Getting a Driver’s License

A driver’s license is a card that allows you to operate a motor vehicle legally. The license is issued by the state where you live but allows you to drive anywhere in the United States and Canada. It is illegal to drive a car in the US if you do not have a driver’s license.

As a driver’s license is also a major form of official identification in the US, your state licensing agency will make you a picture identification (ID) card for a fee. This state ID is usually identical to a driver’s license, but it does not give you permission to drive. (Click here for more information on applying for a New York State ID.)

The following are tips on how to get your driver’s license:

  1. Identify the licensing authority for your state.
    Go to their nearest office and pick up a Driver’s Manual to use in studying for the licensing test. Alternatively, you can download the manual from the licensing authority’s website. If you live in New York, you can find the DMV’s Drivers Manual here.
  2. Get a Social Security Number.
    You should to get a Social Security number. If you don’t qualify for a Social Security number, you should at least obtain a tax identification number.
  3. Take Driving Lessons.
    If you are a new driver, the New York DMV recommends that you practice at least 30 hours for your road test, with at least 10 hours in medium to high volume traffic. You can practice with a driver who has enough driving experience, but it may also be a good idea to take driving lessons so you can learn the habits, rules and signs of the American roads.

    If you are an experienced driver with an international driver’s license and driver’s license from your home country, you may be able to speed the licensing process along. This is because some states may make you wait between your written exam and the driving test if you cannot prove that you were allowed to drive in your home country.

  4. Get Insurance.
    Every state requires a minimum amount of liability insurance to operate a motor vehicle. In some states, you may need insurance before you get your driver’s license. Contact your local licensing authority for more information on this requirement.
  5. Get Your License.
    There are some things you may need when you arrive at the driver’s license office:

      Fee – You will need the money to pay the license fee before you will be issued a driver’s license.
      Proof of Age – All states require an official form of identification which contains your birth date issued by a US source (although in some states, Canadian and Mexican driver’s licenses are accepted as well). In most states valid identification includes a valid or recently expired driver’s license or ID Card issued by a US State or territory. If you do not have this, two forms of ID verifying your age are often required. These can include your passport and official US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) documents (often excluding I-94).
      Social Security Card – In many states you will need your Social Security card, or official documents that contain your Social Security number. Such forms often include things like federal tax forms or bank statements.
      Proof of Domicile – In some states you may be asked to provide proof that you are living in the state. Such documentation can include utility bills, vehicle registration or a lease agreement.
      Insurance – In some states you will also be required to show proof of liability insurance.
      Learner’s Permit – To obtain the learner’s permit you will likely need to complete a written test, sign test, and vision test.

    Note: The written test is sometimes offered in languages other than English. Also, if you own glasses, you are allowed to wear them during the vision test. You can find out the specific rules for your state pertaining to learner’s permits by contacting your local driver’s license bureau.

    Valid driver education certificate: Some states may require you obtain a driver education certificate prior to granting you a driver’s license. Many driving schools are authorized to conduct driver’s education courses, and will issue the needed certificate upon your completion of the course.

  6. Schedule your road test.
    You can schedule a road test on-line or by telephone. Please note that there is sometimes a long waiting period to schedule a road test.

    The requirements for obtaining a driver’s license differ from state to state, and therefore you should check with your local licensing authority on their specific requirements. If you live in New York State, you can go to the New York DMV’s website for more information on obtaining a driver’s license.

    If you are an international student, you may also be interested in a Fact Sheet released by the Department of Homeland Security on July 2009, on applying for a driver’s license or a state ID as an international student.

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