If you live in a college town where everything is within walking distance or public transportation is efficient and safe, good for you. You probably won’t have to drive for the next four years. If you decided to move to a city with really bad public transportation and that is very spread out, then you will probably feel the need for a car after freshman year. Even if you don’t have intentions of driving, having a US identification document will make it easier to get into bars and stuff, since some places don’t trust foreign IDs and bringing your passport to a night out sounds a little risky.
If you come from a city where the driving age is 18 and you moved to the US when you were 18, then you’ve probably never had a drivers license and do not know how to drive whatsoever. Regardless of whether you have a drivers license from your country or you don’t, you will have to get an American drivers license in order to legally drive in the US. There is however, a six month grace period where you can use your country’s license in the US. Make sure you review what sorts of agreements your country has with the US regarding driving. I know that if you have a Canadian license, you don’t have to do a road test.
Get a Social Security number. Not all states require this, so make sure you review the state specific requirements. For more information on how to get a Social Security number, click here.
Prepare all the required documents.
- Your most current I-20 and any other signed versions you might have
- Your valid passport with your F-1 visa
- Proof of residence. Can be a bill or a letter addressed to you. If you live on campus, the Registrar’s office might be able to prepare this for you
- Your Social Security card or a Form SSA-L676 that states you aren’t eligible for one
- If you are on OPT, bring your I-766
Study for the written test. Each state has its own rules so make sure you visit your state’s DMV website for a specific study guide.
Get a friend who loves you to take you to the closest DMV or just Uber. To get a drivers license, you will need to take a vision test, a written test and a road test. As always, there will be a fee that will vary by state (usually around $20-30). If you need to practice your driving, you can take the vision and written test on the same day (no appointment necessary) and then practice driving in the US for a few weeks before coming back for your road test (appointments usually required).
Practice driving in America. After you pass the vision and written tests, you will receive a permit which allows you to drive as long as there is someone over the age of 21 in the car with you. You can then come back and get your license whenever you want. If you’re under 18, there might be some other regulations you will have to take like having a permit for a certain amount of time or taking a driving class.
Come back to the DMV for the road test. Road tests are usually by appointment only and you need to bring the vehicle you will use to take the test (my roommate drove me to the DMV so I got to use her car). If you’re planning on taking the road test on the same day as the written test, make sure you give yourself enough time to take the vision and written tests before your scheduled road test.
Receive your drivers license. You will get a paper-form license at the DMV and will receive your physical license via mail shortly after. Since you’re an international student, your license will only be valid until you graduate school. If you’re doing your OPT, make sure you renew your license. The good thing about this is that you won’t have to get a new license when you turn 21.