Driver’s License for Foreign Spouse

My husband had so many problems in getting a driver’s license. First, he tried to apply for a driver’s license while on a B2 visa here, which was legal. However, when he went to DMV to do this, the workers there yelled at him for trying to apply. He waited to try again after he received his 2 year greencard (the initial one). Here are a few notes and links on driver’s licenses for foreigners in the US:

1) If your spouse is legally employed, or a legal resident and not employed, he or she should be able to get a driver’s license without any issues. Documents your spouse will need generally include the following, but check specific requirements at your local DMV office here:

  • Some states require proof of legal status; this is often shown with the I-94 document (Arrival-Departure Record; this is a document visitors receive upon arrival to the US that shows the date of arrival and expected departure)
  • Documentation of any extensions to the date of departure shown in the I-94, or other documentation that shows official permission by USCIS to be in this country
  • Social security number (it is sometimes possible to get a license without one, but more complicated); see this post on when your spouse can apply for a social security number.
  • Proof of residency such as a telephone or electric bill
  • Proof of date of birth such as a birth certificate
  • Proof of identity that includes a photograph, such as a passport or international driver’s permit
  • Some states require proof of liability auto insurance.

2) If he or she is in the US illegally, no state currently offers driver’s licenses, but many states are debating this possibility.

3) If the person does not have a social security number, it will be difficult or impossible to get a driver’s license. (Technically many or all states have a document applicants can sign that says they do not have a social security number. But DMV didn’t let my husband do this.)

4) Each state has different policies about the ID you need to present. The testing policies are similar in my experience between 3 states. You take a written test, then a driving test.

5) Many DMV offices allow applicants to take the written test in a foreign language or with a translator–even a friend or spouse! Check here to see if yours does. In Virginia, the DMV did not have a test in my husband’s language, so he chose a translator (ME!) to read aloud and translate the questions from English into his language.

6) Check the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) for the state where you live here to find out specifics on your situation with the documentation and identification materials you have (whether social security, passport, and so on) .

7) International driver’s permits allow foreigners to drive legally in the US for a period of time. Read here for more details. Here are important points:

  • These allow a person to drive in the United States for a period of time–check with your state’s DMV office to learn exactly how long. In New York, for example, you can use the international driving permit until you are a resident of that state–basically until you work there in an apartment or home for 90 days. After this point, if you do not get US driver’s license, you could be issued a traffic ticket.
  • International driver’s permits are not issued to foreigners in the United States. (They must be issued by the home country.)
  • For US citizens, DMV does not issue international driver’s permits. For this, contact the AAA (American Automobile Association).

8) Note that even if you have an international driver’s permit , many (or all) states require you to get car insurance OR pay a fee (about $200-300) for not having it. If you don’t do this, and you are in a car accident, there will be serious consequences (court, fees, and possibly jail depending on the circumstances of the accident).

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