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Frequently Asked Questions About Driver's License/DMV Issues

Can I use my foreign driver's license in the United States?

Yes you can.

Here are additional important details directly from the NY State Department of Motor Vehicles website:

A valid driver license from another country is also valid in NYS. You do not need to apply for a NYS driver license unless you become a resident of NYS.

According to NYS law, a resident of another country can get a NYS driver license. The DMV does not recommend this because:

  • NYS recognizes your foreign driver license if you remain a resident of the nation that issued the license. You do not need to have a NYS driver license to drive in NYS unless you become a resident of NYS.
  • If you have a driver license from any nation except Canada, you must pass a written test, complete a 5-hour pre-licensing course and pass a road test to qualify for a NYS driver license. See "New Drivers - How to Apply".
  • You must show a Social Security Card. If you are not eligible for a Social Security Card, you must provide a letter or form SSA-L676 from the US Social Security Administration (SSA) that states that you are not eligible. The SSA Letter or form must have been issued no more than 30 days before the date of your application. You must also show the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) documents that the SSA used to determine that you are not eligible for a Social Security Card.  The USCIS was formerly known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).  Read the specific requirements on the identification requirements page.
  • When you receive your NYS driver license, you must surrender your foreign driver license to the DMV road test examiner. **The local DMV office keeps your foreign driver license, and then destroys the license after 60 days.** If you plan to return to your home country and use your foreign driver license, ask the road test examiner how to make sure that your foreign driver license is not destroyed. If you need to get your foreign driver license, go to the local DMV office where you applied for your NYS driver license.

International Driving Permit: An International Driving Permit is not a driver license. The permit only verifies that you hold a valid driver license in your home country. Your foreign driver license, not the International Driving Permit, allows you to drive in NYS. Contact the authorities in your home country to get an International Driving Permit. If you are not a resident of the US, you cannot apply for an International Driving Permit in the US.

You are not required to have an International Driving Permit to drive in NYS, but the permit has value. The permit verifies, in several languages, that you have a valid foreign driver license. A police officer who cannot read the language on your foreign driver license can read the permit.

Definition of a Resident…According to this law, students from other states or from other nations who attend school in NYS are normally not considered residents of NYS.   Source:

How do I get a New York State driver's license?
  1. There are many steps in this process, so you will need to read them on-line here:
  2. If you have never driven before, The DMV recommends that you take a driver education course.  You can find nearby driving schools on the web, and they will pick you up at your residence.
  3. The first step is to gather “Proofs of Identity and Date of Birth”
    1. Carefully read the requirements here:
  4. If you do not have a Social Security Card, please read the next question.
What if I want a NYS license, but I do not have a Social Security Number (SSN)?
  1. Obtain an SSN.  For this, you must get hired by any RIT department to work for at least 1 hour per week (more than 20 hrs/wk requires ISS authorization).  Bring the “hire form” from your supervisor to our (ISS) office.  ISS staff will help you apply for a Social Security Number.
  2. Or, if you will not be working, ask the ISS front desk for our handout with directions to the Social Security Administration (SSA) office.  Request a letter from the SSA stating you are not eligible for an SSN.  Bring your passport and I-20 (or DS-2019) when you go to the SSA.
Can I buy a car in the US?

Yes, but it can be complicated and expensive.  We recommend against buying from an individual.

Please read the requirements for Vehicle Registrations and Title Certificates here:   they are similar to what’s needed when getting a NYS license.

We strongly recommend you buy only from a major car dealership.  They are easier to work with if the car is defective.  It is very difficult to hold a private seller responsible for repairs.

Here are some tools through which to search for cars both new and used sold by dealerships:


(By listing these, RIT is not recommending any particular websites or dealerships.)

It is costly to own a car in the US, so be sure you understand the big picture, including insurance costs.

What about car insurance?

We strongly recommend you get quotes from a few of the a major car insurance companies

Also, please review this site on Automobile Insurance - Top Ten Questions and note that while New York has some minimum insurance levels, the DMV recommends you “consider increasing the amounts of your liability coverages, depending on your needs and the assets you would like to protect.”  An insurance agent from any of the major insurance companies can also guide you about proper insurance coverage.

My NYS license has/will expire. What can I do?

There are two dates on your NYS license.  The bottom one is when your license expires.  The top one is when your I-20 or DS-2019 “expires”.  If you have updated your I-20 or DS-2019 with a new end date, or you have obtained a post-graduation employment document (OPT card), then you should go back to the DMV so they can adjust your “immigration expiration” date on your license.

If you get stopped for a traffic violation, a police officer might issue a ticket for driving past the “immigration expiration” date.  However, if you can prove in court that your immigration status did not actually expire, you may be able to contest the ticket.

We strongly recommend that you always carry your passport and I-20 (or DS-2019) when driving so you can always prove to a police officer that you have valid immigration status.  This can prevent the police from calling US Border Patrol to come check your status during a routine traffic stop.

How do I get a New York State ID?

You don’t need one.  People just get these so they can purchase alcohol without a driver’s license.  You can use your passport or driver’s license as proof of age when purchasing alcohol.

If you really want one, follow all the steps on the DMV website, starting with the same identification/documentation requirements for a driver’s license.

What is a DWI or DWAI?

Driving While Intoxicated or Driving While Ability Impaired (by alcohol or drugs) is extremely dangerous and is considered a very serious crime across the US.  We encourage you to never drive after having anything to drink.  A taxi is always cheaper than the consequences of an accident or an arrest.  More information.

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