Just to make it clear from the start, there is no such thing as an international drivers license. So what did I just get from the drivers license office?
If you have ever done a search on the Internet for something containing the words "international" and "drive" or even remotely similar things, you are sure to have seen the ads for international drivers licenses pop up (and nowadays, even more irritatingly, following you around). As I need to drive when we are in Sweden, I need some way of showing that I am allowed to.
Not Valid In Brazil And China
Every country has its own rules, but if they are signatories to the International Convention on Road Traffic of 19 September 1949, they recognize each others drivers licenses if you also have an international driving permit, which is just a piece of paper with some impressive stamps and text in English and French. So with my international drivers permit, I can drive in most countries in the world. The most notable exceptions are China and Brazil.
There have been a number of subsequent conventions, and most notably the EU has harmonized its drivers license requirements, but the conventions build on each other. So I am permitted to drive in Sweden as well as the US (if my wife will let me). I drove in Ishigaki and during our Okinawa trip.
Pay The Fee And Go
But, this is not as good as it sounds. The only requirement for getting the international drivers permit is that I have a valid drivers license and that I pay the fee. Why is that bad?
Because in Japan we drive on the left, which Sweden stopped doing in 1967. And to get a Swedish drivers license, you have to drive several hours on a specially built slippery course. Roads in Sweden can be quite treacherous, and you actually need to have tried driving on an ice slick to know how to handle the car. A verbal description just can not make justice of that weird feeling when your wheels no longer obey the steering, and the counterintuitive way of straightening out the skid.
Capturing The Moose Feeling
Nor can you appropriately capture the feeling of a moose suddenly appearing in front of your car, or the "elchtest" which requires you to turn suddenly, or get a 500-kilogram hunk of meat across the windshield. You may remember how it got famous. A Swedish motor journalist was testing the Mercedes A-class car and when he did the turn, the car flipped over.
Now, this is no joke. After seeing a friends car after such an encounter, you realize that the speed of the vehicle is added to the mass of the moose. No wonder Swedish cars used to be sturdy.
Dangerous But Convenient
So how on Earth can a drivers license from a country where there hardly ever is any snow, where people rarely drive faster than 70 km per hour, where there are less than a hundred roundabouts, have its own completely different road signs, and drive on the left side of the road be valid in Sweden?
It is. And in the US it was the same - But I keep wishing that there was some training associated with it, since I care about the safety of my family. I do not want to expose them to a moose. But it makes renting a car very convenient.
I am Wisterian Watertree, recently moved from Bangkok to Tokyo, with a brief visit to Honolulu on the way. I write about travel, especially with our three beautiful kids (two girls and one boy, soon turning six - yes. they are triplets). Travel is education and fun rolled into one, and if you are like me, that is something you want to give to your kids. If you want more tips and want to find out when I will publish something, get it from my email list. If you want to be personal, drop me a note on firstname.lastname@example.org, or if you want general tips, follow me on Twitter @wisterianw.