His travel agent sells him an International Driving Permit, but when Michael Elliott arrives in Grenada, he's told he needs to buy a local permit. Should his agency refund the money he spent on the first permit? And what's the deal with International Driving Permits, anyway?
Q: I paid $15 for an International Driving Permit from AAA for a recent trip to Grenada. According to the travel agency, it should have been recognized as a valid document for driving. Unfortunately, when I arrived in Grenada, I was required to purchase a Grenadian driving permit because they wouldn't honor the AAA document.
I asked AAA why the document wasn't honored and why I was required to shell out extra money. I just want to know why the document wasn't sufficient, an explanation about why its records wouldn't reflect changes in Grenadian driving requirements and an assurance that other travelers wouldn't encounter the same problem.
It's been a symphony of delays and buck-passing from AAA for more than two months. Can you help? -- Michael Elliott, Cleveland, Tenn.
A: AAA should have sold you a permit that worked. If Grenada didn't accept your paperwork, you should have received a quick refund and apology.
The International Driving Permit is basically a translation of your American driver's license. But it isn't a substitute. The countries that accept the document require you to carry it with your license. According to the U.K.'s Automobile Association, the permits are accepted by Grenada.
But while that may be true, it's also true that Grenada requires you to buy what it calls a "local driving permit" for EC$30, according to the country's official tourism website. So in a sense, AAA was correct when it told you the permit was accepted in Grenada. It should have also informed you that the paperwork was unnecessary and that you would have to buy another permit.
Incidentally, I'm as dubious of this "local driving permit" as I am of the so-called "airport departure fee" that's commonly charged to visitors in the Caribbean. I think these fees should be included in the price of your ticket or car rental, and if they can't be, they should be dropped.
The next time you rent a car overseas, you might want to do a little more research. A quick online search would have revealed Grenada's permit requirements. Also, contact your car rental company. It can let you know if you need any additional permits. I've never been asked for and International Drivers Permit, so I don't have one.
I contacted AAA on your behalf. It agreed that Grenada recognizes a U.S. license with or without an official permit translation, and noted that the information was available for reference by all AAA club associates on the organization's intranet. If the AAA office through which you bought the permit had referred to the list, "you might have decided against purchasing the permit," the company admitted.
AAA refunded the $15 you spent on the permit.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the host of "What You Get For The Money: Vacations" on the Fine Living Network. E-mail him at email@example.com.
(c) 2008 Christopher Elliott Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.