How to Obtain a European Driver's License

by Cate Rushton; Updated September 26, 2017
Male driver hands on steering wheel of a car

Many European countries allow U.S. citizens to drive as long as they have a valid driver's license and a U.S. passport. However, some countries require an international driving permit. Before you travel, check with the embassy of the country you’ll visit. In addition to specific country laws, rental car companies may also require an IDP.

International Driving Permits

The U.S. Department of State authorizes two private companies to issue IDPs: AAA and National Auto Club. The permit process is simple and the cost is low; less than $20. You’re not required to purchase a membership with either company. Be aware that other companies may sell fake permits online at much higher prices.

To be eligible for an international driving permit, you must be at least 18 years old and have a valid, U.S. state-issued driver's license. Allow plenty of time to get your permit, especially if applying by mail. However, permits can’t be issued more than six months in advance. Your permit is valid for one year from the date it's issued.

Among the European countries that recognize the IDP are:

  • Austria
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Spain
  • Switzerland
  • Sweden
  • United Kingdom

Check National Auto Club's complete list of countries before traveling.

Permits at American Automobile Association

You can download, print and complete AAA’s application online or get one at the company’s local branch. You don’t need an appointment to get an IDP; just bring your driver's license and two passport photos. If you don’t have passport photos, you can have them taken at the AAA branch for an additional fee.

If you don’t want to visit a AAA branch, you may apply for your permit by mail. Enclose:

  • A copy of your valid U.S. driver's license, front and back
  • Two passport photos, each with your signature on the back
  • Completed IDP application
  • $15 fee
  • Additional fees if you’d like expedited mail service.

Mail the packet to your local branch. You may contact them by phone in advance for information regarding response time and expedited mailing fees.

Permits at National Auto Club

To get your IDP from the National Auto club, you must apply by mail. Download, complete and sign the online application. Mail it, along with a copy of the front and back of your valid, U.S. driver's license, two signed passport photos and payment by check, money order or credit card to:

National Automobile Club Attn: IDP 373 Vintage Park Drive, Suite E Foster City, CA 94404

Costs depend on the type of mail service you request; find current rates on the application. Allow 4 to 9 business days to receive your IDP

Permits Once You're in Europe

If you're already in Europe and need an IDP, you may get one from either AAA or National Auto Club.

To get your IDP from AAA while overseas, mail your application, a photocopy of your U.S. driver's license, two passport photos and your payment to:

AAA/IDP 1000 AAA Drive Heathrow, FL 32746 Attn: Mail Stop #28

AAA states that you should allow 4 to 6 weeks to receive you IDP in Europe; enclose extra funds for expedited mail service if you need it sooner..

To get your IDP from National Auto Club while overseas, mail your application, photocopy of your U.S. Driver License, two passport photos and your payment to the same address as requests from the U.S.:

National Automobile Club Attn: IDP 373 Vintage Park Drive, Suite E Foster City, CA 94404

National Automobile Club will send your IDP back using International DHL/Express Carrier; allow 4 to 8 business days for it to arrive.

About the Author

Cate Rushton has been a freelance writer since 1999, specializing in wildlife and outdoor activities. Her published works also cover relationships, gardening and travel on various websites. Rushton holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Utah.

Photo Credits

  • Voyagerix/iStock/Getty Images
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