How To Apply for a US Driver's License on a Student Visa
A quick guide to get a driver's license in the US as an international student.
Driver's licenses in the United States are issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in individual states. Although all states recognize each other's licenses, you are typically required to obtain a license in your home state.
Uses of a driver’s license
As the name suggests, a driver’s license is required for driving vehicles in the United States. If you get pulled over by law enforcement, the local-city police or state police will request to see your driver’s license and use this as an ID to verify your age, identity, driving privileges, etc.
The uses of a US driver’s license aren’t just limited to driving:
Proof of Age
A driver’s license is most commonly used as a proof of ID in the US. While entering age-restricted locations (certain restaurants, bars, nightclubs, etc.), your driver's license is accepted as ID proof for entry. You may also use your US driver’s license while purchasing age-restricted products where vendors will verify your age; a few examples include purchasing alcohol from a liquor store or medications from a pharmacy, and visiting an emergency room.
International students must carry their passport for all international travel, however, you may use your valid US driver’s license as a travel identification document at US airports while flying domestically within the US. In fact, we recommend you keep your passport safe at home while traveling within the US to avoid losing or damaging your passport.
Most car rental companies will not accept your international driver’s license from your home country. Some companies such as Zipcar, Turo, and Get Around allow you to upload a copy of your passport ID page as an identification document, but it takes up to a few weeks before they approve your application and allow you to rent their cars. Alternatively if you provide them a US driver’s license, they can set up your account within minutes.
Submitting a proof of residence is a requirement for several financial-investing apps (such as Robinhood, TD Ameritrade, Wealthfront, etc.), apartment leasing and housing companies, and immigration processes. Your US driver’s license can be used as a legitimate document proving your state of residence.
Note: Your student ID card issued by your college or university is not a valid identification document outside your campus’ premises.
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Can I use my home country’s Driver’s License to drive in the US?
Driver’s license requirements in the US vary from state to state and you must contact the respective state’s motor vehicle department to check if your home country’s driver’s license makes you eligible to drive in that state.
Some states require you to have an International Driving Permit (IDP) and a valid license from your own country. An IDP is a form of identification that many countries around the world recognize. It translates your identification into 10 languages and allows you to drive legally in a different country.
Note: The United States does not issue IDPs to foreign visitors. To get an IDP, contact the motor vehicle department of the country that issued your driver's license.
You must check the validity of your IDP - for example, IDP’s issued by the Regional Transport Office (RTO) in India have a maximum validity of one year from the date of issue, or up to the expiry date of your driving license, whichever is earlier.
How do I apply for a US driver’s license?
As a first step, you must visit the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) website for the state in which you will be / are currently studying or residing. The process to apply for a US driver’s license varies from state to state, but you will be required to visit the nearest DMV location in your state to submit your documents, take your online/written test, and appear for an actual driving test.
Pro-Tip: Reach out to your university’s international student services department to learn more about how students on the F-1 Visa apply for a US driver’s license.
What documents do I need to apply for a US driver’s license?
Here’s a comprehensive set of documents that you must carry to the DMV for your driver’s license application:
Passport (original and photocopy)
F-1 Visa Page (original stamp in the passport and photocopy)
Form I-20 (multiple photocopies of the latest Form I-20 issued by your US university)
Form I-94 and Travel Record History (download latest records from the CBP website)
Proof of Residence (commonly accepted forms include):
Recent Bank Statements
Recent Utility Bills (Wi-Fi, electricity, etc.)
Rental / Lease Agreements
Any College-Related Documents (that mention your address)
Note: Not all states require you to submit all the above mentioned documents, but it’s always better to be over prepared and you can avoid making a second trip to the DMV.
You must double check your documents and verify that all information is accurate and up to date. Small errors in your application can delay the processing time by several weeks.
The online/written test is relatively easy but US traffic laws are very different from international ones. It is always best to prepare for this test in advance.
Even if you’re an experienced driver, you might want to practice driving with a driving school teacher to be prepared for your final test. Although it’s not mandatory to take lessons before your official test, in most cases, it's strongly recommended that you find an instructor to help guide you through the process.
In some states, once you’re done applying for your driver’s license, the DMV may issue a temporary license (or a learner’s permit) that you can use to drive in your state until your actual driver's license card arrives in the mail a week or two later.
Obtaining your US driver's license might seem difficult at first, but with the right documentation and assistance, you'll be able to drive a vehicle in no time!