Expat Learnings

Things I’ve learned as an American expat in the UKoGBaNI #41

International driving permits (IDPs)

International driving permits are sometimes required.

I briefly touched on the topic of international driving permits back in May 2013. It was our first trip to Greece and upon attempting to rent a scooter, the rental agent asked us if we had international driving permits and we had no clue what an international driving permit was or how to get one. After some bartering, the rental agency finally agreed to rent us a scooter via my United Kingdom driving license and under the condition that I was the only driver.

When we came out of our week-long drunken Greek haze, we spent some time educating ourselves about international driving permits and we learned that an international driving permit is, quite simply, a bullshit paper booklet that requires a $20 application fee + $10 passport photo fee + tax. However, this bullshit booklet (valid for one year from date of issue or whatever date you specify) could make the difference between being able to rent transportation in a foreign country or not. So when traveling to countries where you intend to rent a car or scooter or quad (never recommended!), having a $35 bullshit booklet with handwritten details of your driving license is a pretty solid idea.

Here’s what the front of an international driving permit looks like:

The pages in the booklet are written in various languages and basically describe the various fields and codes on a driving license. The purpose is to provide a police officer with enough translated details to determine who you are and what type of vehicle you are allowed to drive based on the restrictions on your driving license.

Here’s what the photo page looks like:

Above my photo is several lines of very neatly handwritten text, including:

  • First, middle and last name
  • City, state and country of birth
  • Birth date written in the DD-Month-YYYY format (e.g. 31-October-2000)
  • City, state and country of residence

Then, of course, there is the photo. The kind customer service lass directed me to the back of the store to take my photo. She quickly took a photo before I was prepared for a photo to be taken and I said, “You are going to have to take another photo. The United States is the only country I know of that permits eyeglasses in photos.” She said, “Oh, really?” And I said, “Yes. Absolutely. No question.”

I removed my glasses and she snapped a second photo and then I left with a bullshit paper booklet and $35 less in my bank account.

So that’s the 41st lesson I have learned while living as an American expat in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland: International driving permits are a thing and sometimes car rental agencies ask for them, so do yourself a favor and spend the $35 and be damn proud of that bullshit booklet of yours. Bring it to bars to prove your legal drinking age or present it to an immigration officer. You need to make the most of your $35 spend! Have fun with it!

For the next learning in my Expat Learnings mini series, go here. Alternatively, go here to read this mini-series from the beginning.

2 comments on “Things I’ve learned as an American expat in the UKoGBaNI #41

  1. I got an International license in 1999 when we were in Ireland from AAA. I know how to drive a stick but since it was reversed to the passenger side I immediately traded it for an automatic Volvo. Didn’t want to think backwards.

    • Yes, it is a bit tricky to shift using using your left hand and from the other side of the car but I never found driving a manual on the left any more difficult than driving an automatic on the left. In the UK, you have to pass your driving test in a manual, otherwise your driving license will be restricted to automatic cars only. I always thought that was strange because a person who does not know how to drive a manual car would not rent or drive a manual car, so why the restriction?

      Similar to how I find it strange that a prescription is required for contact lenses. Why would a person purchase prescription lenses if they didn’t improve their vision? Why do I need a prescription for contact lenses? Just let me buy them from crying out loud!

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