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How International Students Can Apply for a US Driving License

campus life
advice for students
By Shorelight Team
Last updated on March 4, 2022

How long does it take to get your driver’s license? What paperwork do you need to get a US driving license? Find answers to these questions and more.

A backseat view of a female student driver with her male driving instructor in the passenger seat.

What do I need to get my driver’s license?

Getting your US driving license can make life as an international student a little easier. Being able to drive a car helps you run errands, explore your new home, and visit places with friends.

In the United States, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) in your state of residence can issue you a driver’s license. Every state has different requirements for how to get a driver’s license, but this guide will help you understand the basics and learn where to find state license information.

Talk to Your Campus Advisor

Your campus advisor can help you learn everything you need to know about how to get a driver’s license. They understand the steps to get a driver’s license and can show you how to gather all of the information you need to apply. Taking time to talk to your advisor first can make the process of getting a US driving license much easier. 

Depending on where you are from, driving in the USA with a foreign license is possible. If you are an experienced driver, ask your advisor whether your license will work in the United States.

Wait at Least Two Weeks After You Arrive

You may be excited to get your new license immediately after arriving in the US, but be patient. Before you can apply for a state license as an international student, your Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record must be active. It can take as many as ten days after your arrival in the United States for your status in SEVIS to update. After that, it can take another two business days for local systems to update with your Active status. 

So, if you try to apply for a US driver’s license too soon, your application will be rejected. Waiting at least two weeks will give these systems time to update.

Gather the Appropriate Documentation

What paperwork do I need to get my driver’s license?

To get your non-US citizen driver’s license, you will need to prove that you are an international student living in the United States. You should have the following documentation:

  • Your unexpired foreign passport with required US entry markings

  • Your Form I-20

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

  • Your Social Security Number or a letter from Social Security stating non-eligibility

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

  • A US visa with supporting documents, all valid for at least 160 days

  • Form I-94

  • Money to pay any fees 

Find Your Nearest DMV or RMV

For more details about paperwork and other requirements for a US driver’s license, contact the DMV in the state in which you are studying. The list below includes links to the state DMV or RMV branches for many international-friendly universities.

Where do I get my US driver’s license?

Check That Your Information Is Accurate

Double-check all your essential documents to make sure they are consistent. Check the following information: 

  • Your status in SEVIS is active

  • Your name is spelled correctly across all documents

  • Your date of birth is consistent across all documents

If you notice any errors or inconsistencies, talk to your campus advisor about how to get these fixed before you apply for a US driver’s license. Inconsistent information can cause delays in your application. Verifying that all of the information is correct before you apply can save you time. 

Go to the Nearest DMV

Ask your advisor or use the links in the list above to find your local DMV station. Then, when you go to the DMV, you can:

  • Verify you have all the appropriate documentation

  • Apply for your license

  • Take the written exam and driver’s exam (if needed)

  • Register your car

Try to get to the DMV a few minutes before they open in the morning so you can avoid waiting a long time in line! Some DMVs even post wait times on their website or app, so you can tell how busy they are on the day you plan to go. 

If you wear glasses or contacts, remember to bring them with you to the DMV. As a new driver, you may be asked to take a vision test.

Ask an American Friend to Practice With You

If you are a first-time driver, you may not get your license right away. Instead, the DMV may issue you a driving permit after you take a written test. This allows you to drive with some restrictions. 

Before starting your driver’s lessons in the US, review the documentation with your permit to make sure that you meet all requirements. You can attend a local driving school to practice driving. Talk to your college counselor to find one in your area.

How long does it take to get your driver’s license? Some DMVs will issue a temporary driver’s license on the day you apply. Your driver’s license card will typically arrive in the mail after a week or two, but you can drive with the temporary driver’s license until then.

Finally, if you are not used to driving on the right side of the road, it can help to ask an American friend to practice with you. It will improve your driving—and your friendship! 

Find out how Shorelight student services can help you understand the US driving license process >