If you’ve been attending an online traffic school, or some other kind of online driving school, then you already know that you’re getting the education that you need in order to get a driver’s license and start hitting the roads right here in America. Fortunately, driving skills are pretty much “universal” in that no matter what kind of vehicle you use, or where you are actually driving, those driving skills you picked up will serve you well. Being able to brake and accelerate correctly, take turns in the right manner, and maintain situational awareness on the road are all skills that are important for any driver anywhere in the world.
But here’s where things get interesting. If you get a license that allows you to drive in your state, or any state in the country, for that matter, can it let you drive in other countries? You absolutely CAN. However, there are a few things that you need to keep in mind before you go off and do so.
Let’s cover a few of the different countries and see what it takes to be an American driver in a foreign land.
Okay, this one is easy. Absolutely ZERO effort required, ZERO adjustments to make. As anyone that lives in Washington state, Maine, or New York knows, when you come up to the border between Canada and the United States, you may not even need to produce any kind of proof that you can drive your car, depending on the mood of the border patrol that day. In the 20th century, you didn’t even need a passport to get across the border, simply producing a driver’s license was often enough for citizens between the two countries to cross over.
US and Canadian citizens both benefit from the huge similarities in language, lifestyle and culture between the two countries, so if you have a legal permit to drive in the United States, all of that applies when you go over to Canada. This makes it easy both to cross over in your own vehicle, or rent a vehicle while you’re over there. So, at least when it comes to Canada, it’s all smooth sailing.
Things are a bit different when you’re going south of the border, but not because of your driver’s license. There are a few things that you need to keep in mind if you don’t want to make your driving life more complicated.
If you’re driving within 30 miles of the Mexico/US border, or you’re going to Baja California peninsula, then it’s business as usual, just like Canada, and your own license and insurance are going to be sufficient. You don’t need to do anything.
However, if you’ve decided that you want to go cross country and drive much further into Mexico, this is when things start to get complicated. Your American license is still going to be valid, but it’s going to need to be supplemented by another document called an International Drivers’ Permit. You’ll need to secure one of these documents a minimum of six months before you make your trip.
Your standard American car insurance is also not going to be accepted this far into Mexico, so you will need to get Mexican auto insurance coverage. Some American insurance companies have partnerships and alliances with Mexican insurance groups that can make this much easier.
You will also need a vehicle permit as, once you’re beyond the border zone or Baja, your car will be considered to have been “imported” into the country, for which you’ll need permission. A vehicle permit is a temporary import pass that will make sure your car is clear with the authorities if you plan to explore the country by road in depth in your own car.
Across The Ocean
Once you leave the North American continent, things can also change a lot, but this more on the differences in driving culture, as opposed to any official regulations. Unless you’re incredibly wealthy, you’re unlikely to bring your car with you on a trip across the Pacific or Atlantic ocean, so you’re far more likely to be renting a car if you travel that far.
Fortunately, rental situations are very easy. But the variance from one country to the next for driving rules and regulations is what’s going to be the real challenge. If, for example, you decide that you want to drive in England or Japan, or India, you’ve got some changes to adjust to. About ¼ of the countries in the world choose to drive on the opposite side of the road from what you’re used to in the USA. This means the driver’s seat is on the right side of the car, and the car itself drives in the left lane, what you normally think of as the lane for opposing traffic.
In a country like England, they’re quite used to people from abroad not being used to this arrangement, as countries like France, just across the Channel, drive the way people do in North America. So if you travel to England and decide to rent a car, your American license—provided that it is legal and up to date—will be accepted at a British car rental agency. However, it’s on YOU to make sure that you get with the program and start driving in the correct lane. If you get into an accident because you drove into opposing traffic, the police are unlikely to cut you some slack because of that, and the insurance companies are certainly not going to forgive it and tell you, “You know what, people make mistakes, we’ll overlook this.”
Just remember that once you’ve got your license to drive, it will open up a lot of opportunities, but, excepting Canada, hopping over to other countries is going to involve a lot more than just getting in a car and driving. There may be a few legal or traffic hoops you’ll have to jump through, even if you’re just renting a car.