F and M students, and their dependents, may be eligible to drive a motor vehicle while residing in the United States. However, those who wish to operate a vehicle must successfully apply for and receive a driver’s license. Driving a car without a driver’s license is illegal. To acquire a driver’s license, you must apply for one at your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), which can have a different name in some states.
Driver’s License Application Process
While the application process for receiving a driver’s license may be different in each state, the basic steps are very similar. These steps include:
- Talking with your designated school official (DSO) about driving rules and regulations in your state or territory.
- Confirming with your DSO that your student record is Active in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System.
- Waiting 10 days after arriving in the United States to apply for a driver's license so that your Form I-94, “Arrival/Departure Record,” information can update in all the government systems.
- Obtaining a Social Security number (SSN), if required by your state or territory.
- Visiting and submitting the proper documentation to the DMV.
The DMV may need to verify your nonimmigrant student status to determine if you are eligible for a driver’s license. To verify your status, the DMV may use the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) Program. To find out more about this program, please visit the Checking Your SAVE Case Status page.
When you apply for a driver's license at your local DMV, make sure to bring original copies of the following documents:
- All signed versions of your Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status.”
- A valid passport and your most recent student visa (Please note that you do not need a visa if you are from a visa-exempt country, such as Canada or Bermuda).
- Proof of residence. This varies from state to state and you should check your local DMV’s website to ensure you understand what is needed to fulfill this requirement.
- If your state requires it, an SSN card or a Form SSA-L676, “Refusal to Process SSN Application.”
- If you are on optional practical training, bring your Form I-766, “Employment Authorization Document.” The DMV will use the A number on this card to verify your status.
If you are an F-2, M-2 or J-2 dependent, go to the DMV with your primary F-1, M-1 or J-1 and make sure you both have all your required documents.
After a successful application process, a DMV official will explain the next steps for attaining your driver’s license. It is normal for some nonimmigrants to only get temporary licenses. In addition, you may receive the license immediately or you may have to wait several weeks, depending on the state.
A driver’s license applicant may also need to pass both a driving and written test. Depending on your state, if you have a license from your home country or another state, the DMV may not require you to take the tests. However, not all states accept driver's licenses from other countries.
If you have trouble applying for a driver's license, speak with your DSO and contact the SEVP Response Center with case-specific questions.