If you're planning a European vacation, you'll no doubt want to know if you can legally drive a car during your stay using an American driver's license. Luckily, many European countries recognize U.S.-issued driver's licenses and others simply require that you also carry an International Driving Permit. Here are some helpful tips to consider when driving in Europe.
The IDP isn't a driver's license. Instead, it's a translation of your valid U.S.-issued driver's license that is recognized in more than 150 countries around the world. This small paper booklet looks like a passport and includes your photograph, plus information from your license translated into 10 different languages. Use the IDP in conjunction with your U.S. driver's license. If a police officer pulls you over, show him or her both your IDP and your license.
Many European countries—like the United Kingdom and Ireland—recognize U.S. driver's licenses. However, plenty of countries—like Italy, Germany, and Spain—require that you also apply for and carry an International Driving Permit (IDP). Contact the foreign embassy or consulate of the country in question to determine if you can use your U.S. driver's license or if you'll need an IDP as well. The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs maintains detailed information about countries around the world, including links to their embassies and consulates.
The good news is that it's very easy to get an International Driving Permit, as both the American Automobile Association (AAA) and National Auto Club administer the program. You'll fill out an application (AAA or NAC) that asks for your name, address, U.S. driver's license number, place of birth, the date the permit should go into effect, and your foreign address. You'll also need to supply two passport-style photographs. You must be 18 or older to apply for the IDP, and the cost for the permit is $15. Don't trust any other online sources; AAA and NAC are the official IDP processors. Be sure you do this in the same country where your driver's license was issued.
While many countries in Europe don't require the IDP, car rental agencies doing business in that country might. Always clarify whether or not you need the IDP with your car rental company. Also, proof of insurance is required in many countries. Check the requirements at the country's embassy or consulate and double-check with your car rental agency.
While your U.S. auto insurance generally doesn't cover you overseas, you may carry a credit card that offers car rental insurance coverage, or consider buying additional liability and collision damage waiver (CDW) coverage from the car rental agency or other travel insurance company like Travel Guard or Allianz. American Express Premium Car Rental Protection is another option. The company offers coverage for theft and damage for $24.95 per car rental. The coverage is worldwide with the exception of cars rented in Australia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, and New Zealand.
Andrea M. Rotondo is a writer based in New York City. She covers cruise and luxury travel trends for Fodors.com, Condé Nast Traveler, Cruise Critic, and other websites and magazines. She also teaches travelers how to leverage their frequent flyer miles at FrequentFlyerToolkits.com.
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This tells you how to rent a car, and what document you need, not how to drive in Europe. You should learn the road signs of the countries you are visiting, including what any wording under a sign means, plus things like the rules of priority. You should also know what speed limits are on what road - not all roads have the speed posted as a sign- entering a town you see the town's name - that is a speed limit sign too! You can get fined for speeding without being stopped by a police officer. Speed radar traps are everywhere, and fines (plus handling fees for the hire company) can arrive sometime after you get home as a nasty, expensive souvenir.