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Timing is Everything: Getting your Driver’s License or Social Security Number

Timing is Everything: Getting your Driver’s License or Social Security Number

August 24, 2012

After you arrive in the United States you may want to get a driver’s license or a Social Security number (SSN). Like many things, timing is everything. SEVP wants all students eligible for a driver’s license or an SSN to have the easiest experience possible. Following these six simple tips will make the process go much smoother:

1. Wait ten days after you arrive in the United States. You may want to apply for a driver’s license or SSN right away, but be patient. This step saves you 20 or more days of waiting! These ten days allow time for all the government databases to update with your arrival information. While you are waiting, talk with your designated school official (DSO) to learn more about your state’s driving rules and regulations.

2. Make sure you are in active status in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). SEVIS is the database that manages information for all F and M students and J exchange visitors in the United States. Your DSO activates your record in SEVIS when you register for classes or check in for a program. Talk with your DSO before you apply for a license to make sure you are active in SEVIS.

3. Wait two days after your DSO activates you in SEVIS. After your DSO activates your record in SEVIS, you should wait at least two business days before you apply for a driver’s license or SSN. This gives all the databases time to update with your new information. This step can also save you 20 or more days of waiting.

4. Check your forms. You should check all your forms to make sure your information is correct. This is called data integrity. Data integrity is very important because if you have different information on different forms, it will only cause more delays. For guidance, see SEVP’s FAQ on Data Integrity.

5. Bring all your paperwork. When you go to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) – the common name for a state government office that issues driver’s licenses – or to the Social Security office, remember to bring all your paperwork. For most states, the paperwork includes these documents:

Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status” or DS-2019, “Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status”

  • Passport (with visa if applicable)
  • Proof of legal presence or residence (ask your DSO what your state requires)

For an SSN, you must also bring a letter of employment and an endorsed Form I-20 (for F students). See SEVP’s DMV Fact Sheet for more details on the appropriate paperwork you should bring.

6. Don’t wait too long to apply: While you shouldn’t rush to get a driver’s license or SSN, waiting too long can also be a problem. Verification issues can create significant delays in getting a driver’s license or SSN; which, if you are to begin working, could delay or even jeopardize your employment opportunity. To avoid this, do not wait too long to begin the application process, but instead begin as soon you are eligible.

These six tips should help you get your driver’s license or SSN without having any major problems. Safe travels!

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