People like to travel. They want to explore other countries, have new experiences and meet new people. In 2021, 22.1 million international visitors traveled to the U.S. – not to mention the outbound travel from the U.S. to nearby countries.
This travel raises an interesting question: Does the driver’s license from your home country give you the right to drive in another country? The short answer is yes – if you have an International Driver’s Permit (IDP) or a Reciprocal Driver’s License agreement between the countries.
- Which foreign countries have reciprocal driver’s license agreements with the U.S.?
- What is foreign driver’s license reciprocity?
- What are the noncommercial motor vehicle operation laws in the U.S.?
- What is an International Driving Permit?
- How does car insurance work with an international license?
- Final thoughts: Reciprocal driving agreements
- Resources & Methodology
Which foreign countries have reciprocal driver’s license agreements with the U.S.?
If you plan on an extended stay or a move to a U.S. state from another country, check to see if a reciprocal driver’s license agreement exists between that state and your country of origin. A reciprocal driver’s license agreement allows you to apply for a driver’s license in the state you want to stay or live in without going through the typical steps to get a license. The agreement provides a way to circumvent the necessary testing steps because you already have a license from your home country.
The caveat is that these agreements vary from state to state, so you’ll want to know in advance whether a reciprocal agreement exists between the U.S. state and your country of origin.
If it doesn’t, you may need to apply for a new license following the standard licensing procedure in that state. For example, the Department of Motor Vehicles in Virginia has reciprocal agreements established with five countries, including Canada.
People coming into the U.S. from one of these five countries may be able to skip the knowledge or road skills test when they apply for a Virginia driver’s license because of the reciprocal driver’s license agreement in place with these five countries. Of course, if you stay long enough, you may be required to get a U.S. driver’s license, but skipping some steps puts you closer to that goal.
What is foreign driver’s license reciprocity?
This foreign driver’s license reciprocity system has been in place since the mid-1940s and benefits U.S. citizens visiting other countries and foreign citizens visiting the U.S. As such, it sets the conditions or parameters for driving in countries where an agreement exists.
Let’s take Germany as an example. Germany has a reciprocal license agreement with 27 U.S. states and Puerto Rico, meaning residents from these states or this territory can apply for a German driver’s license without taking any driver’s tests. Generally, this is because the driver’s license process from these states is similar to the process for getting a license in Germany.
The real question: What happens if you are from one of the U.S. states that does not have a foreign driver’s license reciprocity agreement with Germany? Getting a driver’s license is a longer process and requires more effort than if you’re from a state with a reciprocal agreement.
The idea of reciprocity emerged as motor vehicles became increasingly common in the U.S. in the early 20th century, and guidelines for driving in other countries were established.
What is the 1943 Inter-American Convention on the Regulation of Inter-American Traffic agreement?
The 1943 Inter-American Convention on the Regulation of Inter-American Traffic and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Agreement and Countries established the framework for driver’s license reciprocity.
The 1943 Inter-American Convention on the Regulation of Inter-American Traffic Agreement gave each U.S. state the right to jurisdiction over its highways. Still, it required each state to follow the rules for international use of its highways as established in the agreement.
Here are the key takeaways from the 1943 agreement:
- The motor vehicle operator [from another country] … is subject to the traffic laws and regulations in that state.
- A foreign driver must possess an approved driver’s license from their native country.
- A foreign driver must have a registration certificate from their home country and must post a black-and-white sticker on their vehicle indicating that country.
While the 17-page agreement briefly covers other topics, it establishes the framework for countries to use when creating reciprocal agreements. That said, it is up to drivers in foreign countries to determine whether or not they want to seek a driver’s license in that country.
In some cases, drivers might have to do this when they stay for an extended time, but all drivers must have a driver’s license from their own country and follow the driving laws of the country they’re visiting.
NATO’s reciprocal driver’s license agreement
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Agreement and Countries, signed in 1941 and updated in 2009, says that the signatories will accept driver’s licenses from other countries as valid without requiring a test or a fee for foreign drivers.
It also allows countries to issue their own driver’s permits or licenses to individuals with valid licenses from another country. If you are interested in the details about driver’s licenses in the NATO agreement, check out Article 4.
In short, these two agreements set up the following parameters that foreign drivers in the U.S. should be aware of:
- Reciprocal privileges can be in place for up to a year from the date of U.S. entry.
- Privileges apply to drivers of private vehicles between the ages of 18 and 75.
- Vehicles must have a registration certificate from the country of origin displayed on the back of the car.
- Each vehicle must also have a black-and-white sticker showing its country of origin.
- Finally, the driver must have a valid or international license translated into English.
What are the noncommercial motor vehicle operation laws in the U.S.?
The rules change if you are a truck driver transporting goods between the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Drivers of large trucks must have a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), which is required to drive trucks of specific sizes and weights across the U.S. or on foreign highways. A CDL indicates that you’ve had the training and testing necessary to qualify to drive a large truck.
The Code of Federal Regulations states that truck drivers with a commercial license from Mexico or Canada must have their commercial license honored in the U.S. In short, CDL licenses in North America are a different situation.
What is an International Driving Permit?
An international driver’s permit (IDP) is ideal for a person who is making a short trip to another country. The booklet translates a driver’s license into 10-12 different languages. It is not the same as obtaining a driver’s license from that country, but it does provide basic information about you, including your name and address, that you may need to show when traveling.
You don’t want to rely solely on an IDP when traveling to another country. You’ll also want to have your original driver’s license with you. IDPs are valid forms of identification in 150 different countries, from Aruba to Canada, Belize to the United Kingdom, and Mali to Spain, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA).
Here are some key points to know about an IDP:
- You should obtain an IDP before you leave your own country, not after you’ve arrived in the country you are traveling in.
- You need a valid driver’s license, passport photos, and a completed application for an IDP.
- There is usually a fee associated with an IDP.
- Be sure to carry your driver’s license from your country of origin.
If you plan to leave the U.S. and travel elsewhere, good starting points for obtaining an IDP include AAA or the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA).
How does car insurance work with an international license?
Here’s how car insurance works while driving with an international license: If you rent a car in another country, the auto insurance you obtain for your rental car may suffice for your insurance needs. But first, check with your credit card company to see if it offers rental car insurance – if you use that insurance, you must book the entire rental on that particular credit card.
If you plan on staying longer or driving your car, consider non-resident auto insurance. Remember, you’re only a visitor for 12 months or less – and you’ll need car insurance in at least the state minimum required amounts if you’re driving in the U.S.
Final thoughts: Reciprocal driving agreements
Understanding how reciprocal driver’s license agreements work is essential if you plan to drive in a foreign country. Ensure your license is up-to-date, you possess the required insurance, you follow the rules of the road, and you understand the responsibilities of drivers in the country you’re visiting.
Resources & Methodology
- American Automobile Association. AAA IDP International Driving Permit. Accessed May 2023.
- CDLjobs.com. “Truck Drivers in the United States: Employment and Haul Statistics.” Accessed
- May 2023.
- Code of Federal Regulations. “Commercial Driver’s License.” Accessed May 2023.
- Michigan State University. “International Driver’s Licenses and Reciprocity.” Accessed May 2023.
- North Atlantic Treaty Organization. “NATO – Official text: Agreement.” Accessed May 2023.
- Organization of American States. “Convention on the Regulation of Inter-American Automotive Traffic.” Accessed May 2023.
- Statista. “Number of Inbound International Visitors to the U.S. from 2011 to 2021.” Accessed May 2023.
- Texas Department of Public Safety. “Driving Privilege Reciprocity.” Accessed May 2023.
- Texas Department of Public Safety. “How Do I Apply for a Commercial Driver’s License?” Accessed May 2023.
- The German Way & More. “German Driver’s License Reciprocity.” Accessed May 2023.
- TripSavvy.com. “Do You Need to Have an International Driver’s Permit for Europe?” Accessed May 2023.
- Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. “Exchanging a Foreign Driver’s License.” Accessed May 2023.
Why you can trust CarInsurance.com
The CarInsurance.com editorial team bases its reporting on data it commissioned Quadrant Information Services to gather on average auto insurance rates for more than 34K ZIP codes across the United States. Typically, averages are based on rates for a single, 40-year-old male with no violations who commutes 12 miles to work each day and has a full-coverage policy with limits of 100/300/100 and a $500 deductible for collision and comprehensive coverage.