I Fought The Law and the Law Won

by Nancy Bestor

Lonely Planet advises that if you plan to drive a car in Bali, you’re “supposed” to have an International Driving Permit (IDP). Knowing that we did plan to drive (that’s the Royal We here, Bob would be doing all the driving in Bali), Bob went ahead and got an IDP from our local AAA store in Medford, Oregon for $23. It was easy to obtain, he simply showed his US driver’s license, filled out a form, had his picture taken and paid his money. The entire process took about 10 minutes.

International Driving Permits are actually recommended and/or required in many foreign countries, although lots of people don’t bother to get them. We’ve driven in several European countries and never bothered to get one either. Bob’s brother, Andy Bestor, has been renting cars to European travelers for nearly 20 years (and is very knowledgeable about all things car rental). He says they “officially recommend” the IDP, but tells customers it is mostly for peace of mind.

When we picked up our rental car in Bali (more on that easy third world process in a future post), the American hotel owner where we were staying said an IDP was not really necessary. If we were stopped, we could simply bribe the police officer, and if we also smiled a lot, all would be well. When we hit the road, we tucked Bob’s IDP deep into one of our bags and promptly forgot we had it.


Bob drove like a pro (on the opposite side of the road, more on that in a future post too!), for the two weeks we were on the island, and we rarely even saw a police officer, let alone worried about being stopped by one. Until of course, our last day when we were hurrying to the airport and came upon a roadblock where several officers were randomly pulling cars over. One of the policeman took a quick look at us and motioned us to stop. The very first thing he asked for? Our International Driving Permit.

It took us a while to find our IDP. It wasn’t in the glove compartment. It wasn’t my shoulder bag. It wasn’t in Bob’s daypack either. I could see Bob getting a bit worried even though I assured him it was somewhere in our bags. Finally we found it, buried deep in one of main bags in the trunk, under some end-of-the-trip dirty laundry. We were glad to find is, because let’s be frank here, we’re really not the bribing type.

All the while our policeman stood quietly by our vehicle, waiting for us to find our IDP and once we finally presented it to him, he looked at it like he had never seen one before. He even yelled to a colleague and waved our IDP in the air, as if to say “look, these silly Americans actually HAVE an IDP.” (For all I know, that is exactly what he did say. Two weeks is not nearly enough time to understand more than a few words of Indonesian.) Once we cleared up the fact that we did have an IDP, the policeman became quite friendly and pointed to our teenage daughters in the backseat. He motioned with his smartphone, gesturing could he take a picture of them. “Yes,” we nodded, of course. Then he asked “Where from?” When we answered America he said “Ohhhh, OBAMA!” Yes, we nodded and smiled, Obama. Finally he motioned that he wanted a picture with Bob, and said “for memories.”


And that’s the story of our international driving permit. Thanks to our IDP, Bob made a friend that day and a Balinese policeman likely went home and showed his family the photos he took of the first Americans ever to carry an International Driving Permit in Bali. That’s the best $23 we’ve spent in a long time.