Finding My Way

With very few exceptions, you don’t. I’ve rented cars and driven in several countries with only my Philippine driver’s license.

Yesterday I saw an ad on my Instagram feed from a website that offers international driver’s permit (IDP). They’ll mail you a printed one, and a digital one in two hours with the fees going from $56 (one year) to $66 (three years) for both.

Two things irked me about this ad. One, it felt like I was being spied on because I had just googled car rental rates in a particular country on Sixt where I already have an account. Two, as a Filipino tourist, I’ve never been asked to present an international driver’s permit. I’ve rented cars — and driven those cars just to be clear — in several countries with only my valid Philippine driver’s license and passport. (For other nationalities who use characters — and not Roman alphabet — in  their language, an IDP is required for translation purposes in addition to their local license).

These websites might be the biggest and longest-running scams targeting independent travelers who don’t take organized tours and are unsure about driving abroad, because when you inquire if you need one, they never give you a straight answer. I was given a link to a list of countries, which I knew was wrong based on my own experience of renting cars there. So you end getting an IDP for a country that doesn’t require it.

With few exceptions — like Japan, I am told — you really don’t need it.

But, all right, I’m playing. I went to the website on my laptop and immediately a chat box popped up. “I’m online! Let me know if you need any help,” Sara the customer service rep said. 

“Do you really need an international driver’s permit for, say, Turkey or the Czech Republic?” I wrote. I already knew the answer because I’ve driven in those two countries as a tourist.

“It’s highly recommended to have an international driver’s license with you when you travel as many car leasing companies and authorities require you to have one,” she said.

See how she didn’t answer with a yes or no? “It’s highly recommended…”

It’s like asking someone selling magic diet pills if they would make you lose weight faster and they respond with, “They’re highly recommended…”

Deniability. They’re not exactly saying yes because the true answer is probably no. They’re also putting doubt in your mind about using your local driver’s license on two counts — that car-leasing companies would deny you rental, and that cops require you to have one.

I’ve rented cars from Sixt, Budget, Dollar, Europcar and Enterprise in Istanbul, Antalya and Bodrum in Turkey; in Prague, Santorini and Paris; and in the Balkans in Sarajevo, Bosnia, and Herzegovina; Tivat in Montenegro; and Dubrovnik in Croatia. Not a single one of these companies in these cities asked me for an international driver’s license.

You do have to have the actual driver’s license card with you, not the receipt. In 2016 or 2017— that Jurassic Period in LTO when issuance of the actual cards was delayed from months to a year — a rental in Istanbul had to be transferred to a friend’s name because all I had was the LTO receipt. He laughed at me, saying, “What the hell is that paper?”

On whether authorities would require you to have an international permit, well, if the rental company isn’t requiring you to have an IDP for them to release a vehicle to you, the cops won’t either. In 2017, I drove in three Balkan countries that were beside each other because I didn’t want to depend on buses (they don’t have cross-country trains like most European countries). Besides, I wanted my own schedule, to stop where and when I wanted to, and to skip tourist sights I wasn’t interested in.

I collected my first car at Sarajevo airport and me being a Manila driver beat the red light two intersections later. Two Bosnian cops pulled me over. In my head, I was like, “Oh shit! Tanya, you’re not in Manila anymore. You’re in Bosnia where your phone doesn’t work (apparently Globe has no telco partners in Bosnia, Montenegro and Macedonia — I don’t remember about Serbia — but in Croatia it did).” 

Anyway, the cops did not ask me to show an international driver’s license. I handed over the rental agreement and my Philippine driver’s license.

They didn’t speak English, I didn’t speak Serbo-Croatian, so I played the stupid tourist and apologized. I showed them the address I was looking for, and in the end they not only let me go, they also convoyed me to my airbnb because I was truly lost.

Oh, the misadventures when driving abroad! Maybe I’ll write about that in the next column.

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Tanya T. Lara is the Philippine Star’s Property Report editor and Lifestyle assistant editor. When she’s not getting depressed over Metro Manila traffic, she writes about her travels on her blog at Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @iamtanyalara.