How Long to Drive with a Foreign License in the US?

Driving with Foreign License in USDriving with Foreign License in US

Foreigners and visitors to the United States have the grace to drive around with an approved driver's license from their home country for a while before the expiration of the given grace period. The grace period differs for different states. Most states give a three months grace period, while others give four, from the day you officially enter the US. On the other hand, some states require you to have an international driving permit before driving.

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Rules for Driving with a Foreign License

Driving in the US with a foreign license is guided by a set of rules and regulations generally as a country and specifically with each state. These rules are put in place to ensure driver's safety and other road users alike. Here are some of the rules:

  • Your license issuing language should be English: To drive in the US with a foreign license, the license has to be issued in English. Visitors whose country does not issue a license in English will be required to translate it before driving or have an international driving permit (IDP). Translation services that are recommended by the US consulate in your home country can be helpful.
  • You should be void of any impairment that affects driving: Any health conditions or impairment that affects your ability to drive should be reported. It would prevent you from driving. Medical conditions affecting vision and seizure disorders are common; you should be free from these to drive in the US with a foreign license.
  • You should be above the age of 18: To drive in the US as a visitor, you must be at least 18 years of age. Even if the legal age to drive in your country is 16, and you have a license, you cannot drive in America if you are less than 18 years of age.
  • As a driver in America, foreign or not, you are expected to abide by all driving rules for your safety and the safety of other road users.

Way out for visitors with short-stay visas

Short stay visas are given to visitors who plan to stay for about six months and no more. A foreign license expires three months from the day the visitor arrives in the US, leaving the visitor stranded after its expiry.

Visitors who plan to stay longer than three months but with a short stay visa are advised to get an international driving permit (IDP) before leaving their home country. Your IDP can be obtained at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in your home country. IDPs typically last longer and can be used in the US for about a year, which is sufficient to cover your time of stay in America.

Permanent Residents and Non-US citizens

Residents and non-US citizens typically stay longer in the US than an IDP would cover. Permanent residents have obtained their green cards and can stay for long. Residents who meet all the criteria for driver's license are advised to opt-in for a US driver's license rather than an International driving permit (IDP).

The US driver's license gives you the liberty to drive seamlessly across all 50 states of America. It is important to note that each state in the US has its own set of driving rules; before getting on the road in any state, familiarize yourself with the rules and abide by them. The US driver's license typically lasts longer than the IDP. Obtaining an IDP as a non-US citizen in America may prove a little difficult.

How to obtain a driver's license in the US

Obtaining a driver's license in the US is a fairly simple process, provided you are eligible to apply. The requirements differ from state to state. However, there are general documents that should be presented on request.

Here is a list of possible documents that would be required for registration at the Department of Motor Vehicles in your preferred state:

  • An ID provides your name, date of birth, and a picture of you. Your passport is the most preferred option.
  • A document that proves your stay in the US, such as citizenship certification, visa, or residence card.
  • Your international driving permit or driver's license from your home country or an.
  • Your social security cards

With these documents within arm's length, visit the DMV in your state to fill out the application form, providing your details. After filling these out, you will need to pass the tests before you can be offered a license. There are written tests and practical tests.

The written test comes first and is usually a list of questions regarding the state's traffic laws. Many states can offer you the test in your native language if it helps. On passing the test, you would be scheduled for the practical test. On the practical test, you are required to drive, park and reverse. Your general knowledge of cars and their controls can also be tested. Many states would also test the strength of your vision.


Conclusively, the road is the best way to enjoy your trip to the US; to drive during your visit, you would need a driver's license. The driver's license issued by your home country can suffice for a while, provided it is in English; it can last for about 3-4 months, depending on the state you are in. If you plan to stay for less than three months, then your English driver's license can suffice.

If you have a short stay visa and would stay for over three months, then it is advised to get an International driving permit (IDP) before leaving your home country, as the US does not issue it to short-stay visitors. It is recommended for those with residence permits to apply for a driver's license instead of an IDP. A driver's license allows you to drive across all states of America and lasts longer than the IDP.

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