Immigration. Travel. Living.

USA: get driver license for immigrants

American truck car

In this article, we will take a closer look at all the steps to obtain a driver’s license in the United States.

If you are a tourist, it means you are in the country temporarily. Then you can travel according to your national rights. In some states, when registering a car for rent, you may also be asked for an international license. It is impossible to obtain international rights in the United States, so it is better to take care of this in advance.

If you have arrived in the United States for a long time (more than a year on a work, student, or other nonimmigrant visas), then you need to get a driver’s license from the state where you live. For this, the states of New York and Florida, for example, give you only 30 days, New Jersey – 60 days, and in California, you need to be on time for 10. Regardless of whether you previously had a license in another country. Or you plan to sit driving for the first time – the sequence of your actions will be the same. For a list of requirements and conditions for your state, as well as training materials, visit the DMV website.


Steps to receive a driver license in the USA

  • Learn your state’s traffic rules

The Driver’s Manual can be downloaded from the Internet or taken for free at the DMV office. Please make sure that your book is eligible to the state, as there are some differences between states. Those books are in different languages.

 If this is your first time getting a license, some states require you by law to complete a training course. In Florida, it’s called Traffic Law & Substance Abuse Education Course.

The course program will tell you how drugs and alcohol affect your driving, introduce you to local laws, and teach you how to drive safely.

The duration of this online course is 4 hours. The system won’t let you skip the course out of order. After passing it, you will be sent a certificate to take with you to the DMV office to submit the computer test. In addition to Florida, a similar test will need to be passed in New York (Pre-Licensing Course). Unlike Florida, you can’t go through it online.

You have to enroll in one of the many driving schools. The duration of the course is 5 hours, and the issued certificate is valid for a year from the date of issue. They went even further in Washington state: there, to get a license, you must take 30 hours of training in the classroom and a minimum of 6 hours of driving. If you live in the state of New Jersey, then consider yourself fortunate – it is not necessary to take such courses here. 

man driving a car wearing wrist watch

  • Prepare the necessary documents

The list of documents may vary slightly from state to state. But mainly consists of the following points:

  • Identity card (this can be a residence permit – a green card, a certificate of naturalization, and if you are in the states on a visa – your national passport);
  • Social Security Number (SSN). If you do not have it, then you need to have a paper stating that you are not entitled to this number. It can be easily obtained at any social insurance office, having with you a passport with a visa and a document confirming the address of residence;
  • Two documents confirming the address of your residence (this can be a lease agreement, a utility bill or mobile phone bill, a bank statement);
  • Form I-94, which shows the date you crossed the US border. You can download this form on the website of the Customs and Border Guard Department. At the time of submission of documents, it must be no older than 2 months. If the period of stay in it is overdue, but you are in the United States legally and in legal status (this happens when you, for example, change your status within the country), instead of I-94, you can bring other documents (for example, Form I-797);
  • Proof of your legal stay in the country;
  • Certificate of completion (if required in your state). 

It is necessary to attach a completed form for obtaining a driver’s license to these documents. After submitting the documents, your eyesight will be checked, and you will be sent to take a computer test for knowledge of the theory.

  • Pass a computer test

The test consists of 15-40 questions depending on the state, 80% of which must be answered correctly to pass the test. The test includes questions on knowledge of laws, principles of safe driving, and road signs. You can prepare using the book you download from your state’s DMV website.

  • Driving training

The Learner’s permit allows you to drive with another driver. It is issued for a fixed period, usually 6 months. The requirements for an accompanying driver are simple. They must have a valid American driver’s license and have at least three years of driving experience. Therefore, in more loyal states, such as New Jersey, you can study with a husband/wife or friend. In other states, such as Washington and New York, you are required to take lessons from a professional driving school instructor.

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