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Driving in the USA

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Driving is the most common method of getting around the United State unless you live in a city with convenient and efficient public transport, such as New York City or Boston. If visiting the U.S. on a 90-day visitors visa, your valid national driving licence allows you to drive in all American states. For stays longer than three months you will have to get a new driver’s licence in your state of residence. Some nationalities have bilateral agreements that permit a driver's licence exchange. In this case, you may get a local driver's licence quite easily.

 Important: In every state, there is a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and therefore each state has its own laws governing car registration, insurance, and licensure. It’s important to contact the transportation agency in the state where you’ll be living for the exact laws and regulations. Note that if you have a valid driver's licence, insurance and registration in your resident state, you may drive legally in all states.

 Good to know: Anyone over the age of 25 can rent a car in the U.S. Most car rental companies do still rent vehicles to those over 21 (and in some cases 18), but with a surcharge. You must be in possession of a valid driver’s licence from your home country and as well as an international driver’s licence.

Driver's licence exchange agreements

Nationals from Canada, France, Germany, Mexico, South Korea, Taiwan, and all U.S. held territories may convert their licence to a U.S. driver’s licence in their U.S. resident state without having to go through the driver’s test. Most states require an application in person, along with proof of your valid national driver’s licence from your home country, and a small fee. Once these steps are completed, a temporary licence will be issued until your permanent licence is received in the mail. Check with the DMV in your resident state for the exact procedures and required documents.

Obtaining a new driver's licence

Obtaining a U.S. driver's licence is done by filling out an application, taking a theoretical written exam, a behind-the-wheel driving test, and paying all the associated fees. Visit the nearest Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office in your resident state to apply for your driver’s licence. Though each state is different, most require a Social Security Number, a passport, proof of residence in that state (such as a bill or mail addressed to you), and your visa or green card to prove legal presence in the U.S.

Once the forms are completed, you will be given a traffic manual to prepare for the written test. The theoretical test is a multiple choice test that must be passed before moving on to the practical exam. Most DMVs offer both the manual and the actual exam in multiple languages. Behind-the-wheel driving tests are done with your own vehicle, which must be properly insured. Once you pass the driving test, you will be issued a temporary driver's licence until your permanent licence is received in the mail.

 Useful links:

List of motor vehicle services by state
DMV by state
Information for foreign nationals driving in the U.S.

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.
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