International driver’s license: Essential for European-wide auto travel

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- Being stationed in Europe has a number of perks. Opportunities are plentiful to learn about new cultures as one travels through the historical, the artistic, the ethnic and the most modern of Europe's sites. Traveling throughout the continent, however, requires transportation - bus, train or auto. 

If traveling the European Union and beyond via auto, there are a few steps one must take to ensure smooth travels. 

For servicemembers and their families, there is a legal requirement to have a valid international license when driving outside German borders. For others, having an international license is dependent on the country visited. 

"Anyone is able to obtain an international driver's license. Travelers can get one from AAA prior to coming here, and we recommend visiting family members and friends from the U.S. obtain an international license before they visit," said Senior Airman Christopher Sass, 52nd Security Forces Squadron Pass and Registration clerk. "Military members and their dependents can obtain one from our office if they are authorized a (U.S. Army Europe) license." 

Along with having an international license, the USAREUR states visitors must get approval from the host installations customs office prior to driving a USAREUR-plated vehicle in Germany independently. Approval is not require, however if the USAREUR-license holder is traveling in the car with the visitor. 

Servicemembers and dependents can follow the steps below to get an international driver's license: 

1. Bring a hard copy of the USAREUR license to the 52nd Fighter Wing Driver's Licensing and Testing Office in building 139. The office is open 7:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. Monday through Friday, but is closed German and American Holidays and the last duty day of each month. They can be reached at 452-6620. This office will provide an authenticated application for the international license. 

2. Obtain a biometric photo. One of the locations these photos are taken is near the Bitburg Courthouse. 

3. Bring the international license application, USAREUR license, 15€ cash and a biometric photo to the Bitburg Courthouse. There, the staff will provide you with the international license. 

Non-military members have a few options for getting an international license - in person or via mail. 

One option is to bring a valid U.S. driver's license, $15 and two original passport photos to an AAA office. Photos may be obtained at the AAA office. You may also fill out the application in advance, available at http://www.aaa.com/vacation/idpf.html. 

If obtaining the license via mail people can send the same documents, but with a copy of both sides of a U.S. driver's license, and mail them to the nearest AAA office. 

If already overseas, the items can be mailed to the following address: 
AAA/IDP 
1000 AAA Dr. 
Heathrow, FL 
32746 
Attn: Mailstop #28 

"An international driver's license obtained from the Bitburg Courthouse is valid for three years, while the AAA license is typically good for one year," Airman Sass said. 

The international driver's license is recognized in many countries and it is important to research whether or not it is required in the countries you plan to travel, as well as the difference in directional and informational street signs. 

The USAREUR Web site, http://www.hqusareur.army.mil/rmv/default.htm, includes instructional videos for driving in Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, and overall driving tips for Europe. The site also provides a handbook for driving in Germany. 

"While the USAREUR license is valid only in Germany, as dictated by the Status of Forces Agreement, outlying countries may operate according to local laws," Airman Sass said. "As an agent from AAA conveyed to me, it is up to local authorities to decide if we require an international driver's license to drive in their country." 

The international license is currently recognized in more than 150 countries. Those who drive government vehicles, or plan to do so, do not need an international driver's license unless they plan to drive that government vehicle out of Germany. 

"To get a (government-operated vehicle) license, you need a valid USAREUR license to operate the vehicle on this installation," said Airman Sass. "But you will need an international license to operate a GOV outside of Germany. 

"Considering we do not have a Status of Forces Agreement with all nations, the safest bet is always the best bet," he recommended.