no-deal Brexit. You will have to carry both a UK driving licence and an international driving permit to legally drive in the EU, except for Ireland. 

There are two international driving permits for EU countries. These are:

  • A 1949 Convention IDP for Cyprus, Malta, Spain and Ireland (although do note that Ireland does not require foreign drivers to carry an IDP in addition to their driving licence)
  • A 1968 Convention IDP for all other EU countries and for Norway and Switzerland

This means if you’re planning on driving to France via Spain, you will need to apply for both permits.

There is a third international driving permit, the 1926 Convention IDP, that covers Liechtenstein.

However, you’re currently still able to drive in the EU using your current valid driving licence, even if it is a valid paper version. 

If there's an EU exit deal, UK licence holders will still be able to continue to drive in all EU and EEA (European Economic Area) countries using just their UK driving licence.

If you're a UK citizen living in another EU country, the government's recommending you exchange your licence for a local licence ahead of any no-deal exit day. If you don't and the UK leaves the EU without a deal, you will need to get a local driving licence and - depending on local laws - may need to retake your driving test. 

The Post Office IDP country checker will tell you what countries you'll need an IDP for in the event of a no-deal Brexit. 

Will my car insurance still cover me in the EU after a no-deal Brexit?

Currently, your insurer is obliged under EU legislation to cover you for at least the minimum level of legal insurance in EU countries plus Andorra, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Serbia and Switzerland.

If we leave the EU with no deal in place, the government has stated: ‘Access to the Green Card-free circulation area would cease. This would mean that UK motorists would need to carry a Green Card as proof of third-party motor insurance cover when driving in the EU, EEA, Andorra, Serbia and Switzerland.’

A Green Card is effectively a translation in several languages of your car insurance certificate. It is an internationally recognised confirmation that you’re covered to drive your own car outside the UK.

How do I get an international driving permit? 

Since 1 February 2019, motorists can only get a permit by personally visiting one of the 2,500 post offices that will offer the service. The Department of Transport will then issue the permit via the post office.

Prior to 1 February, you could get an IDP by mail order from the AA and the RAC, and from 89 post offices in person.

To complete the order you have to be over 18 years old and have the following with you:

  • Your full UK driving licence - photo card or older paper version licence
  • A passport-sized photo
  • Your passport if you're presenting an older paper version license
  • £5.50 application fee.

Do I need an international driving permit? 

A compulsory IDP will depend on where you are planning to drive. Our map below shows what countries require you to carry an IDP - hover over the countries to find out more. This map currently doesn’t show the countries that would be affected in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Please note: some countries have their own terms and conditions in relation to IDPs, so it’s important you research your destination prior to travelling. For example, in Brazil a certified translation is required from the Consulate for you to legally drive.

Will I need a driving permit for different countries?

There are three different permits. The one you apply for will depend on what countries you're visiting. 

  • A 1949 Convention IDP
  • A 1968 Convention IDP
  • A 1926 Convention IDP

How long does it take to get an international driving permit? 

Drivers are able to get their IDP over the counter on the same day, provided they have the supporting documents. You can also order one as early as three months prior and delay the start date of your permit, however a permit cannot be backdated. 

How much does an international driving permit cost? 

Each version of the IDP costs £5.50. There are three permits in total. So if you need two permits, you will pay £11. Which one or how many you need depends on where you will be driving.

How long is an international driving permit valid?

An international driving permit is valid for 1 to 3 years from the date it’s issued, depending on the type required. If you need a permit after that time, you will then need to reapply in person for a second permit.

Is my car insured abroad? 

As it stands, your insurer is obliged under EU legislation to cover you for at least the minimum level of legal insurance in EU countries plus Andorra, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Serbia and Switzerland.

For countries outside of the EU, you should check with your insurer to make sure your policy covers you. If it doesn’t, you can either upgrade your policy or, depending on your insurer, pay for it as an extra – this usually covers you for 30 days.

Once you’re insured you should receive a Green Card (an internationally recognised confirmation of insurance - see below) to take with you. If you don’t, make sure you request one – it’s free.

Always check the terms and conditions of your cover. Some policies will cease to be valid after a certain amount of days.

Jump straight to our expert analysis of the best and worst car insurance policies

Breaking down abroad 

Just like checking your insurance policy, you should also check your breakdown cover before driving abroad. Not all will protect you for overseas breakdowns.

If your policy doesn’t cover you, you can ask for additional protection at a cost. Alternatively, you can search for separate cover solely for your time abroad.

It's also important to check what you legally have to carry in different countries in case your car breaks down. For example:

  • France - reflective jackets (one for each occupant) and a warning triangle is compulsory in every vehicle. The motorways in France are also privately managed so law states that if you break down you must use the roadside emergency telephones or dial 112. The police will then send out a rescue company that will tow you to a safe area.
  • Spain - a warning triangle is compulsory, and while reflective jackets are not compulsory to carry you could be fined for walking along the road or hard shoulder without wearing one.
  • Italy - a warning triangle, reflective jackets and a spare tyre are all compulsory.
  • Germany - reflective jackets, a warning triangle and a first aid kit are all compulsory.
  • Belgium - you have to carry reflective jackets and a warning triangle in the event of a break down. If you are driving a vehicle that's registered in Belgium you also have to carry a first aid kit and fire extinguisher.

Avoid breaking down in the first place by opting for a Best Buy car. Here are our expert assessments of the top cars for 2019.

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