SA driving licence may suffice but an IDP is the safer option. Picture: Minesh Bhagaloo

Johannesburg - “International driving licences are a scam. You don’t need one regardless of where u go, your SA driving licence will suffice”.

I noticed this tweet on a feed from a South African travel writer exploring the US, and it got me wondering what purpose the International Driving Permit actually serves.

According to the Automobile Association of South Africa, which is the organisation tasked with the issuing of these licenses locally, the IDP provides the information necessary to validate your SA driving licence. The IDP also acts as an additional source of identification, and helps to break down language barriers when travelling in non-English-speaking countries.

The AA further mentions that while some countries may recognise your South African driving licence on its own, they will ask for an official language translation of the licence to be supplied by your embassy or consulate, as an accompaniment.

Car rental in such countries could be tricky too, as they often ask for an IDP for insurance purposes; while a road accident in a foreign country could lead to your SA driving licence (without a corresponding IDP) being disputed.

The AA confirms that an SA-issued IDP is recognised in 150 countries, and can only be issued to applicants holding a valid South African drivinge licence.

Based on where you’re headed you could qualify for a one or three-year IDP - if you travel extensively it’s probably safer to check that the IDP you hold is valid in the country you’re next headed to. The IDP cannot exceed the validity period of your South African driver’s licence, and should always accompany your SA licence when travelling.

If you’re a foreigner living in SA, your IDP must be issued in the same country that issued your original driver’s licence. The AA can assist certain foreign applicants by sending documents back to the issuing authority.

As a motoring journalist who travels extensively I can assure readers that most times I’ve been stopped, for whatever reason, I’ve been asked to present an IDP. On the odd occasion when a fine was issued, the IDP, along with the car’s ownership papers, was requested.

At a cost of R265, negligible when you consider other travel expenses, the IDP is a no-brainer.

Rather safe than sorry. - Star Motoring