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How to Obtain a U.S. Driver’s License as a Nonimmigrant or Immigrant

To drive anywhere in the U.S., one must have a driver’s license in their possession. Most states follow a general set of rules but there are variations in certain cases. Before getting into each state’s rules and regulations, there is a document that many states require before even applying for a license. This document is known as an International Driving Permit (IDP) that will translate your identification into 10 languages and allows you to drive legally in a different country. The U.S. government allows immigrants to get IDPs from either the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA). You can also get one from the motor vehicle department of the country that issued you your driver’s license. This document will be useful for renting a car in the U.S., as many rental companies require both your driver’s license and an IDP.

Across most states, immigrants and non-immigrants are easily eligible for a driver’s license; they must provide proof of residence and some form of proof that they are authorized to be in the U.S. or are in the process of becoming authorized. While most states are similar in the process of getting a driver’s license, there are slight differences in the application processes between them and what documents are required in each state. Therefore, it must be emphasized that you must check your specific state’s Department of Motor Vehicles’ (DMV) website in order to get everything you need in order to get a license in that state. In most cases, to obtain a license, you must provide your I.D., proof of residency in state (anything from a pay stub to a utility bill), proof of your social security number, driver’s license from your native country, and your passport. Again, check your state’s DMV website to see exactly what they require you to bring. 

You may also acquire a U.S. driver’s license with pending immigration applications. Some states will take I-485 receipts for pending adjustments as proof of residency and will make you eligible for a license. A pending I-485 will generally not make you eligible for an enhanced license should a state have that as an option. However, upon approval, you may reapply to get an enhanced license should you wish to do so in most states. A more recent change to the process of getting a license has occurred when a nonimmigrant has a pending I-129S and is attempting to gain a license with an employment authorization document (EAD). Usually, when a nonimmigrant puts in an application to extend their stay, they are granted a 240-day “grace period” in order to allow them to keep working and with that extension to their EAD, they may reapply or apply for a driver’s license. However, as of some more recent reports, many individuals are claiming that they were not able to receive a license with just their extension. These reports vary heavily on a state by state, and even county by county basis, so it is important to consult your local DMV on their policy should this be the path you intend to take when getting your license. 

While most states require some form of official immigrant or nonimmigrant status to apply for a driver’s license, there are some that allow for undocumented immigrants to be allowed a license. These states are:

  • California
  • Colorado 
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • District of Columbia
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Maryland
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington

We hope that this article helps you in your process of getting a U.S. driver’s license. As you can see, this process stays generally the same between states, but there are quite a few differences in policies. With that in mind, the most important thing for you to do before even applying for a license is to check with your local DMV and see what their rules are for you to attain a driver’s license.

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