Obtaining Your Driver's License When Arriving From A Foreign Country

by Joshua on November 10, 2014

Driving in the USA with a foreign license, generally called international driving license is permitted for a certain period of time. However, visitors or non-resident aliens will have to go through the license application process in order to request for their drivers license when that period lapses. Depending upon the number of days, or months, or years you are planning to stay in the U.S., you should be able to decide which license option is best for you.

Below are some details of getting a driver’s license in the U.S. when arriving from a foreign country.

Eligibility criteria

A visitor or a tourist should have been legally present in the United States before applying for a driver’s license. Sufficient proof of legal presence, such as passport or green card is very much essential upon applying a new driver’s license.

  • The age limit for a candidate applying for a driver’s license is at least 15.5 years old.
  • In case the candidate already has an international driver’s license and he wishes to stay for a short period of time, he is allowed to use the same. The international driver’s license can be obtained in a foreign country before entering U.S.
  • If the plan is to stay for a prolonged period of time, then the candidate will have to apply for a new driver’s license after 6 months of using the international driver’s license.
  • If the foreign national is driving a foreign car, then he/she must have an international driver’s license.
  • If the international driver’s license is in another language, a translation should be produced when requested.
  • When applying for a new driver’s license, one must produce proof of age, a clear drug test report, legal presence and have no criminal or civil cases.

Application Criteria

Candidates cannot posses 2 drivers’ licenses from different jurisdictions at the same time. Even though your foreign license can be used to drive for a certain period of time, you still need to surrender your international driver’s license before applying for a new one. Generally, the lead time is from 30-60 days. This rule again varies by State. Few states require that you surrender your international driver’s license as soon as you try to apply for a new one, regardless of the time period you decide to stay in the U.S.

Written Test

Regardless of whether you have had an international driver’s license or not, every visitor to U.S., trying to apply for a driver’s license should be able to pass the written test which is mandatory in order to get your learner’s permit. The Learner’s permit will be given to all candidates applying for a license whether or not you have proof that you had been driving in your home country.

The candidate must complete the application form; pay the fees, show age proof and proof of legal presence in order to get the written test question paper. Once you get the multiple choice question paper, you will have sufficient time to complete your test. Remember, there are no negative marks for these questions and candidates can take as much as time they want to complete the test.

Written test is the same as it is for other candidates. The test consists of multiple choice quests to be answered on topics such as traffic rules, traffic signals, decision making, driving rules, etc. Every candidate wanting a learner’s permit must clear this test. The passing score depends on each State. This written test is same for all the candidates regardless of your nationality.

Once the test is completed, the candidate will get his/her results then and there itself. In case you have passed the test, you can get your learner’s permit immediately. However, in case you have failed the test, then you may have to come back at least 1 day later for retaking the test.

Behind the Wheels

When you get your learner’s permit and practice along with a licensed driver, it is now time to do your behind the wheels driving test. This is a practical test where the examiner will sit beside you and test your driving skills—how safely you drive on the roads considering the traffic rules, driving rules, traffic signals and decision making. If you score above the pass mark, which is set differently depending on the state you’re in, then you can get your temporary driver’s license on the same day. A couple of weeks later you will be able to get your permanent driver’s license card. In case you do not pass your driving test, then you may want to rebook your driving test date again—you will have 3 attempts to take your driving test. In case you reach this limit, you will have to re-write the written test to get your new learners’ permit.

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