Each country has its own policy on whether and how foreigners can get local drivers’ licenses, and this information is often prone to change in response to shifts in security and political leadership. In general, though, many of the countries in Southeast Asia typically have the laxest policies, particularly the Philippines and Vietnam. Foreign applicants in these countries often just need to fill out a piece of paper or even apply online, and as long as they pay a fee they can be issued a license. It’s important to realize here that the application process for foreigners, many of whom are assumed to have some monetary wealth, is often a lot different than the process for locals. This distinction isn’t apparent everywhere, though. In China, for instance, foreign license applicants are sometimes faced with additional requirements or tests, and in most of Europe foreigners have to pass a test and follow the same procedure that locals would. Some countries will recognize licenses from a person’s home country or a document known as the International Driver’s Permit (IDP) as something of a waiver for more formal requirements, but not all will.
Importance of Research
The first thing anyone seeking a license abroad should do is research. Most embassies and foreign consulates keep up-to-date information about driving policies, and can give citizens the most up-to-date information about requirements. Much of this information is usually also posted online. As with so many things on the Internet, though, there can be a lot of inaccurate or invented information; out-of date facts and scams can also be problems. It’s really important for people to only follow the directions of legitimate, preferably government, websites, particularly when it comes to the payment of fees.
International Driver’s Permit
Short-term travelers might be best served by applying for an IDP before leaving home. An IDP is simply a translation of a home license and is accepted as valid in most countries, at least for a short time. Its main purpose is to allow drivers the freedom to visit, rent or borrow a car, and tour the roads without fear of penalty. It isn’t the same as a local license, but it usually works in most of the same ways. Most government offices and consular services can point travelers in the right direction when it comes to finding providers for this service.
Applications for Permanent Licenses
It’s important to realize that holding an IDP is a just a temporary fix. It isn’t really the same as actually getting a driver’s license in a foreign country, and different countries have different restrictions when it comes to how long IDPs are valid and what exactly they can be used to do. . Japan, for instance, typically accepts them only for 90 days and any drivers who have returned within an additional 90 days of their initial visit are usually required to apply for a Japanese license. New Zealand, however, allows foreigners use a home country issued license and IDP for up to a year with no leave-and-reenter penalties.
The easiest country for a foreigner to get a local driver’s license might be the Philippines. Foreigners from most countries need only a valid licensed issued somewhere else along with a brief application and fee, typically in cash. It’s usually important for applicants to have a local address where the license can be mailed, but it doesn’t usually have to be a permanent residence.
Many expatriates have also reported that it is very easy to get a license in Vietnam. Foreigners can apply online and are generally required to provide a formal request for a Vietnamese driver's license written in the local language, a notarized copy of a driver's license from the applicant’s home country, a copy of a valid IDP, a copy of a valid passport, and 3 passport-sized photos. Upon receipt of a fee, the license will usually be issued in about 7 days.