International Driver's License Scams
An international driving permit (IDP) translates your government-issued driver’s license into 10 languages. Although your U.S. driver’s license lets you drive in many foreign countries, the translations in the IDP are intended to minimize language barriers when you drive in countries where English is not widely spoken or understood. That’s all an IDP does. It’s not a substitute for a valid, government-issued license. It can’t be used in place of a suspended or revoked license or as a government-issued identification card. And it won’t protect you from traffic tickets or “points.”
- International Driving Permits 101
- How an IDP Differs from a State-issued Driver’s License
- Getting an IDP
- IDP Scams
International Driving Permits 101
An international driving permit (IDP) – sometimes incorrectly called an international drivers license (IDL) — translates your state-issued driver’s license so you can show it to officials in foreign countries to help them interpret your driver’s license. An official IDP is a gray, multi-page booklet with “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” printed at the top of the cover, and the seal of either the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA) in the middle of the cover. An IDP is not proof of identity.
AAA and AATA are the only organizations authorized by the U.S. Department of State to issue IDPs to U.S. residents. Both AAA and AATA charge less than $20 for an IDP. If you’re asked to pay more, consider it a rip-off.
How an IDP Differs from a State-issued Driver’s License
A driver’s license lets you drive a motor vehicle legally. It is issued by the state where you live, but allows you to drive anywhere in the U.S. and Canada. A driver’s license also serves as valid proof of your identity to law enforcement officials. States require that you pass a series of exams to get your first license: a written exam on the “rules of the road,” an eye test, and a road test. States also require that you provide proof of your identity, like a passport, a valid driver’s license from another state, or a birth certificate. The fee for a license varies by state.
To learn about driver’s license requirements in your state, contact your local department of motor vehicles. Check the Blue Pages of your telephone directory for the number, or visit the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators.
Getting an IDP
You must be at least 18 years old and have a valid driver’s license issued by a U.S. state or territory to buy an official IDP. For more information, contact your local AAA office or the AATA.
Individuals or companies not authorized to issue IDPs sell fakes on websites, through unsolicited email, and in person for prices ranging from $60 to $400.
If you buy a fake IDP, not only will you be paying for a worthless document, but you also could face legal problems or travel delays if you’re detained for using it to drive in a foreign country.
Many local operations target non-native speakers through ads in foreign-language newspapers that direct people to websites or local storefronts. The marketers falsely claim that their documents:
- authorize people to drive legally in the U.S., even if they don’t have state-issued licenses or if their state-issued licenses have been suspended or revoked
- can be used as photo ID in the U.S.
In fact, if you’re a U.S. resident, and you’re caught using an IDP in place of a state-issued driver’s license, the consequences can be severe. You could be charged with driving without a license — or driving with a suspended or revoked license. If you can’t produce proof of your identity (for example, a valid driver’s license, a state-issued identification card, valid immigration documents, or a passport), the officer can assume that you’re trying to withhold your identity and arrest you.
If you've been scammed by a seller of bogus IDPs, report it to the Federal Trade Commission.