Can you drive in the U.S with a foreign license?

drive in the us with a foreign license


Planning on going on an American road trip? Thanks to the influence of films and series, the American road trip has become an almost mythical experience that needs to be lived. Both the size of the United States and the number of things to see make taking an American road trip an excellent plan.

But what do you need to drive a car in America? Do you need an international driver’s license to drive in the U.S.?

What Does the Law Say About Driving in the United States?

Under current American law, all you need is your driving license issued by your country if you will be in the U.S. for a maximum of 3 months. It will be considered valid in 49 states, except for Georgia, which requires a US driver’s license for foreigners, known as an International Driving Permit (IDP). In every other state, your foreign driver’s license, together with your biometric passport for the U.S., are sufficient documentation for you to rent a car or in case you are stopped by the police.

This means that it is possible to drive in America with your Australian, U.K., Irish, or New Zealand license.

But What About in Practice?

Recently, more and more car rental agencies have changed their policies and a greater number require an International Driving Permit to rent a car. It might not be a bad idea to consider getting one in your country before you arrive in America, in the event a car rental agency asks for an IDP.

Moreover, because more and more tourists that visit the U.S. carry an international permit, police have become used to seeing the IDP. As a result, driving in America with just your foreign driver’s license (as opposed to an IDP) can be problematic. Even though driving solely with your foreign license is technically legal, the authorities might be unable to read it if it is written in a language other than English, which can cause delays or misunderstandings.  

It’s thus recommendable that you obtain an international driving permit before you arrive in the U.S. and so that you can rent a car without any difficulties.

What Else is Necessary to Drive in the United States?

Generally, you must be at least 21 years of age or older to be able to use your foreign driving license in the United States. You should also be aware that many rental agencies, especially the major ones, ask that customers be at least 25 years old to rent a car.

Moreover, no matter your nationality, if you wish to drive in the United States you should be absolutely certain that your foreign driving license will be valid during your entire time in the country.

Obtaining an International Driving Permit

Fortunately, obtaining an International Driving Permit isn’t very complicated. Depending on your country, you will either go to a police station, post office or the government department/ministry that deals with motor vehicles. You will then have to fill out an application form and turn in the requisite supplementary documents (photograph, photocopies of your license, etc.).

Please check your local requirements and keep in mind that this is often possible to request an IDP online as well.            

 Preparing for Your Trip to the U.S

Just like with any trip abroad, it’s helpful to take a moment and think about the potential administrative requirements you will be required to fulfill prior to traveling. Visiting the United States is no different. Even though your country may be part of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), you will still need to fill out an online ESTA application. The ESTA for citizens of the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand are then entitled to stays of 90 days or less. This travel authorization is valid for 2 years.

With all your paperwork in order, you’re ready to start exploring those American highways! Whether it’s the mythical Route 66 or California’s Pacific Coast Highway, you can focus on making the best memories and living adventures without worrying about driving with a foreign license.

Legal Disclaimer: EstaVisa is owned and operated by GCL Internet Services, LLC, United States of America, a private company which specializes in the Electronic System for Travel Authorization. We are not affiliated with the U.S.A. Government.