Obtaining a driver’s license in the United States can be a good idea for international students who want to use their own car to explore the area, buy groceries, or hang out with friends. But just because you’re already driving in your home country doesn’t mean you meet the requirements for a driver’s license in the United States.
Since not all states accept foreign driver’s licenses, international students may be required to take and pass a written and in-person driving test at their local Department of Motor Vehicles, or DMV.
Although the details may vary by state, here are the main steps in the process:
- Wait 10 days after arriving in the United States
- Talk to your designated school official.
- Locate your local DMV and check the requirements.
- Gather the required documents.
Follow these steps to get your US driver’s license
1. Wait 10 days after arriving in the United States
International students cannot immediately apply for a driver’s license once they arrive in the United States
“The process of obtaining a driver’s license differs slightly for a first-time international student versus a continuing international student,” says Amanda Schaller, director of international and graduate enrollment at Lindenwood University in Missouri. New international students should wait at least 10 days before applying for a US driver’s license, to ensure that their information can be updated in all government systems. Students who apply too early may have their application delayed or refused.
Ravi Ammigan, associate provost at the Center for Global Programs and Services at the University of Delaware, says his office recommends new international students starting an F-1 or J-1 program wait until their F-1 or J -1 is enabled. in the U.S. Government’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program, or SEVIS, before applying for a driver’s license so that the DMV can verify their immigration status. (F-1 and J-1 visas allow international students to study at a college or university in the United States)
2. Talk to your designated school official
Designated School Officials, or DSOs, act as liaisons between international students, the college or university, and the U.S. government. DSOs provide important immigration forms, help guide students, and maintain records in SEVIS. After waiting for your information to be updated, be sure to contact your DSO for advice and to answer any questions you may have.
“Your DSO is always a good starting point. They will know where the nearest DMV is and can refer you to any additional information you need to begin the process of obtaining a driver’s license,” says Kristen Zernick, assistant director of cross-cultural programs at the University. of South Florida.
Students should speak to their DSO about driving laws in their state and confirm that their record is marked “active” in SEVIS.
3. Locate your local DMV and check the requirements
International students should inquire about their state’s requirements for obtaining a driver’s license, as these may vary. For example, some states require students to have at least six months on their Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” to be eligible for a driver’s license.
“Information on eligibility, the application process, and office details are usually available on the state’s DMV website,” says Ammigan. Schools can also include this information on their own websites or cover information on obtaining a driver’s license during orientation. And the staff at your university’s international student office should also be able to answer any questions.
You will likely need to come to your local DMV office in person, so locate the nearest office and check transportation options. Ammigan says some schools, like the University of Delaware, provide transportation to the DMV office, so ask if this service is offered at your school.
4. Gather the required documents
Before you go to the DMV, gather all original documents (rather than copies) requested by your DMV and make sure all information is correct.
The documents you will need may include a signed Form I-20, a valid passport, your most recent student visa, and proof of residency. Some states also require a Social Security card or a Social Security denial letter (also called a Form SSA-L676) if you have not yet applied for or obtained a social security card.
“A student should always check with their DSO that their I-20 is in good condition and has a current signature before going to the DMV to apply for a driver’s license,” Schaller says.
A student’s DSO can help verify that the student has all the necessary documents to apply to “ensure that a student doesn’t take an unnecessary trip,” she says.
Once a student has successfully applied, a DMV representative will explain the next steps required to obtain a driver’s license, which may include both a driving test and a written test. Depending on the state, a student may receive their license immediately or after a few weeks by mail.
For more information on obtaining a Social Security number or a U.S. driver’s license, see the Department of Homeland Security website. Study in the United States website.