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What documents you need for driving in the USA

Wednesday, May 25, 2011 by

An example of a national driving license, this one issued in Austria, EU

National driving license

Do you wish to rent, borrow or even buy a car while in the USA? It’s a great idea! There is much less public transport in the USA than many young worktravelers imagine. And without a car, you are a prisoner of the place where you work.

Sure, it’s a very nice prison, but after a few weeks you will be frustrated by not being able to see anything else than your workplace and your accommodation, not being able to go to shop or see a movie and generally by not being able to move around at will.

We will save buying and renting cars in the USA for our next post, but let’s have a look at documents that you need for driving in the USA. Why? Because you need to get them now, before you go!

You will need three documents:

  1. Your passport
  2. Your driving licence from your home country
  3. International Driving License

Have a look at the examples (click on images to see larger versions):

An example of a passport front cover, issued by Gibraltar


An example of a national driving license, issued by Romania

National driving license

An example of international driving license

International driving license

What many people don’t realize is that the international driving license, despite it’s name, is actually not a driving license at all! What it is, is an internationally recognized official translation of your national driving license. This is why you always have to have your driving license with you too when driving abroad.

When stopped by a policeman, present your passport, your national driving license and your international driving license. Also, be prepared to explain to the policeman what you are showing to him. Many policemen will see your national driving license and the international driving license for the first time, and may not be sure what they are.

The international driving license, being just a translation of your national one, is issued without any test. It is also fairly inexpensive. In some countries, it can be obtained from the same authority as your national driving license, in other countries it may be the national automobile club that issues them. If you don’t know where are international driving licenses issued in your country, try asking at one of these locations.

As small catch to watch for: Not all countries are signatories of the same international treaties when it comes to international driving licenses. So when getting yours, make extra sure that you need it for your intended destination country, for example for the United States.


4 Responses to “What documents you need for driving in the USA”
  1. colin emery says:

    Are ‘new’ GB driving licences required in the USA? (Credit card type)

    Are international driving licences required or just advised?

    Thanks in anticipation

    • admin says:

      Hi Colin, a question this specific is the best directed at the nearest US Embassy or whoever issues the international licenses in the UK. The general rule is that whatever you use in your country + the international driving licence as explained in the post. I can imagine though, that British driving licences could possibly be used as they are, because they do not need any translation, but really, ask the embassy, or the international licences issuer. Whatever you end up using though, don’t expect the US police to know what it is. What you’ll give the policeman will probably be brushed off as “that’s not a driving licence” and it will take some communication with his superiors to establish that something like international driving licence actually exists and that you are in fact presenting him a valid document.

  2. lizzie says:

    I have recently got married and am in the middle of changing my name but I have already booked my flights to the USA in my maiden name. I am wondering if my drivers and international drivers licence need to be in the same name as my passport

    • admin says:

      Hello Lizzie, I suggest asking this question at your nearest U.S. Embassy. Alternatively, ask an immigration attorney.

Questions? Ask below :-) In English, please.

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