Are international driving licences really necessary for any country?

Most Asian countries do not accept a foreign driving license as a valid document for driving vehicles, and legally most of them require International Driving Permits. In practice however, a lot of tourists do not bother to get an IDP and instead leave their passport wherever they are hiring a car/motorcycle from.
If you get stopped by the traffic police though - and in Asian countries, stopping anyone looking foreign driving a vehicle is a big business because they know most people break rules - you will be asked to pay a fine on the spot. Official fines should result in you getting a receipt for the transaction; otherwise, you know the payment you make is a bribe. Many tourists bribe their way out of a situation to save themselves from the 'hassle' of getting an IDP but it's worth remembering that encouraging corrupt practices is not the best thing to do as a traveller.
Even if technically you might be allowed to drive without one, awareness may be low among rental owners or local police. I see in Gagravarr's answer, for instance, on the Australian RACV list that for Indonesia they list 'recommended' instead of 'required'. I don't know whether this is a specific waiver for Australian driving license holders, but I know friends who got fined for trying to use an EU driving license when stopped by police. An IDP leaves no room for doubt.


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