International Student Guide to Driving in the US

If you are going to college in a rural area or hoping to travel around the US while studying in the country, you should definitely consider getting a driver’s license as it will allow you to easily get from place to place and go on road trips! Here, we will be going through everything you need to know about driving in the US, including how you can get a US driver’s license. 

Can international students get a US driver’s license?

The short answer is yes, international students can get a US driver’s license as long as their student visa is valid and they still have an active status on their school’s SEVIS. However, the process may vary for each person. 

If you do not have any driver’s license (from your home country or any other country), you can take classes and the exam in your state of residence in order to get a permit from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or state-run motor vehicle department.

If you have a driver’s license issued by your country of citizenship, some states will allow you to drive with your country’s license, as long as it’s issued in English, while others will require you to have an International Driving Permit (IDP) from your country’s motor vehicle department. 

If you have a driver's license from your home country as well as an IDP, you can drive in most states in the US. However, some states may still require you to apply for a driver’s license from the DMV.

Please note that, in any of these cases, you should wait at least 10 days after your arrival as the US database needs time to process and update your arrival information. Also, check with your designated school official (DSO) to make sure that you are in active status on your school’s SEVIS—wait an additional two business days (on top of the 10 days) after your SEVIS record is set to active before applying for a driver’s license. Your DSO can also tell you more about your state’s particular requirements, so be sure to talk to them about it.

Why is it important for international students to get a US driver’s license?

Having a US driver’s license means that you can freely go wherever whenever. You can easily rent cars, go on road trips, and not have to worry about different states’ regulations on international driving permits or foreign licenses. More importantly, if you go to school in the middle of nowhere then having a car can be a lifesaver as you won’t have to rely on other forms of transportation to run daily errands like going to the grocery store, the bank, or even school.

Is it difficult to drive in the US?

It depends on where you are in the US. If you’re located in a rural area, with lots of trees and not too many cars, then it will be easier for you to drive with no distractions. However, if you go to school in big cities like New York City or Los Angeles, then it might be more difficult to drive there with all the traffic and highways. Another factor to consider is the side of the road that you usually drive on. Americans drive on the right side of the road, which may be different from what some international students are used to as their home country may require them to drive on the left side of the road.

How can you get a US driver’s license?

First, you should talk to your DSO to find out the state requirements as well as your school’s policies. The application differs from state to state, but you have to apply at your local DMV or state-run motor vehicle department. You will need your passport, ID issued by your country of citizenship, Form I-94, Form I-20, and proof of residence—this can be your bank statements, official mail addressed to your place of residency, rental agreements, school documentations, or insurance documentations. Depending on the state, you might also need more items such as a social security number, Form SSA-L676, DL-1/93, and Form I-766. You should definitely check your local DMV website for all the details. 

What are the requirements to get a US driver’s license?

Requirements vary for each state, but usually, the age requirement to obtain a full driver’s license is between 16 and 18. In most states, you must be 20 or 21 to rent a car. 

In terms of testing, you must pass the mandatory pre-licensing course and written exam before you can take the road test.

If you passed, when and how will you receive your license?

Given that you passed the written exam and the pre-licensing course, your examiner will tell you whether or not you can get a driver’s license after your road test. The examiner will give you instructions on how to get your license.

If you failed, when can you retake it?

You can retake the road test as many times as necessary, but you may have to pay a fee for every time you retake the test.

Table of Contents

Get the Ellis App

Made for international students, by international students
Download app