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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 May 18, 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.

Can international students get a driver’s license in the USA? Yes!

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 friends.

This guide will help you understand the driver’s license requirements that the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) have in place for issuing an international driver’s license in the USA. 

Note that every state has different requirements for how to get a driver’s license. This guide goes over the basics, including where to find state license information. 

International Student Driver’s License Requirements

Can international students get a driver’s license in the USA? Yes! You can start by talking to your designated school official (DSO) or campus advisor. They can help you understand the requirements of getting an international driver’s license in your state, guide you towards the information needed for the application, and support you through the required steps. Your DSO can clarify any questions you may have about your eligibility for a driver’s license, such as “how can international students get a driver’s license in USA?”, “Can an F-1 student get a driver’s license?”, and more.

The application process to get an international driver’s license in the USA differs from state to state.

Some states accept licenses from certain foreign countries. Depending on where you are from, you might be able to drive in the USA with a foreign license. If you have a license from another country or state, the DMV may not require you to take written and driving tests. Some states require a Social Security number (SSN) to issue an international driver’s license in the USA.  

Before you can apply for an international student driver’s license, your Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record must be active. It can take as many as 10 days after arriving in the US 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. Being patient and applying at least two weeks after your arrival will help you get your international driver’s permit with ease and avoid your application being rejected. 

Required Documentation

Since DMVs will require specific documents – no exceptions – first reach out to your campus advisor or a Shorelight advisor to learn which documents you will need to apply for your international driver’s permit. Different states and territories have specific driver’s license requirements, and advisors are usually up to date on any new developments you should be aware of. 

To get your international driver’s license in the USA, you will need to prove that you are an international student living in the United States. You may be required to submit several documents including ID verification, proof of address, and immigration forms. These requirements change from state to state, but some common required documents are:

  • Form I-94 — Your Form 1-94 comes from the US Customs Office and shows a record of your travel history. The DMV will issue the US driver’s license depending on how long you plan to stay in the US.

  • All signed versions of your Form I-20 — Your Form I-20 shows your eligibility for a driver’s license based on your status as a ‘nonimmigrant student.’

  • Proof of Residence — Because each state issues its own driver’s licenses to residents, your local DMV office will need to see that you currently live in that state to determine your eligibility to apply for the driver’s license. Proof of residence varies from state to state, but some commonly accepted forms are:

  • Bank records and statement

  • Official mail addressed to you at your local address

  • Rental/lease agreements

  • School documentation

  • Insurance documentation

Check your local DMV’s website to understand the exact requirements for the state where you will be attending university. 

  • Your unexpired foreign passport and your most recent US student visa — These are  required for ID verification. (If you are a student from a visa-exempt country, you may not need to provide them.) 

  • Your Social Security card or Form SSA-L676, stating Social Security ineligibility — Consider checking your DMV’s website on whether a Social Security Number (SSN) is needed in your state. 

  • DL-1/93 — This school enrollment form is used to verify your status. 

  •  Form I-766 — If you are on Optional Practical Training (OPT), the DMV will use the A number in your Employment Authorization Document to verify your status. 

Since there will likely be fees involved, consider bringing funds with you to meet these costs. You can find the most updated fee information on your local DMV website. 

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. They will help confirm your eligibility for a driver’s license. 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 driver’s license. Inconsistent information can cause delays in your application. Verifying that all 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.

Practice with an Instructor or Friend

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. 

Even if you are an experienced driver, you may be unfamiliar with US driving laws and/or driving on the right side of the road. In these cases, consider practicing with an instructor from the local driving school. You can also ask an American friend to take you on a practice run!

The DMV may issue you a temporary driving permit after your written test. Before starting your driver’s lessons in the US, review the documentation with your permit, and ensure that you meet all requirements.

Depending on the state, the time taken for the DMV to issue the driver’s license can vary. Some DMVs may issue a temporary license on the day you apply for a driver’s license, which you can use to drive until your driver’s license card arrives in the mail after a week or two. 

The process of getting your driver’s license in the US can be challenging at first, but with the correct paperwork and guidance, you’ll be ready to get behind the wheel in no time! 

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