The International Driving Permit (IDP) is a translation of your driving license and is needed, with your valid driving license, when driving in some European countries. This is a hotly debated issue on travel message boards because it is not always clear whether or not one is needed.
By Italian law, you need an IDP (and your valid driving license) as a foreigner driving in Italy.
You do NOT need an IDP for driving in Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) – all you need is your valid US or Canadian driving license. If you are not from the US or Canada, check this Directgov Motoring page: Driving in GB on a foreign licence (web page gone) for more information.
The Automobile Association in the US (AAA), who issue the IDPs, imply that you need one for Great Britain. The VisitBritain site is a bit vague saying you need a valid, full national license. I was not sure what that meant, so I emailed the DVLA – Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency for Great Britain – and they said that you do not need an IDP. From the DVLA: “I can confirm that as a visitor you will be covered to drive for 1 year from date of entry in to the country on a valid US licence.”
The IDP looks like it came out of the 1950s (and it did) with its plain cover, staples and ink stamps. It is a remnant of the way we used to travel before cheap international flights, cell phones and online booking. Back in the days when flying to Europe was a very big deal, when calling home while on a trip meant finding the phone center and lining up to use a phone box, when you did not book ahead but instead went to the tourist office when you arrived – the way we traveled only ten years ago. I like my IDP because it looks so old fashioned and reminds me of those old trips, but it hardly seems relevant these days. You have your state-issued driving license and your passport – seems like enough identification to me.
Going to England? Just say “no” to the AAA and their IDP!
If you are planing to rent a car, we recommend our affiliate AutoEurope. I wrote a new page for Cotswolder with tips for renting a car in England – Planning Your Trip – Car Rental.