If you're a recent transplant to the United States, you may be eager to get your driver's license so you'll be able to travel more freely—especially if you'd like to search for employment outside the radius of public transportation or walking distance from your home. Fortunately, most immigrants should be able to qualify for a driver's license and pass their driving test without much of a hassle. Read on to learn more about the paths toward licensure for immigrants to the U.S., as well as some of the preliminary steps you'll want to take before applying for your driver's license.
Are you eligible for a driver's license?
Even if you held a valid driver's license in your country of origin, it can be worthwhile to investigate your state's laws on obtaining a driver's license, whether you're here on a visa, are a naturalized resident, or are an undocumented immigrant. A number of states have laws that permit driver's licenses to be issued to any immigrant, regardless of immigration status, as long as other requirements (like a clean criminal record) are met. Currently, 12 states (plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico) allow both documented and undocumented immigrants to apply for and maintain driver's licenses.
If you don't live in one of these 12 states or territories, you may find you're unable to legally obtain a driver's license if you're an undocumented immigrant. In some cases, it can be worthwhile to live in a state that permits you to hold a driver's license while working or attending school across state lines to ensure you don't run afoul of that state's driving laws.
You may also find there will be some hurdles to clear if you have driving-related charges or convictions in your home country. You may be issued a restricted or provisional license or permit before you're able to apply for an unrestricted driver's license—restrictions can include everything from not being able to drive before dawn or after dusk or not being able to transport passengers in your vehicle.
What should you do to work toward getting a driver's license in your state?
If you're ready to apply for a driver's license, you'll first want to visit your state's Department of Motor Vehicles website to see the documentation requirements. Most states will require you to present several forms of identification, like your birth certificate, photo ID card or driver's license from your native country, visa, or other immigration documents. You may also be required to provide proof that the vehicle in which you're planning to take your driving test has valid insurance in your name (or a spouse's name).
In some cases, it can be useful to enroll in a driver's education course before applying for your driver's license. This course can help review points covered on the written driving test, which can be invaluable for those who don't speak English as a first language or may need some help on identifying signs. It can also be good when it comes to helping you build confidence when navigating the highway on your own, especially if you didn't do much driving before moving to the U.S. or primarily operated off-road vehicles.
Once you've taken and passed a driver's education course or studied the booklet provided by your state's Department of Motor Vehicles on your own, you'll want to visit the nearest DMV branch to take your written test and driving test. You'll be required to answer a number of questions on everything from what certain road signs mean to how much space to allow between your vehicle and the one in front of you. You'll then be required to take a short trip in your car or truck with a DMV employee next to you, directing you around to observe your grasp of driving laws. If you pass both these tests, you'll be issued a driver's license.
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