My husband and I are taking an extended vacation this summer and we’re planning to drive through South America. We’ve heard from friends that we should have no problem using our Canadian licences but others have said we should get some kind of international driver’s licence. What is this and how do you qualify for one? – Esther in Bonnyville, Alta.
An International Driving Permit (IDP) is proof that you possess a valid driver’s licence in your country of residence, and it allows licensed motorists to drive in more than 150 countries without the need to complete further applications or testing.
The Canadian Automobile Association is the only organization authorized to issue the IDP in this country. All you need is two passport photos, a photocopy of the front and back of your current Canadian driver’s licence and $25. The application can be mailed, or the document can usually be processed while you wait at any CAA office.
An IDP is valid for one year from the date of issue. It’s accepted in countries that have signed the 1949 United Nations Convention on Road Traffic, and is also recognized in many that have not. “The only country that wouldn’t work to that one [1949 UN Convention] would be Brazil, but the rest of the Latin American countries will all recognize our IDP,” says David Steventon of the CAA National Office.
“One fundamental thing to understand is that it’s not a replacement for your driver’s licence, but a supplement to it. When you present your IDP, you have to present your Canadian driving licence, too. Fundamentally it’s a translation of your Canadia n licence, and basically presents a description of the vehicles you’re licensed to drive in several languages,” says Steventon, who estimates just over 100,000 IDPs are issued in Canada each year.
To find out about driving in specific countries and whether an IDP is mandatory for motoring tourists, visit Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada online (voyage.gc.ca). You can also check there for foreign travel warnings, recommendations and road conditions.
“Some countries are easing off a little with regard to requirements, but we still advise people that if they’re going anywhere abroad and planning to rent a car to make sure they’ve got an IDP. Many of the car rental companies do ask for the IDP from foreigners before they’ll rent you a car, so take that into consideration. For peace of mind, it only costs $25 for a one-year permit, and number two it gives you a second piece of ID so that instead of surrendering your passport you can show your IDP,” says Steventon.
An IDP issued by the CAA is only valid outside North America, so note that you can’t rely on it here at home if your provincial licence is lost or stolen.
An IDP is recommended or required in all South American countries, except Brazil. As you may know, road conditions and accident rates down south are generally far worse than those in Canada or the United States, so you’ll want to make sure to do some careful research and planning before leaving home.