If you are planning on driving whilst in Europe, it is recommended that you obtain an international licence, officially called an International Driving Permit (IDP), prior to your departure from Australia (or your home country).
An IDP is an internationally recognised form of identification, and in many cases is a pre-requisite for hiring a car.
It is compulsory in some European countries to present an IDP, as well as your current Driver's Licence from home, when collecting your hire or lease vehicle, or when pulled over by police.
So, do you need an international drivers license?
In my own experience, most times we have rented or leased a car in Europe we haven't been asked to present an international drivers licence - our Australian licence has been sufficient. This always prompts my husband to ask “why do i need an international driving licence?” before we head off to Europe.
However, for the sake of $40, I would rather be safe than risk a fine for not having one if pulled over by the police for any reason.
As you'll see from the photos below, your car rental company will most likely confirm what licence/s are required to be presented on collection of your hire car. Some countries, like Germany and France, require only a regular drivers' licence from home to be presented on collection.
However, the confirmation of our car hire booking for Switzerland shows that you do need an international driver's license in Switzerland as well as a regular licence.
It is worth noting that the requirement to hold an International Driver’s License may be a law of a specific country and not necessarily a requirement of a rental car company. If you are pulled over by police whilst driving in Europe, you may be fined for not holding a valid IDP if that particular country requires foreign drivers to present one. (See the comment by Suzanne below.)
According to the RACV website, failure to hold an International Driving Permit can result in exclusion from your travel insurance policy for a loss caused whilst driving overseas. If you plan to drive in Europe without an IDP, I strongly recommend you check the conditions of your travel insurance regarding this.
Further reading: Are there toll roads in Europe?
How to get an International Drivers Licence
In order to obtain an International Driving Permit in Australia you’ll need to present your current drivers’ licence and a recent passport-sized photo and pay the fee of around $40 (2018 price).
IDPs are normally issued on the spot and are valid for 12 months.
Where to get your International Drivers Licence
Getting your IDP is as simple as visiting your local motoring organisation outlet. In Australia, International Driving Permits can be issued by RACV, NRMA, RAQ and other state motoring organisations.
Visit the Australian Government's Smart Traveller website for further details about international drivers licences.