We have often resorted to the services of rental car agencies while travelling and I gotta say it’s the easiest thing to plan. Go online, pick the cheapest car with unlimited mileage from any of the world famos Hertz, Avis, Europcar etc. without even providing your credit card as a guarantee and reserve. Then get to your destination, show your license and credit card and off you go.
Renting a car in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, however, proved to be a brand new experience. Each had its unique peculiarities, but all uniformly required that the rental car driver possessed a valid international driving permit (IDP) in addition to his regular license. I diligently scouted the net for any cases of people who squeezed past this requirement but found none.
Since we were in Bulgaria at the time, I figured it would be as simple as going to one of the SBA offices (Съюз на Българските Автомобилисти) and getting the necessary paperwork done in matter of a half an hour or so. And just as we thought we had it all covered, the car rental agency in Taiwan emailed that Bulgarian IDPs were not accepted there. Bummer!
Not driving in Taiwan was a highly undesirable option, because the places we wanted to see were best explored by car. Granted, public transportation was available, but with a baby, a hefty pile of luggage (mostly because of that baby) and only 5 days to spare, it was out of question.
Clearly we needed to get an IDP for my US license. I researched and found a number of websites offering International Driving LICENSEs (note the difference from ‘PERMIT’), but later came accross rumors that these agencies might be fraudulent. Indeed, here is what Wikipedia says:
In the United States, the Department of State has authorized two private entities, the American Automobile Association and the American Automobile Touring Alliance’s National Automobile Club as the only entities in the United States to issue IDPs. They advise against purchasing IDPs from unauthorized outlets, as these are sometimes fraudulent.
One of the options for getting you IDP is going to an AAA office personally and having it done on the spot, or mailing your application and getting it by mail. For some reason, the AAA website was not accessible from Bulgaria, so we went with the second option – the National Automobile Club.
In order to get an IDP through them, you need to fill out and sign an application, mail it along with 2 photographs and photocopies of the front and back of your US Driving license. They promise a standard processing time of 10-15 business days and a rush option of 2 business days for deliveries within the US (5-7 days internationally). Complete details here.
It was all good, except that we had just three weeks before our departure date and starting the process above from outside the US. We first mailed the required paperwor to a friend of ours in the US ($$$ for BG Courier, 4 days to arrive), who in turn sent it USPS Express ($$$ for USPS, 2 days) to the office of The NAC. They had to process it (1 day) and send it rush service ($$$ for DHL, 3 days). The suspense from the wait was building up but fortunately, the folks at the NAC were super quick and we held the coveted booklet in our hands before the start of our trip.