International Driving Permit: will I need a special licence to drive abroad after Brexit?

Published: 06 August 2019

► What is an International Driving Permit?
► Will you need special licence after Brexit?
► Explained: how to apply for an IDP 

Britain is in the throes of an historic divorce from the EU - and disentangling ourselves from four decades of union is having lots of unforeseen side effects. One consequence for motorists is that British drivers may need an International Driving Permit if planning a trip abroad after a no-deal Brexit (a scenario that's becoming more and more likely).

But what is an International Driving Permit (IDP)? Do you really need one? Which countries will require one? And how do you apply for an international driving licence?

Further reading around Brexit

In this handy explainer we look at all of these topical questions. Follow our step-by-step guide and find out if you'll need one and how you can best prepare yourself for any 2019 holidays driving abroad, safe in the knowledge that you can still drive unimpeded across the barriers of bureaucratic red tape.

Will I need an International Driving Permit after Brexit?

It seems likely that you will. As with so much of the political landscape around Britain's departure from the European Union, a lot remains unknown. But the best advice is to apply for an international licence now, as your current photocard UK driving licence will no longer be accepted in EU countries, as it is today, in the event of a no-deal Brexit on 31 October 2019.

Driving abroad: about to get more complicated after Brexit? (Getty)

If a deal is struck between prime minister Boris Johnson's government and Brussels, then it is likely that your British licence will continue to work in any transition period. Think of the IDP as an insurance policy in case the worst happens.

If you're driving further afield in countries outside Europe, the rules are unchanged. So if you have a trip to somewhere exotic such as China, the US or Japan, chances are you'll need an IDP already. Read on to find out how you can apply for one.

Will Brexit make my next car more expensive?

International Driving Permit: get one at your local Post Office

The good news is, it's really quite straightforward to apply for an international licence. You certainly don't need to take another test or wait weeks for one to be sent through to you. Most major Post Offices can do the paperwork for you while you wait - it should take no more than about quarter of an hour. Simply take with you:

  • Your current UK driving licence
  • A passport photo for each licence you require
  • Means of paying for each licence (prices below)
  • Official ID (such as your passport)

It's worth ringing ahead to check if your local Post Office can do the necessary paperwork. Many even quite large Post Offices aren't approved - so you'll have to do some research first. The Royal Mail says that 2500 of its outlets can do the forms, but you can't process the application online. It must be done in person over the counter.

You can only apply for an International Driving Permit UK if you are aged 18 or over, are a resident of the UK or Northern Ireland and hold a full UK driving licence.

Types of international driving licence for driving in Europe

Ok, things get a bit complicated here. There are three different types of International Driving Permit currently offered in the UK, each named after the historic treaty when deals were done by past governments to enable motorists from each country to drive in neighbouring states.

Three types of International Driving Permit: the 1926, 1949 and 1968 licences

You will need the following documents in the event of a no-deal Brexit to drive in these European countries:

  • 1968 International Driving Permit  Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland
  • 1949 International Driving Permit  Cyprus, Iceland, Malta, Spain
  • 1926 International Driving Permit  Liechtenstein

The 1949 permit lasts for 12 months; the 1968 licence lasts for three years or until your regular UK driving licence expires, whichever comes first. There is little difference between the small, handkerchief-sized cardboard licences - other than the date on the front page.

How much does each worldwide driving licence cost?

Thankfully, the IDP documents are quite cheap to apply for. Each permit costs £5.50 - so even if you apply for belt-and-braces all three licences, it'll only cost you £16.50. 

You'll see why when you get one; they are disappointingly low-tech - simple card documents that feel as if they hark back to the 1968 date on the cover...

Will I need an international driving permit in the US and elsewhere in the world?

Driving in America requires a 1949 International Driving Permit. For a full list of which countries require which driving licences, check out the official government website here

Many of the CAR magazine team have already applied for their international permits, as we regularly drive abroad on new car launches. Be sure to sound off in the comments below to share any experiences of you have of overseas driving with an IDP.

By Tim Pollard

Editorial director of CAR's digital publishing arm. Motoring news magnet