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How to get an international driving permit in Singapore in 2021

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As countries across the world vaccinate their respective populations, there’s more than a faint glimmer of hope surrounding the prospect of international travel in the not-so-distant future. (Personally, we cannot wait.) Potential partner candidates for Singapore air travel bubbles include Australia, Taiwan, and New Zealand; and the Hong Kong-Singapore travel bubble will be official as of 26 May. Egg waffles, here we come...

What do all of the countries above have in common, besides great COVID management? They’re all great driving destinations. While urban hubs like Hong Kong and Taipei have excellent public transit, you’ll be stuck relying on less frequent buses or expensive taxis anywhere outside of the cities. And though New Zealand does have trains, ferries, and buses, exploring with a car opens up so many remote areas that are much harder to get to otherwise––which is exactly what you need if you want access to all those stunning Lord of the Rings-style landscapes.

To rent a car overseas, you’ll most likely need an IDP in addition to your existing driver’s licence. What’s that? Read on for more.

What is an IDP?

It’s an International Driver’s Permit (IDP). This travel document is recognised in over 150 countries worldwide, sanctioned by the UN Convention on Road Traffic, and identifies you as a legally-licensed driver. It’s not recognised in China, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Vietnam. But tourists aren’t allowed to drive in those countries anyway, so it’s not like you’re missing out on much.

An IDP is incredibly useful when you’re travelling to non-English speaking countries, because it has driving terms in several languages on it. Think of it as a ‘driving passport’ you present to the person behind the counter when you’re renting a car… or trying to make insurance claims for accidents, and so on.

Are Singaporean driving licences valid in other countries?

Not necessarily. Many countries recognise Singaporean driving licenses, but not all do. Here are a few destinations popular with Singaporeans, and their IDP requirements:

The surest way of confirming whether you’ll need an IDP or not is to check with a country’s embassy before you go. If you don’t have an IDP in a country where they need one, you could face legal action, and your car/travel insurance might not be valid under these circumstances.

Bear in mind that even if you’re visiting a country like the UK or Australia where they do recognise our licences, individual car rental companies may require an IDP when you’re renting a car in addition to your Singapore drivers’ licence.

Something else to keep in mind is that you’ll need a physical copy of your driving licence, as it may be required when driving overseas. You’ll need to get this from the Traffic Police (TP).

Why should we even bother renting a car on holiday anyway?

Not every vacation requires you to drive, and that’s okay––and relying on public transportation is generally greener anyway!

However, renting a car does give you options, particularly if you want to travel to more rural areas where public transit options are much more limited. It allows you to reach remote destinations (like mountains, or a restaurant in the middle of nowhere) without relying on expensive taxis. For example, short trips out from Melbourne are so much easier with a car: you could hop over to Phillip Island to see adorable fairy penguins, or hit the Great Ocean Road for one of the world’s most scenic drives.

Another reason is to keep costs down. This applies when you’re travelling as a family or with a group of friends. Multiple train tickets add up very quickly if you have two kids, for example––far cheaper and more efficient to drive in a rented car.

We’d suggest renting hybrids to keep your carbon footprint as low as possible, and only for the parts of your journey where having a car will make it easier to get by.

Photo via Shutterstock

Fine, I’m sold. How do you get an IDP?

The Automobile Association of Singapore (AA) is the only authorised organisation that can issue IDPs in Singapore. Once issued, an IDP is valid for 1 year and cannot be renewed.

It costs just $20 to apply, and you can apply online. Once you’ve done that, processing and delivery takes around 10 working days.

Oddly enough, applying online is the slow route. If you need it fast, visit the AA offices with everything you need to apply, submit your forms, and receive it within an hour (or two, during peak hours). They have offices in Kallang Bahru, Redhill and Ang Mo Kio.

You’ll need to bring:

  • Your Singapore driving licence

  • Your NRIC, if Singaporean

  • Your employment pass or FIN card, if you’re a Permanent Resident or Foreigner

  • A recent, sharp passport-sized photograph of yourself against a plain, light background, no watermarks. (Alternatively, you can have a photo of yourself taken on-site at no additional charge.)

Note that IDPs cannot be issued to foreigners with valid driving licences that were not issued in Singapore––you have to apply for the IDP in the country that issued it. Otherwise, it’s time to take a driving and theory test in Singapore.

What else do I need to remember when driving overseas?

So you have an IDP and you’re ready to zoom off into the sunset. But first, you should check which side of the road you’ll be driving on. Ex-British colonies like Singapore, Australia, and Malaysia all drive on the left side. Oddly enough, Japan also drives on the left. Conversely, most European countries, USA, and Taiwan drive on the right side of the road, and that’s something you’ll need to adjust to.

Another thing to remember is that it might be more difficult, or more expensive, to rent an automatic vehicle in many places. It’s cheaper in many European countries to rent a manual car––you might be lucky to find an automatic one, even if they are becoming more common!

Lastly, you may want to familiarise yourself with local driving culture at your holiday destination. For example, urban cities in Japan like Tokyo and Kyoto see many cyclists on the road. The majority of cyclists there don’t wear helmets, and not everyone is good with bike etiquette, so drivers will need to take extra care on the roads.

Maybe you’re not travelling right now… but you still need a car. We’d love to help you lease or buy one. Head on over to ST Auto for a chat and test drive with our friendly sales staff! Call +65 6464 9098 or email us at

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