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

Updated on April 10, 2024
At a Glance:
  • You can drive in the US with a valid foreign license, as long as it is issued in English or accompanied by an International Driving Permit (IDP).

  • There are limitations, such as a maximum of 3 months of driving with a foreign license.

  • If you plan to stay longer, you may need to obtain a state-issued driving license.

  • Rental companies may have additional requirements, including a good driving record and insurance coverage.

  • To get a US driving license, you’ll need to meet certain requirements, submit documents, and pass a driving test.

  • Certain states offer driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.
  • Many people rely on driving as their primary mode of transportation in the United States because public transport services are limited especially outside of the major cities. 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.

    How Long Can You Drive With A Foreign License?

    The United States allows visitors to drive for up to 3 months with a foreign driving license from the date of entry into the country, as per official records. After this period, a foreign license will not be valid for driving, and an International Driving Permit (IDP) is required. However, it's important to note that the US does not issue IDPs to short-term visitors; they must obtain it from their native country.Short-Term Visitors vs. Residents:Short-term visitors, defined as those staying in the US for 6 months or less, cannot obtain an IDP in the United States. They should obtain it from their home country's motor vehicle department before planning their visit.Residents or non-US citizens who are eligible for a state-issued driving license should prioritize obtaining one instead of an IDP. This state-issued license is valid for a longer duration and allows driving in all US states. Residents should inquire with their state's Department of Motor Vehicles for more information.

    The US allows all visitors to drive for up to 4 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 (International Driving Permit). 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.

    However, 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.

    How to Drive With a Foreign License in The US

    According to United States driving laws, having a valid driving license is a requirement to operate a vehicle in the US. This license can be issued by a US State or a foreign country, allowing you to drive with a foreign license in the US.However, certain limitations apply to foreign drivers in the US, and it's essential to adhere to them.Condition 1: Your License Must Be Issued in EnglishYour foreign driving license must be in English, with all names, numbers, and symbols easily legible. If not, you may need an International Driving Permit (IDP) from your home country. Some recommend using an IDP even if your license is valid, in English, and your stay is under 3 months. Alternatively, you can use translation services or contact the US Consulate for translation.Condition 2: No Medical Conditions That Impair Driving AbilityYou must not have medical conditions that hinder your ability to drive safely. US driving license applicants undergo a medical examination, including vision and seizure disorder tests. It's essential to be free of these conditions for safe driving.

    According to the United States driving laws, it is a requirement to possess a valid driving license to operate a vehicle in the US. This license can be issued by either a US State or a foreign country, which means that, yes, you can drive with a foreign license in the US.

    However, there are certain limitations that you should be aware of as a foreign driver in the US, and it is crucial to adhere to them.

    Condition 1: Your License Must Be Issued in English

    The primary requirement is that your foreign driving license must be issued in the English language. All names, numbers, and symbols on the license should be in English and easily legible. If your license does not meet this criterion, you will need to obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP) issued by your home country. In fact, some officials and travel agents may recommend using an IDP over your native license. As long as your license is valid, in English, and you do not intend to drive for more than 3 months (which will be explained below), you should not encounter any issues.

    Alternatively, you can utilize translation services to convert your local language license into English. While certain states, like Texas, accept licenses in Spanish, it is not the recommended option. To get your license translated, you can contact the US Consulate in your home country.

    Condition 2: No Medical Conditions That Impair Driving Ability

    Additionally, you must not have any obvious medical conditions that would prevent you from driving. When applying for a driving license in the US, applicants are required to undergo a medical examination, which includes vision and seizure disorder tests, among others. Ideally, you should not have any of these medical conditions that would affect your ability to drive safely.

    Requirements To Drive In The US

    Icon depicting a checklist or form with bullet points on a dark blue background.

    The requirements for legal 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 16 years of age at the time of driving (with restrictions and then you can graduate to a full driving license based on some requirements)
    • 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 to 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 it 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 Driver’s License

    Icon depicting a user profile card with a silhouette avatar and lines representing driver's license on a dark blue background.

    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.

    How to Exchange a Foreign Driver’s License in the USA

    If you possess a driver’s license from your home country and intend to use it in the United States, it’s essential to understand the process of exchanging or renewing your license. However, keep in mind that each state in the USA has its own unique guidelines and requirements for this procedure.

    Some states have reciprocal agreements with certain countries, making the exchange of a foreign driver’s license relatively straightforward. However, other states may require you to pass a written test, a practical driving test, or even meet additional criteria such as a vision test and the submission of specific documents.

    While states like New York and Washington D.C. have stringent regulations and requirements, obtaining a US driver’s license can be more accessible in states like Florida. Below, we’ve outlined the various driver’s license requirements for some of the most popular states among immigrants:

    Driver’s License Requirements in Florida

    • Pass a written theoretical test
    • Undergo a vision test
    • Provide an International Driver’s License (if applicable)

    Driver’s License Requirements in California

    • Apply for a driver’s license within ten days of changing residence
    • Pass a written theoretical test
    • Pay a fee of $31
    • Pass a vision test
    • Present a valid visa with at least 60 days of validity remaining
    • Furnish your Social Security Number
    • Show proof of residence in the US
    • For vehicles older than six years, undergo a Motor Vehicle Safety Inspection every two years

    Driver’s License Requirements in Washington D.C.

    • Pass a written theoretical test
    • Pay a fee of $44 for issuance and $10 for the test
    • Pass a vision test
    • Present a valid ID card
    • Furnish your Social Security Number
    • Have no outstanding debts with the District of Columbia
    • Provide proof of residence in the US
    • Translate your existing driver’s license into English
    • For vehicles older than six years, undergo a Motor Vehicle Safety Inspection every two years

    Driver’s License Requirements in New York

    • Apply for a driver’s license within 30 days of changing residence
    • Pass a written theoretical test
    • Complete a 5-hour driving class followed by a road test
    • Furnish your Social Security Number
    • Obtain mandatory car liability insurance
    • Undergo a Motor Vehicle Safety Inspection every year

    For more detailed and up-to-date information, visit the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) website specific to your state. You can find the relevant DMV authority for your location by using the DMV online search tool.

    How to Take a Driver’s License Test in the US

    Icon depicting two hands holding a steering wheel on a dark blue background.

    Acquiring a driver’s license in the United States involves a multi-step process that may vary slightly from state to state. However, the following steps are generally required to obtain a US driver’s license:

    1. Vision Test – You will typically need to pass a vision test to ensure that your eyesight meets the necessary standards for safe driving.
    2. Proof of Legal Residency in the US – You must provide documentation proving your legal residency status in the United States. This could include a visa, permanent resident card (green card), or other relevant immigration documents.
    3. Theoretical Test (Multiple Choice Questions) – You’ll be required to pass a theoretical test consisting of multiple-choice questions that assess your knowledge of the rules of the road and traffic laws.
    4. Knowledge of American Road Signs – Understanding American road signs is crucial, and you will be tested on your knowledge of these signs. This includes having a sufficient grasp of the English language to comprehend and respond to road signs effectively.
    5. Practical Driving Test – The final step is a practical driving test, where you demonstrate your ability to operate a vehicle safely and follow the rules of the road. During this test, an examiner will assess your driving skills and adherence to traffic regulations.

    While these steps are generally consistent across the United States, there may be specific requirements or variations in your particular state. Be sure to check with your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or equivalent agency for the most up-to-date and state-specific information on obtaining a driver’s license.

    Read More

    Driving in the U.S. with a Foreign License: Common FAQs

    Below, you will find some common questions about driving in the US on a foreign license and their answers.

    Can I drive in the US with my foreign driver’s license?

    Yes, you can generally drive in the US with your foreign driver’s license as long as it is valid and in English. If it’s not in English, you may need to obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP) or have a translation of your license.

    How long can I drive in the US with my foreign license?

    The duration you can drive with your foreign license varies by state, but it’s often limited to a few months. Check the specific regulations of the state you plan to drive in.

    What if my foreign license is not in English?

    If your foreign license is not in English, you may need to obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP) or have a certified translation of your license. Some states also accept licenses in other languages, so check with the local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for their requirements.

    Do I need car insurance when driving with a foreign license in the US?

    Yes, it’s advisable to have car insurance when driving in the US. You may be required to have liability insurance, and coverage requirements vary by state. It’s crucial to understand and comply with local insurance laws.

    Can I use my foreign license if I’m a tourist or temporary visitor?

    Tourists and temporary visitors can typically use their foreign licenses in the US for a limited duration, often up to six months. Check the regulations of the state you plan to visit for specific requirements.

    Can I apply for a US driver’s license as a foreigner?

    Yes, as a foreigner, you can apply for a US driver’s license in many states. The requirements vary, but you’ll usually need to pass a written test, a practical driving test, and meet residency and identification requirements.

    Are there any age restrictions for driving with a foreign license in the US?

    Age requirements for using a foreign license in the US vary by state. Some states have specific age limits, while others allow individuals of any age to drive with a valid foreign license.

    What happens if I’m involved in a traffic violation or accident with a foreign license?

    If you’re involved in a traffic violation or accident, the consequences may vary depending on the severity of the incident and the state’s laws. It’s essential to follow local procedures, cooperate with law enforcement, and contact your insurance company if necessary.

    Can I rent a car in the US with my foreign license?

    Many rental car companies in the US accept foreign driver’s licenses. However, they may have specific requirements and policies regarding renting a car, so it’s advisable to check with the rental agency beforehand.

    Can I use my foreign license to drive for rideshare services like Uber or Lyft?

    Rideshare service requirements vary by company and location. Some may accept foreign licenses, but others may require a US driver’s license. Check with the specific rideshare service for their driver eligibility criteria in your area.

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    Frank Gogol

    I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

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