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Do you need an International Drivers License in the United States 2023?

If your license is in English, no. Probably not. That's really what it all comes down to when asking yourself whether you should get an international drivers license. So what's the point of it anyway? And why do some people sign up for one when they're traveling to foreign countries?

I'm going to give you a quick rundown about why most people should not get an international drivers license and why it really is quite a useless document (for most people reading this, especially when moving to the United States).

What is an international drivers license?

There's not one true definition of what an international drivers license is, and that's where the problem starts. If you Google it you basically get a list of companies that offer “IDP's” (International Driving Permits) but no real unison about what they're all about.

From Australia's AAA:

An International Driving Permit (IDP) is a translation of your current Australian Driver’s Licence in nine languages. Your IDP is proof that you hold a current domestic driver’s licence

Some of the features they suggest are:

  • It could be illegal to drive without an IDP
  • Most car rentals require an IDP before you can collect a car
  • It's recognized by 98% of all countries in the world
  • Insurers may not
  • Helps during traffic stops
  • It can be used as a form of ID

Although I would dispute that some of these aren't true.

So why do you not need an IDP in the USA?

Because most states in the US (and many countries around the world) will accept your foreign license as long as it's in English. If you hand a trooper or policeman an international driver license, then they'll probably hand it right back and ask for your foreign license. If you hand a bouncer one, you will likely get an even less friendly response. It doesn't actually count as a formal ID in and of itself.

Be sure to check at the State's DMV you are driving in, but for the group of larger states that I checked, they certainly weren't necessary and couldn't be used.

When do I need an IDP?

The only real reason to get an IDP is if you're from a country that has your license in a language other than English. The logic is pretty simple really: If the person at the border can't read your license, then they're going to have a hard time assessing whether it's legitimate or not. So if they can't do that, then get yourself an IDP

Also check with your insurance company whether you are covered for driving in the country you're visiting, and whether you need an IDP because many insurance policies will require one and won't pay out unless you have on on you in case of an accident or event.

That all being said, the fee to get one is not significant, and therefore if it will save the hassle (just in case you DO need one at some point) it can't hurt to have one in your pocket. If you're not going to check off every state you're visiting, then this might be the best path.

When do you need an actual driver's license in the USA?

The most important take-home from this article is this: If you have “moved” to the USA to live and work, every state requires you to get a local license within a certain amount of time.

Even if you hold a valid foreign license (IDP or not), that will become invalid after a period of around 30-90 days of living in the country, and any insurance policy you hold will not pay out, and police will react as if you are driving without a license.

Yes, that counts if you're on a temporary visa like the E3 visa as well.

An important note if you do get an IDP

The most important thing to remember if you have an International Drivers Permit is that you must carry both your foreign license and your IDP at the same time. You cannot just take the IDP and use it in place of a license (for the above reason: there's not one unifying body that holds this information). So carry both if you want to be super duper sure you'll be fine, but otherwise, don't worry about it.

Be sure to also only get ono from Motoring Clubs and Government Agencies as these are the only ones that are valid within the UN convention.

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Josh Pugh

A business founding, digital marketing focused, charity driving, community builder from South Australia, living in New York City. After moving in 2017, Josh realized that there was an opportunity to curate and help the community of expats who moved to the United States – and launched America Josh.View Author posts

5 thoughts on “Do you need an International Drivers License in the United States 2023?”

  1. Regarding New Jersey, seems there were some licensing changes since mid 2021. The below release by the MVC uses definitive language on the IDP. NB the final paragraph “as long as”:
    https://www.state.nj.us/mvc/pdf/license/FAQ_firsttime.pdf

    However, the driver manual on the MVC site (revised Jun 2022), uses less definitive language, as it suggests a foreign license in English may be enough? NB page 22
    https://www.state.nj.us/mvc/pdf/license/drivermanual.pdf

    Given there are 50 States here, all with different rules and implementations, and the IDP costs about $20 back in Australia before you leave, why would you not just get it, just in case it’s required by someone (eg a car hire, insurance company, or the cop asks for it? another form of ID?). You never know!

    1. Great note, Nathan, and thanks so much for the links! I don’t disagree, and will change the article to more accurately reflect what I think. My worry is always that people rely on them too much as a form of license, and that it gives them extra powers, hence my leaning to not rely on them as much as possible.

  2. I got one when I moved to Boston in 2000, totally useless. I was able to hire a car fine without it, and I recall being told trying to enter a club I had to show my passport as proof of age since I didn’t have a US license. It wasn’t the case for all though, my Aussie license generally worked alone(as did being late 20’s and not looking young)

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