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I am planning to visit California for a month on a tourist visa.

I have a European driver's licence and I would like to rent a car when I get to California. Will I be able to rent a car with my licence and will there be any extra cost because of my European licence?

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    Is your license in English or does it provide English translations? If not you'll need an international driving permit. – Roddy of the Frozen Peas Dec 25 '16 at 18:53
  • @Roddy, Quebec and Mexican drivers test that frequently. The only state to require an IDP for non-English licenses was Georgia, and they have since abolished the requirement. California law in particular doesn't recognize IDPs at all, though it certainly doesn't hurt to have one. – Dennis Dec 26 '16 at 13:28
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    I'm pretty sure that if you had a license in a non-Latin alphabet -- like Lao or Burmese -- then you'd need an IDP regardless. I can't exactly try it though. – Roddy of the Frozen Peas Dec 26 '16 at 13:30
  • @Dennis great point about Quebec drivers. The east coast of the US gets tons and tons of tourists from Quebec looking for warmer weather. I'm sure highway police in Georgia are well familiar with Quebec driver's licenses, and know that if they have trouble to just radio in for translation help, not haul the driver in for booking. – Robert Columbia Dec 26 '16 at 16:56
  • @RoddyoftheFrozenPeas According to Google Images, the Laotian driver's license also has French. – Andrew Lazarus Jun 14 at 20:45
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Under the Vienna Convention of Road Traffic, drivers licenses from one country are formally accepted by other countries - as long as both countries are signatories to the convention. The US is NOT a signatory to the convention, although most (all?) European countries are. However, most US states accept most all foreign licenses, with the exception of the state of Georgia, which requires an international driving permit.

However there then becomes the problem of proving you have a valid license. If your home-country license is in English, or contains an English translation on it (as many EU licenses do) then that is all that you will need.

If your home-country license is not in English then you will need to make use of one of the other features of the Vienna Convention - the "International Drivers Permit". This is not a license in itself, but in effect translation of your home-country license into English (and several other languages). The IDP must be obtained in your home country before you travel - exactly how will depend on your country but Google should be able to tell you how to obtain one. Note that the IDP is NOT a license in it's own right - it's just a translation of your license, so it is only valid when used in conjunction with your real license.

The above is true both for the legal requirements for driving, as well as for rental car companies who will need to see your English drivers license, or your non-english drivers license plus the IDP when you are picking up the car.

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From personal experience, most country's drivers licenses work without any ado. I have been laughed at for showing an international license, even though that is formally the correct approach.

Be aware that they rent hundreds of cars every day to Germans, French, British, etc. citizens, and not a quarter of them bother to prepare in any way.

However, there is no guarantee- the formal correct way is the international license, even though it might end being a waste of time and money.

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    Rental car companies are familiar with EU common format driving licences. Police officers may not be. You are likely to need the IDP if you are pulled over. – Michael Hampton Dec 25 '16 at 22:31
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I advise playing exactly by the rules defined by the rental companies. The experience of other renters cannot be relied on.

Use the published information of your proposed rental company. For example, from Hertz:

An acceptable, valid driver's license issued from your country of residence must be presented at the time of rental. The driver's license must be valid for the entire rental period. If the driver's license is in a language other than English, and the rental is in the United States, an International Driver's Permit is recommended. In all cases, a valid driver's license issued from your home country must be provided, whether or not you possess an International Driver's Permit. You will not be allowed to rent a Hertz vehicle with only an International Driver's Permit.

Note that there may be a requirement to produce an additional UK Licenses Summary document, which must be obtained by you from the UK licensing authorities website. Hertz do indicate that this is required by them only in a small number of countries, not including the USA. I have never been asked for it but I always obtain one before travel. Again check your renter's terms and conditions in case they do require it.

Similarly, even if most folks with (say) a French language license are not asked for the International Permit I would still get one. All you need to foul up your plans is an over-zealous employee.

I am not aware of any extra rental charges solely because of having a non-US license.

  • Hertz US do NOT require the UK Licence Summary, although they do in a small number of other countries. – Doc Dec 25 '16 at 19:40
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    @Doc thanks for the correction. When I rented in California recently I received an email from Hertz referencing the need for the License Summary. Had I read that email properly, I would have seen that it does not apply to the USA. – djna Dec 25 '16 at 20:34

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