How to get Driving license in USA

Process to get Driving License in USA? F1 Visa, H1B, L1 visa Requirements?

In Living in US by KumarUpdated : 145 Comments

If you are an international student on F1 visa or a professional in US on H1B visa, you might have questions like

  • What is the process to get driving license in USA ?
  • How to get driving license in USA ?
  • How to get Learning Permit?
  • What are the requirements for getting license on F1 Visa ?
  • How to get F1 Visa Driver license ?
  • How can H1B visa holders get license? Requirements ?
  • Is international driving permit valid in USA ?

There might be so many questions like above…Let me share the process to get Driving license in USA.

Basic steps on How to get driving license in USA:

Steps in America, do not vary from other countries. You have to get a written test and then you take the road test. Depending on state, you go  a DMV office (Department of Motor vehicles) or DPS office (Department of Public Safety). Both are same, some states called DMV others call DPS

  • Written Test or Instruction Permit : This is a basic test to make sure you understand the rules in USA. For full info, read the article: Instruction permit, How to prepare for drivers written test in US
  • Road Test for Driving license: Once you clear the written test and get your Instruction Permit (IP) or Temps, you have certain time to practice driving license. Some states have a rule that you have to have IP for a week or so before you can take the road test. Some states do not have the rule and they waive it if you have international driving license. So, in any case you have to check with the DMV. Read this article on How to Practice for Road test in US as International

Requirements for Getting Drivers license on F1 Visa or H1B visa

I have written a similar article, H4 visa holders requirements for driving license,   before  and the requirements do not differ much from them. You need to prove  three things:

  • Your identity – Name, date of birth
  • Your current legal status in America – F1, H1B, L1 or other visa
  • Your residency status in a state – Proof that you live in that state

To prove these three, you will be asked for below Original documents. NO copies are accepted.

Generic list of required documents for F1, H1B,  and L1 visa holders.

  • Passport along with valid US Visa Stamping in it
  • I-94 card (white card given at port of entry)
  • Social Security Number (SSN) Card ( Not applicable for F1 students without a Job)
  • Utility Bill (You can get electricity bill or phone bill on your name).
  • Rental Lease papers (If you have name on it)
  • Bank account Statements of US Banks (mailed to your home for address)

In addition to above, you require below based on your current visa status

H1B or L1 Visa holders:

  • H1B or L1 approval notice ( I797 approval form)

F1 Visa Driver License additional requirements for International Students :

  • I20 from your school in US
  • Enrollment verification letter from school (Not required at all DMVs)
  • If you have job, then you will have carry SSN. If not, you will have to get a form or letter like “Certification of Non-eligibility for Social Security number” or something similar either from Social Security administration office or Department of Transportation office.  Check with your International students services office or your International student advisor for details.  The quick answer is to check the DMV website in your state to see what you need.

Well, now that you know the requirements, here is the typical process on how to get a driving license

Step by step process to get Driving license in America :

  1. You get all the required paperwork ready as listed above depending on your status. You need this stuff for getting Instruction permit or Learners permit.
  2. You should take time to prepare for the written test. You can either get the book from DMV or sometime download it online. It must be free. Read the above section on how to prepare and answer.
  3. Go to the nearest DMV or DPS office
  4. Fill out required forms as instructed by information desk people. Pay the fee required and show all the originals to the verify your status and residency.
  5. When verifying papers at counter, you will have a vision test…they will ask you to look into a binoculars kind of instrument and asked to tell if you see blinking lights or read some letter. This is to make sure you use glasses or not. If you use glasses,  they put it on your driving license saying “Restrictions :Corrective lenses”.
  6. You will be asked to take the written test either on computer or on paper depending on the state and facilities.
  7. If you pass, you will get the Instruction permit or learners permit right away or in 14 days to your home address depending on state.  If you fail the test, you can re-take the test right away sometimes on same day, ask them. If not, go next day or next week and re-take the test and clear it.
  8. Practice driving for few weeks and make sure you are confident with stuff like Parallel parking, up hill down hill parking, etc.
  9. Depending on state, you can either schedule for your road test ahead of time or you can directly walk-in to the DMV in the morning for road test.

10. If you pass road test, you get license right away or in mail depending on state. If you flunk, do not worry, prepare again and go for road test again in a week or so. You should be fine 🙂

Driving license is the most important thing in America, you can use it as your Govt. Issued Photo ID at various places…read Why NOT to carry your Passport as picture ID . Always, check with your friends or  DMV office website for full details.

Did I miss anything in the requirements for Driving License ? Any thoughts to add ?

image credit: http://mcmullansautotags.info/sample_license.jpg

   

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Comments ( 145 )

  1. deeksha

    i am in illinoi and i need a DL. i dont have six months on my visa and am unable to apply for one. i have applied for extention. is there any document before my extention gets approved that can help me in getting the same? has anyone heard of the SAVE program and how could it help me in such a scenario

  2. Bhaskar

    Hi, I came to USA in June 2014 and I got learners license in July and My H1B visa will expire on 20th October 2014 (on passport) and I 94. My employer filed for extension and visa is extended till 2017.

    Can I go to DMV with the latest I 797 to get my license? will they object as the date on visa stamping in passport is 2oth October?

    Please advise. Thanks in advance.

    1. Anoop

      Hi Bhaskar,

      You might have received your extended I-94 as well…right. That i s what you need to submit I guess. Validity of driving license is based on I-94 and not Visa expiry date. For e.g. My current visa is valid till 21st Oct 2014 and I-94 till 31st Oct 2014, so I was issued driving license by DMV valid till 31st Oct 2014. However, you need to give copy /show visa as well when applying.

  3. Namratha

    Hi,

    Could you please suggest me on below question:

    I’m on H4, living in NJ and planning to get US driver’s license. I have my Indian license(Smart Card) so is it possible to get my US driver’s license by giving only written test with out road test.

    Thanks in advance..

  4. Slavka

    I would like to ask about drive licence in USA….I have B1B2 viza iam legal in usa…but i dont have SSN number…if is imposible for i get drive licence with this viza or no?? tnx

  5. Soham

    I moved to Raleigh recently on F1 and purchased a used car 5 days back. Do I need to get auto insurance before getting driving license in usa?
    in Documents Required section they ask for proof of liability insurance. So how does this work?

  6. Anoop

    I am in US Arizona on H1B. I plan to stay in hotel and not to rent a apartment. Can I get driving license?
    Note: I have SSN and bank account number.

    Thanks,
    Anoop

    1. Vivek

      Yes, I guess you can. I got mine in colorado by staying in Homestead extended stay hotel. Though you can enquire with Arizona dmv since state law may differ. Thing they checked for me – 1) Passport and visa . 2) A fedex/ups letter addressed to me which i received on current address 3) ssn. All these information should available in their database otherwise they may ask you to come later.

  7. james ek

    I am out of status currently can I get a new drivers license from the dmv as I lost mine without getting into any trouble?

  8. Cali Driver

    Here is my issue. As a foreigner on H1-B you are only allowed to drive with foreign DL for 10 days after entering the country.
    That would mean I need to get my SSN within 10 days, get proof of residency (lease contract, utility bills, etc.) and get my theoretical and practical test done within 10 days. That isn’t possible as the SSN takes already longer than 10 days in average.
    So after 10 days in the US I won’t be able to get to work, get to the SSN office or to the DMV without a great amount of pain.
    Maybe someone can share his/ hers experience on the matter. Thanks

  9. Sagar

    Hi
    This is really a nice article. I am facing a unique issue, hope to get some help on it.

    My I797 is valid only 11 months when i went to Illinois Deerfield office they said you have to have atleast 1 year in I797 else they cant give license. Everyone knows how difficult it is to survive without license here and since i have never driven a car in India do not have Indian license as well. I am kind of stuck as cant go anywhere without anyones help.

    Any help/suggestions in this regard is much appreciated.

    1. Rakesh5555

      Hi I do have same case…. I applied in illinois and they said I need to have a Valid 6 month visa. Here I have got apartment , Electricity bill, Bank Account and SSN …. But then also they are denied.

      Thats not good… Want to know, if I can drive on Indian Car Licence for some time in illinois?

      Thanks
      Rakesh.

      1. Abhishek

        Did you get the license now? They told the same thing to me? I heard you should be having for 6 months atleast. I have for 11 months. Please let me know, Thanks

        1. Rakesh

          Abhishek, I am driving on my Indian Drivers licence as in Illinois a person can drive on his Indian DL (Must be in English) for first 90 days of his resident.
          But if you do not plan to become resident, you can drive as long as you stay in illinois on your valid licence.

  10. Vikram

    First I would like to say a heart full thanks to you and your article. Really appreciated the way you are explaining like in-case of failures also. Once again thanks for putting all your past experiences here. Very nice article!!!

  11. Asish

    hi,
    I am international student ,I take admission in Kansas ,unfortunately I didn’t entroll in the college ,Now am in newyork I tried to apply for SSN,But they give me olny one letter.I have 5 years visa and the I-20.There is any chance for getting the us driving licence.Please help me to give a suggestion as soon as possible in my email

    Thank You

  12. Kallol Das

    hi ,
    i have the SSN and all other documents .But i am staying in a hotel as they have offered me a good Deal.Is my lease document mandatory for appearing for driver license test and finally getting a driver license.

    Please let know other options

  13. Gary Parks

    Thanks for throwing light on the process of getting the driver’s license in the U.S. The list you have posted of required documents for F1, H1B1 and L1 visa holders is very useful.

  14. H1-FNU

    Hello ,

    I am one of the luckiest Indian cursed with FNU in my visa, since some one said to me to fill up my correct name in I-94 , i filled up my Name in Given name and left my last name as blank but in visa it says FirstName :FNU Last Name :XXXXYYYY

    Now i went to SSN Office and applied for SSN with First name :XXXX Last Name :YYYY
    In DMV they asked me to contact the SNN office and change my name as in passport , can some one suggest is there a way to come out of it ?

    SHall i try once again in DMV or should i change my name in SSN and then apply for DMV ?

    Suggestion Please

    1. Mathew Joy

      I am in the same situation. Change your ssn. You’ll get the corrected one in a week or two. Later you have to correct your passport (split the name) then your visa, ssn and drivers license.

  15. Ara

    Hi,
    I’m going next summer as a student to Montana State University and I’ve also obtained a five-year long visa. I’m a german citizen and also have a german driving licence. My question is if I have to get a driving licence from scratch or if I can somehow rewrite my german licence in a US one? It would be really easier if I didn’t have to take the test again.
    Thank You!

  16. Please Help

    Hi,
    I am from India.
    My husband will be travelling to US shortly for attending training and will be in US for 2 weeks.
    My husbnad is having L1 and B1 visa.
    My husband might be travelling to US on B1 visa.

    Is my husband elligible for applying US driving license?

    My husband already has US SSN (as he had worked in US earlier)
    What are the other mandatory documents required?

    Also, if all the required documents are ready, then how long will it take to get the license?

    Please reply

  17. RAVI VARMA

    How to get a truck driver job.iam from India I had an experience more than 10 years in driving trucks in India .how to apply and what type of visa required for this.please help me know about this .thank u.waiting for ur response .

  18. H1B GK

    Hi Saurabh,
    I am big fan of this site and follwed this site regularly since one year. I recently came to USA on H1B , currently driving with Indian driving license since it is valid for 3 months.
    I went to DMV 05/04/13 for applying Drivers license, Officer at front desk say I am not eligible, since my I 94 is having lest than 1 year (My I94 valid until Feb 2014, Passport valid till Feb 2014 and Visa Valid till Nov 2014) . Please suggest me and it would be great if you share rule book for Illinois (Bloomington).

    1. administrator
      Saurabh

      H1B GK,
      I have not heard of this in the past. Maybe that officer used his own discretion. You can try again and see if another DMV officer will issue the DL.

      I don’t see any such requirement on IL DMV site:
      http://www.dmv.org/il-illinois/apply-license.php#Non-Citizens

  19. Sien

    hi i am a Chinese international student, i study in America with F1 Visa.
    I am under 17 which is the age in china we can NOT learn to drive.
    now should i still obey the Chinese rules or I can begin to prepare for my licenses just like Americans ?
    Thank you:D

  20. sean

    Hi, it is good to know there is a help for my question.

    My wife just came from china with temprory greemcard visa stamp on her passport
    And we have to wait for 2-6 months to get real plastic card.
    But she need to get driver license in seattle washington.
    Can she take this passport and her social security card to get a license? Or she has to wait for her real plastic one?
    Thangs again

    1. administrator
      Saurabh

      Sean,
      I think she can still appear for DL. However, different state DMVs have different documents requirements, and you can check w/ yours.

  21. Michael

    Dear Sir or Miss,

    My right hand is normal l, however, my left hand was injuried many years ago. Now the end of the thumb was broken and the little finger was lost. However, my left hand can grasp and control the steering wheel. I am just wondering whether I can get the driving license in USA. Need I get special procedure for the driving license, like physical examination?

    Thansk alot !

    Michael

  22. software engineer

    Hi All,

    I recently (a month ago) moved to Sunnyvale ,CA (Bay area), and have been driving a four wheeler . I don’t have any US driving license or learner’s permit, however I do have a valid license issued at India.
    Also, I’m here on L1B. So, how long am I legally allowed to drive on my India license. Since mine is not a business visit to the country,am I even allowed to drive on India license for months?

    -thanks
    just another software engineer

    1. H1B Visa

      You are not allowed to drive on India license even for a single day. You should have either a US driving license or a valid learner’s permit(usually valid for 2 months from date you give written DMV exam). Please go & give DVM written exam & get your learner’s permit by showing India driving license. Once you get than, you can schedule behind the wheel exam & get your permanent driving license.

      1. H1B2013Applicant

        Indian Driving license is not good but we can get IDP (International driving permit) in India which allows us to drive in US. Even u can rent car on IDP.

        1. software engineer

          IDP doesn’t seem to quite work in the US. All car rental companies ,at least in the Bay area, are absolutely fine renting cars to Indians on the India license. My question was more on whether there’s a restriction on the basis of visa type, because almost all B1 visa holders do rent cars on their india license. The IDP doesn’t award any special driving permit. It’s just an English language translation of the text in the foreign license, in case the latter is written in a different language. And therefore IDP is NOT required on Indian licenses.

          1. L1Guy

            you You can use Indian license in some states.. When I was in St.Louis I did the same.. You can use that for 1 year.. But after that you definetely need a US license.

          2. H1B2013Applicant

            its jst matter of technicalities…Indian Driving License is valid for Indian Road but den it depends upon d law enforcement agency wherein International Driving Permit is for ppl who are on business travel and can not get a license in foreign compay…but hving a driving license do prove dat u hv skills

  23. mallem

    I came to US recently, I applied for SSN and until I get my US Driving License, is it legal to drive with my Indian Driving license.

  24. suraj

    I agree its time and money consuming process in USA to get a driving license specially if you don’t pass in driving test for the first time…
    I would like to add few things to keep in mind while going for driving test
    >>>Learn Parallel and reverse parking( youtube for details)..we don’t perfect our parking skills while driving in india but here its not and option
    >>>Learn about all the technicalities i was asked for K turn(nothing gr8 but if you don’t know may get you failed in test)
    >>>Stay clam while test

  25. Stephen

    Hi my name is stephen and im came in US with student visa F1 but for some reasons i didnt registrate.i got a visa for 3years so can i apply for my DL in Virginia?
    Tkx

  26. Thu

    Hi, I’m international student and i will go to college this fall. My visa is expired but i still have a valid I20 from my school to prove that i study in America. My passport is until August 2012. Can i apply to take DL?

  27. Hawra

    Hi, i just got my H1-b visa approved, got the SS number as well but didn’t get the card yet. Now i have read that it is required to get verification form letter from OIS. what does that suppose to mean and where is that OIS in Jersey ?

  28. Narendra Singh

    Hi,

    I am currently in US, i have passed Driving Knowledge Test and having a valid Indian Licence. After the test i didnt get learners permit as i have a Valid Indian licence.
    Can you confirm if i can drive in US alone (without accompanying a US driving Licence holder) until i get a permanent liecence?

    Thanks,

  29. Abhimanyu

    Hi,

    I have a H1B visa and am in CA. I’ve applied for SSN and have a receipt for the application. Can I go for the written test with only the receipt or do I need to wait to get the SSN card?

    1. administrator
      Saurabh

      Abhimanyu,
      I don’t think you can give the test w/o actual Social Security Number. But you can call DMV and check w/ them. Call early in the morning to avoid long wait times.

  30. Srinivas Obula

    Hi,

    I have Indian Driving license .What is the procedure to get US,NJ-07307 Driving license.I have valid H1 visa.

    Please help me out.

    THanks
    Srini O

      1. Chetan

        Srinivas Obula is correct, Saurabh u check ur article 1st or understand what others talking about.

        “Srinivas Obula February 18, 2012 at 11:11 pm

        “Hi,

        I have Indian Driving license .What is the procedure to get US,NJ-07307 Driving license.I have valid H1 visa.”

  31. idriss

    hi, my name’s idriss and i’m international student, i have my driver licence from my country, is djibouti, i think the driver licence of djibouti is international, so my question is, can i drive with my driver licence in washington states, because i live in seattle, my visa and i94 is valid. is it necessary to take a washington DL. thanks

  32. aarti

    Hi,
    I am H4 visa but due to some mistake i did not get my visa extension with my husband.Now my driving license has expired but DMV can not renew it without extension.At the same time i got an admitted in the university if i get my i 20 from University, can i renew my driving license with I 20.Please advice me.

    1. administrator
      Saurabh

      You cannot renew it on the basis of I-20. For extension, one needs to have a valid unexpired I-94. Once your extension gets approved, you will get an extended I-94 and you can take that for renewal. Similarly if you change your status to F-1, an I-94 will be issued and you can take that for renewal.

      Has your extension been filed for H-4 now? Was it filed before your I-94 for H-4 expired?

  33. Venu

    Please help. I am looking for a drivers job in US. I do not know the process involved. I also do not have a VISA. Could you please let me know which VISA i need to apply for and how do i get through jobs in US

  34. Ron

    Hi, not sure if this site is valid or not, but worth giving a shot ;- )

    Thanks for answering all the answers here, seems very helpful

    Was wondering if I’ll have to take the road test even if I have an Israeli driving license for 5 years now? (I would say a pretty experienced driver?)

    Thanks a bunch

    Ron

  35. Akmal

    Hello dear Sir

    I am about to move to Alabama State, I would like to obtain driver licence. As I read in you article you have said that I should prepare all documents then take a test and once I passed the test I get Learner Permit is that correct?
    Can I drive with learner Permit before I get driver licence?
    How long does the proccess fully takes?
    How many weeks I should roughly prepare my self to take a real test?
    Once I got Learner Permit how many weeks I should take a driving practice?
    Once I completed my driving practice when I will be officialy issued a driver licence?

    I will be really thankfull if you could answer to all my questions
    Thank you very much

    1. Bek

      As I read in you article you have said that I should prepare all documents then take a test and once I passed the test I get Learner Permit is that correct?.
      – Yes.
      Can I drive with learner Permit before I get driver licence?
      -You cannot drive by yourself. There should be someone with you who has a driver license.
      How long does the proccess fully takes?
      – Once you have all the required documents, testing takes about 20 mins.
      How many weeks I should roughly prepare my self to take a real test?
      – Read the driving manual. It all depends how fast you learn. Manual is not big. For average learners it should take about 2-3 days.
      Once I got Learner Permit how many weeks I should take a driving practice?
      – Practice couple of days. If you feel comfortable then give it a try.
      Once I completed my driving practice when I will be officialy issued a driver licence?
      – After you done with practicing take your driving exam. if you pass then they give you driver’s license right away. Some states might issue temporary license first and send you actual one to your mail box. But temporary license is good as permanent one.

  36. Mimi

    Hi,
    My niece is Korean ,she will have a Student visa to study English at Ruston, Louisiana ELS next year. If she bring her international drive license, can she drive in Louisiana list 1 year?

  37. Dinny

    Hi!
    I am foreign student from India and I have my driving license with me from my home country. The license is in English.
    My question is:
    Can I drive with my Indian Drivers License here in the US without the International Driving License? If not can I obtain the International Driving Permit from anywhere here in the US?
    Coz somewhere in the DMV instructions I read that Foreign Country Drivers License would need International Driving Permit which is just a translation of a foreign license in English.
    Thanks

    Dinny

  38. Selvam

    Hi,

    My visa and I94 expired and i appiled for extension, it is in pending state. Can i apply for DL in Atlanta ? Any thougts will help me. Thanks.

    1. administrator
      Saurabh

      As an alien, one needs an unexpired I-94 in order to get a DL. The DL is issued until the I-94 expiration date. So you would have to wait for the extension to get approved, and then apply for DL.

      1. Harry

        May be this is what it was in 2011. Recently when I took my friend to DMV here in Bloomington, IL he was not allowed to apply saying that he was not eligible to apply for DL or State id because his I-94 is for less than 6 months. Now the rule book says that I-94 should be valid for more than 6mnths to apply for Drivers license or State id.

        1. H1B GK

          I am also in the same boat, I went to DMV 05/04/13 for applying Drivers license, Officer at front desk say I am not eligible, since my I 94 is having lest than 1 year (My I94 valid until Feb 2014, Passport valid till Feb 2014 and Visa Valid till Nov 2014) . Please suggest me and it would be great if you share rule book for Illinois (Bloomington)

          1. Randel

            Hi H1B GK! I encountered the same problem today, but I cannot find the specific rule in the “2014 Rules of the Road” (here is the link: https://www.cyberdriveillinois.com/publications/pdf_publications/dsd_a112.pdf). Actually the officer said my VISA will expire in less than 6 months. What did you then?

  39. Jacob

    Sir
    I have a question. I can drive a car but I do not have a driving license. I am going to the US very soon. So my question is do I need an Indian Driving License to get US DL or is it just enough to pass the tests in the US ?
    PS: I am a student and have an F1 visa

    Thank you

    1. administrator
      Saurabh

      Having an Indian DL is not a necessity to obtain US DL. Once you pass the written and driving test in US, you would get the US DL.

  40. sumesh.s

    sir
    my name is sumesh i am now living in india i have a valid indian driving license to drive heavy and light motor vehicles,and i have total 6 years experience in driving field i need your help for getting a driver visa for usa,i allso wants to know the procedures to get a driver visa for us so please help me

  41. Augustus Akudolu

    The driving license are applicable and can be used in other states in United State of America?
    thanks
    C.J-kudos

  42. Deren

    Hi, I am an international student who goes to college in NY state. I already have my driver’s permit. My question is: can I take the road test(plus another driver’s permit if needed) from another state? I’m going to be in Nevada for an internship this summer.

    1. administrator
      Kumar

      Deren, Yes you can. Unless you intend to move to Nevada for good or purchase a vehicle there or stay for 6 months, you should be fine. Just double check on the Nevada State DMV website for your confirmation.

  43. Srinivasan

    Hi
    My Visa expires on Oct 3 2011, but my I94 is till 2011. When i apply for DL, what will be the expiry date for my DL. Could you please let me know?

    1. administrator
      Saurabh

      Do you want a visa that allows you to come to US and earn a living as a driver? If that’s what you are looking for, then there is no such visa.

  44. KAVIL CHHEDA

    Hey.. Indian Driving Licence along with International driving licence taken from Mumbai will be valid all over USA? or its better to apply for new Licence in USA.

    1. administrator
      Kumar

      Kavil, it depends on the State. You will need a US Official driving license to be valid in all the states and also for US govt issued ID purpose… You can use your IDP for temporary, I would recommend you apply for US driving license after you come here…

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