Challenges in Intercultural Marriages

I just read an excellent article on obstacles for partners in intercultural marriages. The author is Christine Benlafquih. This article is SO true of the obstacles my husband and I had.

If you are thinking about marrying a person from a culture or country foreign to your own, I strongly recommend reading this article. I wish I had seen more information like this in the early days of our relationship!

Cross-cultural Marriage Advice: Tips for Successful Intercultural Relationships

People from any two cultures are likely to face these issues. This author focuses on the issues that form cultures and makes cultures different. It’s these differences that most excite people in the early stages of intercultural relationships, but challenge them in later stages!

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).

American and Foreign Driving Styles

My Foreign Husband’s Driving Used to Terrify Me
My husband is now a very good and safe driver. But MY GOSH it used to scare me to get into the car with him. I remember actually thinking that we might get divorced over his driving. He drove how people drive in his country. Here, that got him numerous speeding tickets, a wreckless driving ticket, and at least one minor car accident! This cost us thousands of dollars…not only the tickets and accidents, but of course, he made our car insurance SKY high–twice as much as any of my friends pay:( But now it’s much lower because about 3 years ago he changed his style. I think a judge told him he was about to go to jail. Finally, that made him understand that it wasn’t just ME being picky. THANK GOODNESS.

Driving Is Different In Other Countries
Having lived abroad and visited many countries, I already knew that Americans are pretty careful drivers. We may speed, big-time, but for the most, we pay attention to stop lights, avoid jaywalking on major streets, and stay in our own lanes. People in MANY other countries don’t do this. And if a driver there did, it would cause issues on the road. My husband is from one of those places.

It isn’t as if a person grows up in one country, then his or her driving style magically changes when he moves to a different country–I am sure some people do, but I know many who haven’t!!! And this can cause a lot of conflict in relationships for many reasons:

1) Speeding and wreckless driving tickets that cost a LOT of money!

2) Insurance that gets more expensive with each ticket!

3) Fear on the part of the spouse used to a more relaxed, rule-following type driving style. When a person is afraid, this doesn’t bring out his or her kindest moments.

4) Wrecks happen when a person doesn’t adjust his or her driving to the place they are in–even between big and small cities in the same country. Wrecks are extremely stressful for couples for obvious reasons.

5) Parents have double the issues because of fear about children riding in the car with the spouse who drives wrecklessly–also family members comment about it, of course, and try to avoid being in the car with the “dangerous driver.”

6) It’s very hard to continue being patient when one person (ME) constantly has to suffer the financial and emotional consequences (meaning stress) of the one who refuses to change. It’s also embarrassing in public and around family or friends who happen to see any little driving incidents, like bad parking or speeding.

Gotta Give Some Things Up
I understand that the foreign spouse has to give up many, many things. When i lived in Moscow, I changed so many things just to avoid seeming freakish to people around me. No more sweatpants outside, for example. No more smiling at people while walking down the street. It gets hard. But ya know, driving is just one of those things that can cost TOO much.

I am very happy my husband changed (and that we didn’t get divorced over his driving.)