In an entry to travel.se on reciprocal agreements for learner drivers, it is mentioned that in North Carolina:

The International Drivers License is NOT recognized in North Carolina and cannot be used as a drivers license.

On the referred page it is however stated that

Residents from other states or countries may operate vehicles in North Carolina using their drivers licenses. The same restrictions or limitations as imposed by their home states or countries apply in North Carolina.

These two lines do however contradict each other since a local drivers license always is an intrinsic part of a International Drivers License.

What is the rationale behind denying IDP's and allowing local, foreign, drivers licenses. Also the use of the word "may" in "Residents from other states or countries may operate vehicles" is confusing.

So with an EU drivers license, can I or can't I drive in North Carolina?

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    I'm not sure how it works in NC but AFAIK the rule in GA and a majority of places in the US is that you can drive with a license from another country. The international drivers permit is essentially not required and hence not recognized. My father came in GA for a few days with an International Drivers permit. When he showed the rental car guy his permit, he just asked for his Indian License instead and said this will be alright. Commented Jun 27, 2014 at 8:03
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    But then why explicitly denying IDPs?
    – user141
    Commented Jun 27, 2014 at 8:10
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    @andra Because you cannot drive with an IDP alone in any case.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Jun 27, 2014 at 8:11
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    Also, what's confusing about “may”? What would you write instead? Whether you can depend on actually having a car, etc. The law can only decide whether you may or may not. If you have a car and know how to operate it, you can drive in any case, even if you may not. You would only be doing so illegally. It seems quite standard English usage.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Jun 27, 2014 at 8:12
  • @Relaxed Some might get confused reading it. It denotes a sense of possibility rather than confirmation. Of course maybe this considers implicitly that you need to be following US and NC traffic rules while doing so. So you cannot be intoxicated for example, must drive on the right side of the road for example. Commented Jun 27, 2014 at 8:14

3 Answers 3


Greetings from North Carolina!

so. after some research through the dmv online, I have found your answer and its convoluted reasoning.

Yes, you can drive with your European Driver License. What NC does not accept is the "International Driver License." Reason being that it is not a legal document from any governing body, but merely a translation of your license. You must Actually Have your Real License to drive here in NC whether you're visiting from Phoenix or Paris.

https://www.ncdot.gov/download/dmv/handbooks_NCDL_English.pdf (see p.24, second line, "A nonresident of North Carolina is,")

https://www.ncdot.gov/dmv/moving/ (see white box, midway, right side)

Now if you want to Move here, that's a Whole Separate Situation. :)


The terminology seems a bit sloppy but it's mostly a question of semantics. An international driving permit is a separate document that can only be used together with the original driver's license. So it makes sense to specify that it isn't valid by itself. Also, it's perfectly possible to recognize (some) licenses without requiring nor recognizing IDPs.

Whether you may drive with yours typically depends on where you obtained it. Although I don't know about the rules in North Carolina, agreements (in the US and elsewhere) do not apply to EU licenses as such but only to specific countries. On the other hand, the sentence you quoted would seem to imply that North Carolina unilaterally recognizes any driver's license (EU or not), which would make the distinction moot.

  • And legally speaking North Carolina must recognize any driving license with an IDP issued by a country that ratified the 1949 Convention on Road Traffic, since the US federal government ratified it as well. Although this is obviously a moot point if they're okay with a license without the IDP.
    – JonathanReez
    Commented Sep 8, 2018 at 16:08
  • @JonathanReez As a practical matter, I suspect that anyone with a license in a language other than English, especially if it is in a non-latin script, would have a smoother time interacting with police if they also have an IDP.
    – phoog
    Commented Sep 8, 2018 at 17:17

I work at AAA which issues the International Driver License and it is clearly marked on the front of the IDP "IMPORTANT--This permit in not valid for driving in the United States". Also, a valid US Driver License is required for obtaining the IDP, so there would be no need for one in the US. Additionally, you must travel internationally with your US Driver License because the IDP and your US license work together.

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    A valid US driver license is NOT required for obtaining an IDP. You can obtain one with licenses from other countries. I'm pretty sure you are reading instructions intended for US residents. Commented Sep 8, 2018 at 17:00
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    @DJClayworth A valid US licence most certainly is required to get an IDP from AAA, so it makes sense that the AAA version of the IDP bears this warning. IDPs issued in other countries could have similar warnings, but (as John B notes) since the IDP is in any case useless without an accompanying license, it's somewhat pointless to note that an IDP is not valid in its country of issue.
    – phoog
    Commented Sep 8, 2018 at 17:24
  • @phoog Absolutely that's exactly my point. This is good advice for people getting the IDP in the US, and of no use whatsoever to people holding an EU license like the questioner. Commented Sep 9, 2018 at 17:39

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