Getting a Driver License in the US



In the US, you are legally required to have a Driver License for driving a vehicle.

In this section, we address various issues regarding the Driver License (Driving Permit) for international students. We have summarized this information based on the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) (also known as Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV)) website, some University websites and also based on our personal experiences.

Related Links
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  Buying a New Car
  Buying a Used Car
  Seal the Deal

  Driver License

  Car Insurance

  Rent a Car




 

The following information is for guidance purposes only and we recommend that you check out the DMV's
official website
for accurate and detailed information.

Basics of Driver License for international students

International Driving Permit (IDP)

Process of getting a US Driver license

Written Test

Driving Test

Find the nearest DMV center as well as its location and hours

FAQ's

What are the documents required to get a temporary Driver license / written test / permanent Driver license?

How long is the temporary Driver license valid?

How long is the permanent Driver license valid?

What should I do if the date on my license has expired?

How many times can I appear for the written test and the driving test?

My visa has expired. Can I still use the US Driver license?

My I-20 has expired. Can I still use the US Driver license?

I am on OPT / AT. Can I still drive a car?

I lost my permanent Driver license. Can I get a replacement?

I just moved from one state to another. What should I do with my driver license?

I recently got a ticket from the traffic police. How will it affect my driving record?

Where can I find additional information about the Driver License (Permit)?

 

Basics of Driver License for international students

You will need a valid US Driver license for driving vehicles in the US. Some states in the US also allow you to drive using the driver's license issued by your home country provided it is accompanied by an International Driving Permit (IDP). Please check out the section about IDP for more info.

The US Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) issues a Driver license. You will have to appear for the various tests conducted by the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles). Once you pass these tests, you will be awarded a US Driver license.

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International Driving Permit (IDP)

Some states in the US allow you to drive using the driver's license issued by your home country provided it is accompanied by an International Driving Permit (IDP).

Please note that each state sets its own policies about IDP. For example, the state of California may acknowledge IDPs, while the state of Texas may not. Similarly, some states may recognise IDP for only one year since your date of arrival, and some other states may recognise it for a longer time. Please check the DMV's website and also check with the International Students Office at your College / University for accurate information. Otherwise, the traffic police may give you ticket for driving without a valid license.

Some car rental companies may allow you to rent a car using an IDP. Please check with individual car rental companies for the avalibility of this facility.

You will have to get the IDP from your home country. The Motor Vehicle Department, RTOs, or any other similar government institution in your home country should be able to provide you more information about it.

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Process of getting a US Driver license

Below are the common process of getting a US Driver license.

  1. Go to the DMV's branch office to get the Driver Handbook (manual).
    You can find the Driver Handbook based on your state in this link.

  2. Study the Driver Handbook for the written test.

  3. Appear for the written test. You will also have to give a vision test. In most states, no appointment is necessary. Once you pass both the tests, you will get the temporary Driver license.

  4. Study for the driving test (behind the wheel test).

  5. Call the DMV's test center to schedule for an appointment for the driving test.

  6. Appear for the driving test. If successful in the driving test, you will get the permanent Driver license.

Please note that each state sets its own policies about the Driver license. Please check the DMV's website and also check with the International Students Office at your College / University for accurate information. Otherwise, the traffic police may fine you for driving without a valid license.

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Written test
The written test is basically a computer based / paper based multiple choice test that asks question about the general traffic rules and regulations in your state. These questions are based on material in the state's Driver Handbook. Therefore, you will have to study from your state's Driver Handbook in order to pass this exam. Every state in the US has a different pattern as well as different set of questions in the test. For example, in the state of Ohio, the written test has 40 questions and you have to answer 30 questions (75 %) correct in order to pass the test. Otherwise you will have to retake the test.

You can find the Driver Handbook (manual) based on your state in this link.

You can find sample tests based on your state in this link.

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Driving Test

Each state in the US has its own format for the driving test. Normally, the driving test consists of two sub tests:
  • Normal Driving: In this test, the officer will first inspect your vehicle to make sure that it is in safe driving condition. Then he will sit along with you in the car and will command you to perform various actions such as stopping and starting the car, backing the car, turning right and left on appropriate signals, driving in the appropriate late, keeping safe distance from other vehicle, etc.

  • Maneuverability and / or parallel parking: The Maneuverability test is conducted in two steps. Each step is to be completed in one continuous motion. The only instruction you will be given by the exminer are to steer to the right or to the left of the point marker In the parallel parking test you will have to park your car in between two already parked cars.

Please note that for every incorrect action, you will lose points. If your score is below the acceptable score, you will be declared as failed in the test.
Generally, the Normal Driving test is conducted first. You won't be allowed to take the Maneuverability test, until you have scuccessfully cleared the Normal Driving test.
If you pass the Normal Driving test but do not pass the Maneuverability test, you will have to take a new appointment to appear for the test. Depending on the state, you might be required to do both test again or just the Maneuverability test.

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Find the nearest DMV center as well as its location and hours

You can find the nearest DMV center as well as its location and hours in this link.

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FAQ's

What are the documents required to get a temporary Driver license / written test / permanent
Driver license?

The following is a general list of documents that you will have to carry with you to the DMV's branch office. Please note that the every state may have a different set of required documents -

For temporary Driver license / written test:
  • A valid, unexpired passport

  • A US Visa

  • INS Form I-94 (the form that you reeceived before your last entry into the US)

  • INS Form I-20 issued by the University for Students / Student Dependants or INS Form IAP-66 for Exchange Visitors or INS Form I-9 for Employment Eligibility Verification

  • Social Security card or the denial letter. If you have been denied a SSN, please request the Social Security Administration for the denial letter.

Another important thing to carry is some cash (for the fees). The amount of the fees depends on each state. Depending on the branch, you might be able to pay by check or by credit / debit card.

For permanent Driver license:

  • All the above documents

  • Temprary Driver License

  • The application packet (packet containing documents) that you received when you passed the wittern test. in case, you did not receive any, then just tahe all the above documents again.

  • Proof of car insurance

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How long is the temporary Driver license valid?

The temporary Driver license is valid for one complete year. If you do not get a permanent Driver license within one year, most states will require you to reappear for the written test in order to get a temporary Driver license.

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How long is the permanent Driver license valid?

Depending on your state, the permanent Driver license valid for three or four years from the date of its issuance. However, since you are an international student, the DMV will use the last date on your I-20 / DS-2019 as the expiration date of your driver license if that date comes before the 3 or 4 years normal expiration date.

In most states, you do not need re-appear for tests if you want to re-new your driver license. For more information, please check out this link.

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What should I do if the date on my license has expired?

You need to re-new your license before it is expired. You will be fined heavily if you are cought driving without a valid Driver license. In order to renew your license, you need to go to a branch of the DMV and show a valid I-20 or US visa. Please check with the DMV's office for more information.

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How many times can I appear for the written test and the driving test?

Again, this depends on your state. Some states allow you to take the written test until you pass it. There is no limit on the number of times, but you may be required to study for a few days before reapparing for the test.

Similarly, for the driving test, depening on your state, there may not be a limit on the number of times, but you may be required to study for a few days before reapparing for the test. Some states may allow only certain number of chances in a period of six months.

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My visa has expired. Can I still use the US Driver license?

You can still use the US Driver license if the Expiration date on your Driver license has not expired. The expiration date on your license is set to the expiration date on your I-20 / DS-2019, not based on your visa. If you have moved on from a student visa to another visa such as the work visa, then the expiration date on your license is set to the expiration date on your work visa.

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My I-20 has expired. Can I still use the US Driver license?

No. Because, the expiration date on your license is set to the expiration date on your I-20. So, if your I-20 has expired, most likely your Driver license has also expired.

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I am under Optional Practical Training (OPT) / Academic Training (AT). Can I still drive a car?

You can still use the US Driver license if the Expiration date on your Driver license has not expired. The expiration date on your license is set to the expiration date on your I-20 / DS-2019. Therefore, even if you are on OPT or AT, you can renew your license by showing the officers at the DMV your new I-20 (I-20 OPT) or your new DS-2019 (DS-2019 with AT authorization) so that they can issue you a new driver license.

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I lost my permanent Driver license. Can I get a replacement?

Yes, you can. You will have to go to the nearest DMV's office and ask for a replacement. You may have to carry with you your SSN card and also tell them your birth date. You might also be required to file a report with the police. For more information, please check out this link.

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I just moved from one state to another. What should I do with my driver license?

If you moved from one state to another, you need to get a driver license from the new state within a certain period of time. Good news is, normally you don't need to re-take the behind the wheel test in the new state. You only need to take the written test. Please check with the DMV in your new state for more detailed information.

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I recently got a ticket from the traffic police. How will it affect my driving record?

Driving safely is very important as your driving record affects how much you need to pay for the car insurance. If you have a bad driving record, you will be paying heavily on the car insurance.

Your driving record is affected by the type of violation you did and the type of ticket that you got from the traffic cops. The more severe your violation, the worse it will affect your driving record. For more information, please check out this link.

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Where can I find additional information about the Driver License (Permit)?

You can find detailed information on driver license in the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) website

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