How to Get a U.S. Driving License as an International Student

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Amira Adel

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25 August, 2021

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4 mins read

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As an international student, getting a U.S. driving license will make your life easier! You’ll be able to drive around, visit places, run errands, and so on. However, it’s a process with many steps. We will take you through all the necessary steps you need to take to get a U.S. driving license as an international student. 

1. Ask About Your State Requirements

You have to know that every state has different requirements for how to get a driver’s license. In the U.S, The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) in each state of residence can issue a driver’s license. Talk to your campus advisor or your school official. They can show you where to get all the information you need and walk you through any state or locality specific rules regarding driver’s licenses. You will also need them to verify that you are an active student in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. 

2. Don’t Rush

Your Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record must be active before you can apply for a state driving license as an international student. It can take up to 10 days after you arrive in the U.S. for your status in SEVIS to update. Also, it can take two to three business days for local systems to update with your Active status. Therefore, wait a couple of weeks after your arrival before you start the process.

3. Gather the Appropriate Documents

In order to get a U.S. driving license as an international student, you will need to prove that you are an international student living in the U.S. by providing the following documents:

  • Your unexpired foreign passport with required U.S. entry markings

  • Two documents to establish your state residency; for example, a bank statement or a utility bill

  • Your Form I-20

  • Form I-94

  • A U.S. visa with supporting documents, all valid for at least 160 days

  • Your Social Security Number or a letter from Social Security stating ineligibility

  • Your school enrollment form (DL-1/93)

  • Money to pay any fees 

If having a social security number is a requirement in your state, stop by your local Social Security Administration office to apply for a Social Security number. Keep in mind that as an international student, you should wait at least 10 days after your arrival in the US before applying for a Social Security number. This is to ensure your Form I-94, "Arrival/Departure Record," is updated in government systems. 

Additionally, keep in mind that even if you have a driver's license in your home country, you may be required to take both written and practical portions of your U.S. state’s driving test because not all states accept driver’s licenses from outside the U.S. 

Once you submit all the required documents and pass the necessary tests, a department associate will explain to you your next steps. If you found yourself receiving only a temporary license or having to wait a couple of weeks to receive a permanent one, it’s totally normal as the process varies by state. 

4. Double-Check Information

Before submitting your documents, you should double-check everything, make sure that your name is spelt correctly across all documents, your date of birth is consistent across all documents, and that your status in SEVIS is active. Double-checking will prevent any delays during the process of getting your driving license. However, if you did find any error while checking, talk to your campus advisor about how to get these fixed before you apply for your U.S. driver license. 

5. Find Your Nearest DMV or RMV

Ask your advisor and they will give you a list of the nearest DMV or RMV offices. Contact the DMV in your state for more details and information about paperwork and other requirements for your U.S. driving license. Then when you go to the DMV, take the written exam and driver’s exam (if needed), and register your car. 

Before going to the DMV, check if they post wait times on their website or app. This will help you choose a convenient time to go to the DMV and avoid waiting a long time. 

Moreover, if you’re someone who wears glasses or contacts, make sure to bring them with you to the DMV because you may be asked to take a vision test as a new driver. 

Keep in mind that you might not get your license right away if you’re a first-time driver. Instead, the DMV will issue you a driving permit after you take a written test and this will allow you to drive with some restrictions. Actually, some DMVs will issue a temporary driver’s license on the day you apply, and your driver’s license card will arrive in the mail within a week or two. 

6. Practice Makes Perfect

If you come from a country where you drive on the left side of the road, then you need to practice driving on the right side of the road when you arrive in the U.S. If you have an American friend, ask them to help you practice. If not, you can simply attend a local driving school to practice driving; ask your school counsellor to help you find one in your area. 

Now you have a full guide on how to get a U.S. driving license as an international student. We know it may sound like a hassle, but it’s actually not; with the right guidance, the right help, and the correct paperwork, everything will run smoothly. 


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