How Long Can You Drive with a Foreign License in the U.S.?

Posted by in Immigrants | Updated on November 15, 2022
At a Glance: The US allows all visitors to drive with a foreign driving license for up to 3 months. There are some limitations, however, which you need to be aware of in order to enjoy driving in the US.

Many people rely on driving as a mode of transportation in the United States, despite the high presence of public transport services. As with all countries, you require a driving license as the primary eligibility criteria to be able to drive on US roads.

But being a foreigner, things can be a bit tricky if you do not know the rules and regulations. In this article, we’ll explain basic US driving laws and how long you can use a foreign license in the United States.

Can You Drive With A Foreign License In The US?

The United States driving laws state that you’re required to have a valid driving license in possession to be able to drive in the US. This can be either issued by a US State or a foreign country. So, yes, you can drive with a foreign license in the US.

But that doesn’t mean to say there aren’t any form of limitations. Being a foreigner in the US, you need to be aware of them and follow them diligently.

Your License Should Be Issued in English

The first requirement is that the driving license should be issued in English. The name, digits, symbols have to be in English and easily readable. If not, then you’re required to have an IDP or International Driving Permit issued by your native country. Some officials and travel agents will even recommend an IDP over your country-issued driving license. But as long as it is valid, is in English, and you aren’t going to drive for more than 3 months (we’ll explain why in the below section), there shouldn’t be any problem.

Alternatively, you can use translation services to translate your driving license from your local language to English. Some states like Texas accept licenses in Spanish, but it is not recommended. You can get in touch with the US Consulate in your country to get the license translated.

No Medical Conditions that Affect Driving Ability

Besides that, you shouldn’t have any apparent medical conditions which would otherwise forbid you from driving. When applying for a driving license in the US, applicants have to undergo a medical examination consisting of vision tests and seizure disorder tests among others. Ideally, you shouldn’t have any of these.

How Long Can You Drive With A Foreign License?

The US allows all visitors to drive up to 3 months with a foreign driving license. This is from the date they make an entry into the US as per official records. Post this, your foreign license won’t work. To continue driving, you must obtain an IDP. But you also must be aware of the fact that the United States doesn’t issue IDP to short-term visitors. It can only be obtained from your native country.

But getting the IDP is different for short-term visitors and residents. Therefore, you need to follow the right method based on which category you fall under.

Short-Term Visitors vs. Residents

Short-term visitors are those people coming into the United States who are going to stay for 6 months or less. While visas can certainly be extended, their typical length doesn’t exceed 6 months. Residents or permanent residents are those people who have attained green cards. As mentioned earlier, both these groups need to follow different procedures for getting an IDP.

Short-Term Visitors

If you’re coming to the US on a short-term visit, then you must be aware that the United States does not issue IDP to short-term visitors. Therefore, you need to get the work done in your country before planning your visit. This can be done easily by visiting your country’s motor vehicle department and requesting an IDP.

Residents Or Non-US Citizens

If you’re eligible for a state-issued driving license, then you should apply for it first instead of the IDP. You should check with the state’s department of the motor vehicle for more information on it. This will allow you to drive in all US states and is valid for a longer amount of time. Since you’ll likely be staying in the United States permanently or at least for a longer duration, this will come in extremely handy.

Requirements To Drive In The US

The requirements for legally driving in the United States have already been covered above in greater detail. To briefly explain it, here are the requirements:

  • Must be at least 18 years of age at the time of driving
  • Should have either a valid state-issued driving license, foreign driving license, or an international driving permit. Expired licenses are not allowed.
  • Should be free from any medical conditions that would make him/her unfit for driving.
  • Should follow all driving laws and regulations of the state.

Car Rental Requirements

If you’re coming into the United States and would like to drive yourself, then chances are you’re going to get car rental services at one point in time or another. These types of services are available throughout the United States at reasonable prices. But they too have some requirements, including:

  • License requirements
  • Rental agreements
  • Good driving record
  • Insurance
  • Deposit and payment

Each of these items is explored in more detail below.

License requirements

All rental companies will ask you for your driving license, either state-issued, foreign license, or IDP. Without this, the company may decide not to rent you the cars. They can decide to keep a copy of it or just verify and hand it back. So, be prepared to produce one when you go out to pick a car.

Rental agreements

The company will make a rental agreement with you. This will detail everything ranging from how long you’ll be taking the car to how much it will cost. This document will also include damage and a mid-way breakage reimbursement clause. So, don’t forget to read it thoroughly at least once.

Good driving record

Companies may ask for your past driving records. If they find any violations, then they may cancel your agreement or reservation at their discretion.

Insurance

It’s good to be covered with insurance when you’re renting a car. You can cover it through a personal auto insurance policy, motor club membership, or credit card. If you’re a business traveler, then your employer may have you covered already. An important thing here is to not duplicate coverages.

Deposit and payment

Based on the company’s policy, you may be asked to make a payment in advance and pay the rest at the time of returning the vehicle.

How To Get A United States Driving License?

If you’re going to stay longer or want to extend your visa, then you should consider getting a US state-issued driving license. As a foreigner, you can apply for and receive one for yourself.

Since you’ll not be having an SSN, you’ll be asked to submit two ID proofs with your name, DOB, and picture on it. Along with that, proof of residence. After that, pay the required fees and take the driving test. If you pass, you’ll receive a temporary license valid for 30 to 90 days and your permanent license will be mailed to you within that time frame.

Driving in the U.S. With Foreign License FAQs

Can you drive with a foreign license in the U.S.?
Yes, you can drive with a foreign license in the U.S. if it is not expired, if it is issued in English, and if you have no medical conditions that affect your driving ability.

How long can you drive with a foreign license in the U.S.?
You can drive with a foreign license in the U.S. for up to 3 months. After that, you’ll need an International Driving Permit to continue driving.

Can you get a U.S. driver’s license if you are not a citizen?
Yes, you can get a U.S. driver’s license if you have the information that the state you are requesting one from requires and meet other requirements.

Do I need an International Driving Permit for the U.S.?
You only need an International Driving Permit (IDP) for the U.S. if you are planning to stay in the U.S. for more than 3 months or if your foreign license isn’t issued in English. If you are only staying for 3 months or less, you don’t need an IDP.

Can illegal immigrants get a driver’s license in the U.S.?
Illegal immigrants can get a driver’s license in certain U.S. states. As of this writing, the following states offer driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Washington D.C.

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