Panic set in amongst international visitors to Florida in mid February 2013 when it was discovered that the Florida legislature had passed a bill which required all overseas visitors to Florida (including Canadians) to hold an International Driving Permit (IDP) as well as their normal driving licence issued in their home country.
The International Driving Permit provides an English translation of foreign driving licences but it appeared that the Florida lawmakers overlooked the fact that a large number of Florida’s visitors already have a licence written in English!
The bill had come into effect on January 1, 2013 as part of a number of highway related laws when amendments were made to section 322.04 of the Florida Statutes. Unfortunately it had not been publicised and Florida’s tourism industry was taken completely by surprise.
The law stated that an overseas driver who was stopped by the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) without an International Driving Permit could be subjected to imprisonment or a citation and a mandatory court appearance. No other US state has made the International Driving Permit a mandatory requirement.
After appeals from foreign agencies, in particular Canadian, the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) attempted a damage limitation by issuing a statement saying that the bill might actually contravene the Geneva Convention on Road Traffic (1949) to which the USA is a signatory.
For the time being, they stated that the requirement to hold an International Driving Permit would not be enforced by the FHP, whilst the bill was reviewed. However, until such time as the bill was amended or repealed, an International Driving Permit was still required by law.
Many automobile agencies recommended that drivers still apply for an International Driving Permit as the law had not yet been repealed and it was unclear as to whether car rental insurers would insist on them, as technically without an International Driving Permit, your normal driving licence was not deemed valid. It was also not made clear on the stance of other Florida local police forces to the revised statute.
It was uncertain as to how they could amend the law as either drivers require an International Driving Permit or they do not. The only other option might have been to restrict the requirement to drivers from certain countries, i.e. non-English speaking.
In the end, the legislature reconvened in March and the law was repealed in its entirety.
Whilst an International Driving Permit is no longer mandatory, it is generally recommended for the United States of America. However, Visit Florida, the official tourism board say you do not need one but you should always carry photo ID whilst driving.
If you do decide to apply for an International Driving Permit note that there are several different versions and for the United States you need IDP 1949.
For UK drivers, an International Driving Permit can be obtained in person from a limited number of main Post Offices (around 2,500) for £5.50. It used to be possible to purchase them by post from the Automobile Association or the RAC but in February 2019 the UK Government stopped this facility.
The International Driving Permit runs for one year from the date of issue and can be purchased up to three months in advance of the date of travel.
Before applying, check you have all the required documentation, but essentially to obtain an International Driving Permit in person you will need a signed passport-sized photo, your driving licence (including paper counterpart) and your passport.
You can get more information on the International Driving Permit and a world map showing in which countries it is mandatory at vehicle-rent.com. (opens in new window).