Imagine this: you make a traffic stop for a minor infraction, and you discover the driver doesn’t speak very much English. You do your best to explain the infraction, and they provide you with a multi-fold paper document labeled “International Driver’s License.” The document has a passport-style photograph of the driver, and it appears to have the identifying information of the driver repeated in 10 different languages.
Is it legit? Maybe…but maybe not.
The International Driving Permit
There is a legitimate document called an “International Driving Permit.” This document is a translation of a valid driver’s license into several different languages. The document is not a replacement for the original document, rather it is simply a translation that a foreign citizen can present along with their driver’s license to aid a police officer in deciphering the actual license. An International Driving Permit without the original driver’s license does not confer any driving privileges.
The USA entered a United Nations treaty in 1949 that is basically a reciprocal agreement among all of the signators to accept the driver’s license of a foreign visitor. So, for example, if you traveled to Ireland from the United States, you could legally drive a car while on vacation. The IDP makes life a lot easier if you wreck your rental car in Poland, and the local constabulary doesn’t readily understand your New York license.
The permits are issued in different countries around the world. The U.S. Department of State has authorized two organizations to issue IDP’s to United States citizens: the American Automobile Association and the American Automobile Touring Alliance. The AAA and AATA can only issue IDP’s to US citizens, so police officers making traffic stops in the States should not ever be offered one of these documents.
International Driver’s License Scams
There are a large number of individuals and companies making and selling “international driver’s licenses.” These are all fakes; bits of paper and plastic used to separate fools from their money.
A lot of the people selling these worthless documents use the UN treaty to “validate” their products. Like any good fraud, there are enough elements of the truth to make the deal seem genuine to the gullible. A lot of times, these “licenses” are sold to illegal immigrants. Many of the illegal aliens don’t understand that these licenses are fraudulent, and they willingly pay $50 or more to obtain one.
Other people that may purchase one of these fake licenses include under-aged college students looking to buy alcohol, and people with suspended -real- driver’s licenses.
Some of the fake licenses are crude, but many are being made with quality equipment. A lot of the fakes are produced on plastic stock, similar to a real driver’s license, with a digital photo, bar code, and hologram.
I won’t link to any of the websites that produce these fraudulent licenses, but feel free to do a Google search for “International Driver’s License.” You will find plenty of examples at which to look.
So, the next time you encounter an international license or permit, just keep in mind: is the document translating a real license, or is it presenting itself as “the” license? Chances are good that the document that is just translating is legit, while the other is not.
FTC Targets Sellers of “International Driver’s Permits” over the Internet
FTC Consumer Alert: International Driver’s License Scams
US Department of State: IDP and Travel