An International Driver What?

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A few weeks back I received a comment to one of my article’s here with a lot of ideas about driver’s licenses in the Philippines that were … well .. wrong, for lack of a better term.

Let’s review a few common thoughts and misconceptions here, especially about the so-called International Driver’s License and where and when you might use it.

Visa Assistance

Be sure to ask any follow-up questions you may have, because no question is “dumb” unless you fail to ask it and get yourself in trouble because you relied on “half-baked” information instead of the facts.

If you want the short version of this article, here it is:

  1. There is no such thing as an International Driver’s License.  There is an International Driver’s permit, which allows driving in certain countries who have signed an international treaty authorizing the use of the IDP.
  2. The IDP never confers the right to drive, anywhere, UNLESS it is accompanied by a valid state-issued license from the country which issues the IDP.
  3. You do not need an IDP in the Philippines, ever (unless your home-country license is not in English, or is not colored on the map) (example China).

That’s Basically All You Need To Know — Not Needed

International Driver's License

International Driver’s License

First of all, here’s an authoritative source of information on the International Driver’s Permit, including a handy map that shows you what countries  recognize it.  The dark blue shaded countries are parties to the string of treaties which authorize the IDP, while the lighter blue shaded countries will recognize the IDP for use on their roads.

International Driver’s Permit Facts

But I Heard That ….

Now for those who you who want to know more, or who want to tell me what “Joe” down at the VFW told them, here is some factual information.  These are some of the comments and questions I’ve received about the IDP over the years and some thoughts, suggestions and clarification.

One gentleman wrote in to say he had bought and paid for an “International Driver’s License” in the States because he wanted to make sure he would have no legal issues with driving here in the Philippines.

No Legal Issues in the Philippines

According to the US AAA (the main agency authorized by treaty to sell such permits)  what you received was an International Driver Permit.  These are valid (with valid home country license), in the Philippines but are never necessary so long as your home country license is valid, and in English.

Does Not Extend Your Time To Drive on a Foreign License in the Philippines

Another comment recently said, “I have an IDP because my Stateside license is only good for 90 days in the Philippines (yes, that is completely correct), so I got the IDP to use for driving in the Philippines AFTER my 90 days is up”. (oops, no, sorry, that’s wrong)

As clearly stated on the IDP itself, it is ONLY valid when your home country license is valid.  Ninety days after you last arrival in the Philippines your home country license is no longer valid for driving in the Philippines … thus your IDP is also no longer valid for driving in the Philippines.  It’s basically a useless piece of paper.

Getting a Philippines License Requires Permanent residency

This is not so.  The LTO will issue a Philippine license to any foreign license holder who is legally in the Philippines, even on a tourist visa.  It’s called a “License conversion” here, but there is no surrendering of you home country license or alteration to it in any way.  The LTO does not check your US driving record, so you don’t have to worry about those last three speeding tickets ;-).

Getting a Philippine LTO (Land Transportation Office) license is quick and (relatively) painless and it is good for driving in the Philippines for three full years from date of issue .. no US license or IDP required.

You Don’t Need a US License if you Have a Philippine License

Another reason a lot of people give for wanting an IDP is they might be overseas when their US drivers license expires, and they want an IDP to use in place of their US license when they return to the USA.

Well, as you already know, if you’ve been reading along, that won’t work.  The IDP is useless without a valid US license to accompany it, AND the IP is always useless in the country in which it was issued.

The solution for someone in the Philippines would be simply to get a Philippine drivers license (before the US license expires) and use that Philippine license for 90 days after they return to the USA.  Just as the Philippines will issue a Philippine license based on your valid US license, any US state, by treaty, is required to issue you a new state license based upon your valid Philippine license.  International reciprocity I believe it is called.

Can You Rent a Car in The Philippines on You US License Alone (no IDP).

The answer, based on my personal experience is yes indeed.  In fact the first time I ever tried to rent a car in the Philippines was on my first trip here, when I had foolishly bought an IDP from the AAA in the US before I came.  When I showed my IDP to the rental agent she developed that “deer in the headlights” look and called her boss over.  The supervisor said, “Sir, you can’t rent a car with this, do you have a valid US License”?  I showed it and bingo, the car was rented.

Can You Rent a Car in the USA Based on Your Philippine License Alone (No IDP).

Again, based on my personal experience and that of other readers who have written me, yes indeed.


There is never a need for a US citizen coming and going between the USA and the Philippines to spend the time and money on an IDP … it just does nothing for you that your valid US and/or Philippine LTO drivers license does for you.

As with many other things involving living in the Philippines, I strongly advocate applying the “KISS Principle”.  Happy Motoring

Bob Martin

Bob Martin is the Publisher & Editor in Chief of the Live in the Philippines Web Magazine. Bob is an Internet Entrepreneur. Bob is an American who lived in Mindanao from 2000 until 2019. Bob has now relocated back to the USA.

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Hey Joe
5 years ago

Great post Dave! It even cleared up what some erroneously told me when I first got here, that my US license was good here in the RP until it expired then I would need to get the Phil license. I suppose that would be true provided nobody checked to see how long you had been here but if they ever did you would probably have a problem. Philippine drivers licenses are too easy to get tot take a chance. no WRITTEN TEST, NO DRIVING TEST, JUST A MED SCREENING FOR SIGHT AND HEALTH ISSUES. even THE DRUG SCREENING THAT HAD… Read more »

5 years ago
Reply to  Hey Joe

Yep, it’s normally pretty easy. And as I have said to many before, it pays to get a license just for the ID convenience. Many guys get baffled and even angry when asked for ID and the person asking looks with distrust and mystery at their US-issued ID … especially since whatever ID they offer will not have a Philippine address on it. The Philippine driver’s license is the easiest (to my knowledge) way to get a piece of government-issued (Philippine government that is) issued picture ID. The other day I made a purchase in a phone/computer store and paid… Read more »

4 years ago
Reply to  Dave

how much will it cost me to get it

5 years ago

Looking to get a possible annulment..married a filipino girl..now. cant find her on my return trip. Help….cost. and. Rules i need to do. Kiss princable. In. Effect

Tom Ramberg
Tom Ramberg
5 years ago

Hi Dave,

I became a bit worried when I started reading your article about International Driver Licenses. I thought that I was a victim until I looked at mine and saw that it was an Intergallactic Drivers License.

5 years ago
Reply to  Tom Ramberg

Indeed the IGL is good anywhere in or out of this world, but watch out for meteors and other unmarked space debris .. just like driving on Philippine highways 😉

Paul Thompson
Paul Thompson
5 years ago

1994 I was on vacation here in the Philippines when I discovered that my Florida Drivers License had been expired for over 6 months. Since the Olongapo LTO was closer than the DMV in Tampa Florida I applied and received a Philippine Licence within one hour, and as Joe said above with no muss or fuss. The hard copy was at that time only issued out of Manila so all I had for the next 14 months was the “Official Receipt” issued by the LTO. I flew to San Francisco to pick up a new ship and after landing at… Read more »

5 years ago

Well, since i come from a country, where my original license isn’t in english i did need that “international” license. It’s my original license, translated to different languages. I’ve been stopped once, while i had it – and no problem at all. Maybe luck? When i got my Philippine driver license i needed the international, – translation you know. LTO used my original and my International license for conversion to Philippines license. Those of us who don’t have English as language in our original license, do need an international license – and yes, that is was it’s called – “International… Read more »

5 years ago
Reply to  Axel

Hi Alex, which country is your original license? Which LTO office honored your IDP? My license is from french part of Canada. LTO Vigan refused to honor International Driving Permit and required official translation from the embassy (as per Filipino law). Canadian embassy in Manila does not translate anything because it is not part of their short list of duties. Catch 22, both sides are applying the law Any ideas are welcome. Thanks.

Bubba Ray
Bubba Ray
5 years ago

Nice article. Saved me money, because I was fixin’ to get me an International next week! Salamat y’all!

Leonard Hugster
5 years ago

Great info thanks. Although a couple of years ago I tried to get a Philippine license and was told at the office that issues them I needed a permanent residence. This was in Tacurong. However there was some vague reference made about paying some extra fee to facilitate me getting a license. I didn’t pay it and just left. Think I will go get one now. Thanks again.

Bob Martin
5 years ago

Hi Leonard, whoever told you that was mistaken. Anybody can get a driver’s license even if they are not a permanent resident. Sounds like somebody was trying to shake you down!

Leonard Hugster
5 years ago

Yeah I figured that. The worker at the desk took it to the incharge at the office. He is the one who told me. Tacurong is a small town and not the safest place to show someone up and make them look bad. So, that is why I didn’t push the issue. Can I go to another office in a bigger city and get one even if I am staying in Tacurong, maybe GenSan Or Davao?

Luke Tynan
5 years ago

I found that yes u can. I live in Gingoog City but when we were in Cagayan de Oro, my father in law needed to renew his lic. and told me come on u need a Philippine Lic now that u are living here So I went with him to the LTO and in an hour walked out with 1, at the same time as here did.


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