Can I Use My Disabled Parking Permit Abroad?

Dr Handicap - airplane

Traveling as a disabled person can have its drawbacks and obstacles. But if you’re disabled, or are the carer of someone with a disability, you shouldn’t let these obstacles put you off living your life to the fullest. There are the physical challenges of actually maneuvering through the airport and plane, but there are many provisions for disabled people in this regard. The main worry for many handicapped travelers concerns their freedom of movement once they reach their destination. A disabled parking permit helps handicapped people move freely around their cities at home, but many are concerned that their permits won’t mean anything once they travel beyond the boundaries of the United States.

For many, a disabled parking permit is an absolute necessity for living full day-to-day lives. Without it, they wouldn’t be able to get to the places they need to go, including to their doctor’s office, and many more places beside. So concerns about operating freely when abroad are certainly understandable, and may hold some disabled people back from traveling where they want to go. Add in the fact that more than a few foreign countries drive on the opposite side of the road to the U.S.A., and you have a potentially intimidating situation. Fortunately for disabled drivers, passengers, and carers, the broad answer to the question “Can I use my disabled parking permit abroad?” is a strong yes.

Dr Handicap - travel

In 1978, the heads of the European Conference of Ministers of Transport (the ECMT for short) decided that all members should have the same rights when it came to disabled parking in each country. The member countries essentially consisted (and still consist) of every country in Europe. These concessions meant that the member countries would offer the same parking rights to visitors with disabilities that they would their own disabled citizens. This was a watershed moment in international disabled parking law, and represented the first step towards cross-country representation of disabled citizens across the globe.

In 1997, this legislation was expanded in scope to include ECMT Associated countries, namely Japan, Korea, United States, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. This law holds in 2018, and means that any disabled citizen holding a legitimate permit from any of these countries is entitled to the same disabled parking benefits as any of their citizens. This agreement is fastened together by the international wheelchair symbol, the distinctive white wheelchair marker on a light blue background. As long as this is displayed on the vehicle in question, then any of the aforementioned countries, as well as any European country, will allow disabled people to avail of handicap parking services.

Dr Handicap - disabled sign

Similar to the way that any state-issued permit can be used in any state in the U.S., this opens up a whole new world of possibilities for disabled travelers who may have been reluctant to venture outside America for their vacations and travels. This tried-and-tested system has been implemented for many years, and it is highly unlikely that you will encounter any problems whatsoever when utilizing your U.S.-issued handicap parking permit.

Despite this acceptance of disabled parking permits, it is always best to check the specific laws of the country you intend to travel to before you go. Yes, more than likely your U.S.-issued permit will allow you to park in any disabled parking space you want. However, there might be some more intricate rules that you need to wrap your head around before you go; this is also the case in the U.S., where some states have implemented offshoot laws in addition to the blanket laws that govern the free use of parking permits. New York, for example, doesn’t allow totally free use of parking within the city of New York, as the traffic is too congested. This is easily discovered by a cursory Google search, but depending on the country you’re going to, you might have to dig a little deeper.

Also, don’t be afraid to ask! Yes, it can be intimidating being handicapped in a foreign country where you speak little or none of the language. However, people all over the world are generally quick to help out anyone with a disability who may be in need, so don’t be afraid to check in with the locals to see what’s what. A disability shouldn’t prevent handicapped people from enjoying life, and in 2018, traveling abroad is a major part of experiencing life to its fullest. Many countries are welcoming and inclusive of disabled people from all over the world, and have specific systems set up to make a disabled driver’s stay in their country as welcoming and convenient as possible. So if you’re planning a big trip abroad, don’t let your disability confine you. Just bring your handicap parking permit along with your passport!