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How to Get your License When You’re New to the Country

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New to the United States? Welcome!

We're so excited for you to be here! We're so excited for you to be here!

Whether you’re only here for a short time or becoming a permanent resident, driving is the easiest way to get around the country, and if you’re not planning on living in a major city with public transportation options- it’s completely necessary!

Short-Term Visitors

If you’re just visiting the U.S. for a temporary visit such as studying abroad or working for a few years, you might be able to continue using your foreign driver’s license as long as it’s written in English. If that’s not the case, then it’s important that you get an International Driver’s Permit (IDP) while you’re still in your country of origin (only valid for one year). To reiterate, this license is NOT issued by the United States, but needs to be obtained before you arrive.

Not issued by the US. REPEAT. NOT issued by the United States.

This license will not replace your old license, but instead act as a companion license and language translation to your home license. On it includes your full name, photograph and relevant driver’s information. The IDP is required by most rental companies, so if you plan on renting a car, it’s a good idea to have one. Also note that requirements for holding IDPs vary by state, so make sure you understand the rules of the state you’re in before getting behind a wheel of a car.

Non-Citizen Residents

Like the U.S. so much that you’ve decided to hang around?

Yay! YAY!

Depending on the state you’re in, the process for receiving a U.S. driver’s license will vary, but here are some high level procedures you should know. Some states have reciprocity agreements with other countries meaning that if your license was issued in select countries (Canada, France, Germany, and South Korea for example) you can simply exchange it for a U.S. driver’s license of that state without having to take any tests. This list updates each year, so make sure you check in with your local DMV to see if your home country fits the bill. If not, you’ll need to go to the DMV and apply for a U.S. driving license. When you do this, you’ll need to bring: proof of your social security number, your passport or another form of identity, proof of residency in your state, and proof of lawful presence in the U.S. After that comes the normal part where you’ll need to pay an application fee and pass a written, practical, and vision test. If you have your former valid license, bring it with you because it’s possible some of these tests may be waived. If you pass the test (fingers crossed), you’ll be able to use your new license as a valid form of ID. Just remember that this form of identification needs to be renewed every couple years, so make sure you keep it updated to stay valid!

Good luck!

Krista Doyle