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How to get a driver’s license as an international student

interstride logo by Interstride
June 8, 2021

Learning the driver’s license process for international students in the United States can open up a lot of new opportunities. Driving saves time and energy, and it can improve prospects for social life, travel, and many other important aspects of life.

International students who want to drive in the United States will need to apply for a driver’s license from the state that they reside in.

The driver’s license application process for international students is slightly different from state to state. However, there are many things that are common among them, and you should understand the process in your state before applying for a driver’s license.

Understanding the US driver’s license process

For international students applying for a driver’s license will follow the same basic steps. While there are differences from state to state, many of the requirements for international students are from federal regulations. Therefore, international students applying for a driver’s license anywhere in the United States will need to do the following:

  • Check with your Designated School Official to gather local driving license information.
  • Make sure that your information has been uploaded to the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).
  • Wait for approximately two weeks before applying for a license. The I-94 immigration information that students provide when coming into the country needs time to become visible in DMV systems.
  • Apply for with a Social Security Number (SSN) or an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).

Once the preliminary steps have been taken care of, it is time to call the local DMV. Make a list of all the required documents when you call. If you have all of the requested documents, it is a good time to schedule your driver’s license tests.

Unless the DMV in your state recognizes foreign driver’s licenses and offers to transfer your current foreign license to a state document, it will be necessary to schedule a driving and written test.


There are several pieces of documentation that need to be submitted, including ID documentation, immigration forms, and sometimes proof of address. These requirements vary from state to state but most will require the following.

Form I-94

Form I-94 is a form that comes from the US Customs office and shows a record of your travel history, including arrival and departure dates. The DMV will need to see this information because driver’s license approvals often depend on how long a foreign applicant will remain in the United States.

Form I-94 is available here.

Form I-20

Another important document that you will need to show is Form I-20. Form I-20 shows your eligibility for a driver’s license based on your status as a ‘nonimmigrant student’.

More information about Form I-20 and what you can use it for can be found here.

Social Security Number (SSN)

Another document that you will need to bring in most cases is your Social Security Number (SSN). Your social security number is not needed by DMVs in every state, however.

For more information, the Social Security Administration website can be found here.

Proof of Residence

As part of the driver’s license process, DMV offices also need to see that you are a resident of the state in which you are applying for the driver’s license. It is not allowed to carry driver’s licenses from multiple states and this is a requirement for all driver’s license applicants.

Accepted documents to show for proof of residence may include:

  • bank records and statement
  • official mail addressed to you at local address
  • rental/lease agreements
  • mortgage bill
  • school documentation
  • insurance documentation

Passport and Visa Information

Finally, you will need to provide your passport and copies of your current student visa as proof of ID. Simply providing your passport is usually sufficient to fulfill this requirement as the DMV officer will make any necessary photocopies at the DMV office.

Driving and written test requirements

If the DMV determines that it will not accept the foreign driver’s license as an equivalent, a driving and written test will be required. These tests can usually be scheduled on the same day, but not always.

The written portion of the evaluation will test your working knowledge of the local driving laws, signs, and procedures relating to accidents and other emergency situations. The driving test will help the DMV determine your readiness for driving on US roads and usually involves taking a short drive with an instructor, following directions as you drive.

Once complete, the driver’s license process has come to an end and the DMV will provide an answer quite quickly in most cases.

Regional differences

Before applying for a driver’s license in any state, it is important to contact the local DMV office nearest you to learn what requirements exist for international students. While most states follow similar rules and regulations regarding international driving licenses, there can be significant differences as well.

Related questions

1) How long should international students wait before applying for a US driver’s license? 

It is best for international students to wait for at least 10-14 days from arrival before applying for a driver’s license from their state. It can take up to 10 working days for immigration systems to update international student information.

2) Is there an international driver’s license for foreign students?

In most US states, students cannot drive legally with an international driving license or an International Driver’s Permit (IDP). Students should apply for a state driver’s license and follow the processes outlined by local DMV offices.

Final thoughts

Driving in the US can certainly bring a lot of positive elements into your life as an international student. Driving in the United States may seem daunting at first. However, the process for getting a driver’s license is easier than you might think. Just be sure to collect the necessary paperwork and research the driving rules in your state and you’ll be behind the wheel in no time.