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Is there a US Driver’s License for International Students?

Just landed in The United States of America? What seemed like an impossible venture, a meager hope residing in the innermost corner of your being, has sprouted into a vivid reality. Now the only thing left to do is get off the plane, step outside, and breathe in the fresh air of freedom! – Yeah, if only it were that simple.

As an international student paving your way into the U.S., there are numerous forms and applications to fill out before assuaging the beast, also known as the Department of Homeland Security rules and regulations. Although it is not usually part of the optimistic reverie when thinking about a new life with educational freedom and prosperous degree plans, remaining in compliance with these regulations assures becoming a U.S. student, maintaining that student status, and your ability to receive benefits.

Obtaining a driver’s license, a token of independence, also comes with certain roadblocks that may detour completion. Although the steps vary from state to state, these basic steps will take you to your final destination:

  • First and foremost, contact your Designated School Official (DSO) to find out the specific rules and regulations regarding driving in your state.

  • Register for the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVIS) so the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can keep things organized.

  • Pause and wait. (The DHS may need up to 10 days to process SEVIS information and other documents)

  • Go! Register for a Social Security Number (if required by state). The Form SSA-L676 also works.

  • Some, not all, states accept driver’s licenses from other countries. If not, you may have to take a written exam and driving test before obtaining a US license.

  • The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will take over from here. After processing necessary paperwork, you may receive your license immediately, wait a couple weeks, or receive a temporary license. Results vary depending on your state.

While these steps should prove helpful, I would also encourage international friends to visit the website if you have questions about any of the information in this article.

Photo Credit: Bill Gracey
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