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Is Your U.S. Driver's License Good Abroad?

By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. | Last updated on

'Tis the season for Spring Break trips, and many Americans are heading abroad. But is your state-issued driver's license valid in the country (or countries) you're planning to visit?

The answer really depends on where you're going and how long you'll be staying there. Depending on your destination, you may need to get some additional paperwork processed in order to legally operate a vehicle.

Know Before You Go

U.S. driver's licenses are valid in both Canada and Mexico. But many other countries do not recognize U.S. driver's licenses, according to the U.S. State Department. For those countries, you'll typically need an International Driving Permit.

How do you know what you need for the places you'll be visiting? Check the State Department's list of country-specific travel reports; each includes a section on "Travel Safety and Road Conditions" which explains what you need before you get behind the wheel.

The reports also advise you on local laws about drinking and driving, and the use of cell phones while driving. Warnings about unsafe road conditions are also included.

How to Get an International Driving Permit

So how do you go about obtaining an International Driving Permit? You can get them through either the American Automobile Association or the National Automobile Club. These two groups have been authorized by the State Department to issue IDPs.

An IDP is actually a document that you carry around along with your driver's license. It translates your license into 10 other languages. It's recognized in more than 150 countries, according to AAA. (Americans headed to Brazil or Uruguay, however, will need a different document called an Inter American Driving Permit.)

International driver's license laws may vary depending on where you go. So be sure to check up on regulations before you drive abroad.

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