Transferring your international driver's license to the US: step-by-step

Gabriela Peratello

If you live in the US, you may need to apply for a US driver’s license. Although you can drive with a foreign license on a short-term basis, a US license lets you drive in all 50 states.

It’s easy to apply for your US driver’s license, but there are a few document checks and tests to complete – and you’ll need to pay for your new license. The process for transferring your license may also differ from state to state.

We’ve put together your ultimate guide to transferring your international driver’s license to the US, including everything you need to know about documentation, testing, and state regulations.


Can you drive in the US with a foreign driver's license?

You can drive in the US with a foreign driver’s license – but there’s a limit to how long you can use your license.

If you’re visiting the US for a temporary trip, you can apply for an International Driving Permit (IDP) from your home country before you travel. This means you can legally drive in the US with a valid foreign license.

However, you have to apply for your IDP before your trip¹ – and your permit only lasts 1 to 3 years depending on which states you’re driving in.²

If you live in the US, getting a US driver’s license will give you access to the same driving privileges as a US citizen, but it can take some time to complete all the necessary steps.

How long can you use an international driver's license in the US?

You can drive for up to a year with a valid foreign driver’s license. You’ll need an IDP alongside your home license in most states, so make sure to apply for your permit before heading abroad.³

If you want to rent a car in the US, you can use a foreign license. However, the company may check your driving record to make sure you don’t have any issues with your license.

Transferring your international driving license to the US: step-by-step

Transferring your international driving license is a simple process – but there are a few steps to complete before you can receive your new license.

You’ll need to look into the rules and requirements for your state, as every state has slightly different provisions for foreign drivers. Some states may even let you swap your foreign license for a US license with minimal paperwork.

You can check with your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)® for more information on your state’s regulations.

Let’s take a look at how to transfer your foreign driving license to the US.

Figure out if you're eligible

First, you’ll need to work out if you’re eligible to transfer your license.

Each state follows different eligibility criteria, but most states require you to be at least 18 years old with a valid license from your home country.

You’ll also need to be a legal resident of the US to transfer your international driver’s license. However, you don’t need to be a US citizen. International students and those on work visas are eligible to apply for a driver’s license.²

Check the documents you'll need

You’ll need to provide some essential documents before you can transfer your driver’s license to the US. This includes identity verification checks and proof of legal residency. Let’s take a closer look.

Identity verification documents

Your application will require identity verification documents, such as your passport.

In many states, you’ll also need to provide a copy of your driving record. Make sure to contact the appropriate authorities in your home country to get access to this information.

Proof of legal status in the USA

If you’re transferring your driver’s license to the US, you need to prove your legal status in the country. You can do this by providing your visa documents to support your license application.

You’ll also need to prove your residency. There are a few documents to help you do this, including:

  • Recent utility bills
  • Lease agreements
  • Bank statements
  • Your social security card

The documentation you need may depend on your individual state’s requirements, so make sure to check with your local DMV before applying to transfer your foreign license to the US.⁴

Take the necessary tests

You’ll need to take some mandatory tests before you can transfer your international license. These tests will check your vision, driving skills, and knowledge of US road rules and regulations.

Vision test

Your vision test checks that you’re safe to drive on the road. Most states require you to have 20/40 vision or better, which includes natural or corrected vision. If you have 20/40 vision, you should have no problems passing the test.

The DMV vision test is typically very short – and it’s similar to your regular test at the optician.⁵ Some states also require you to take a color blindness test, and you may need to complete a visual field test to check your peripheral vision.

If you fail your vision test, it doesn’t mean you can’t get your license – but the DMV may give you certain restrictions. For example, you may need to wear corrective lenses or you may not be able to drive at certain times of the day.⁵

Written knowledge test

You’ll also need to complete a written knowledge test before you can receive your US driver’s license. The test ensures you understand how to safely drive in the US, testing motorists on traffic laws and common road signs.

It’s important to prepare for your written knowledge test. You can familiarize yourself with your state’s driving handbook and take online practice tests.

Some states, such as New York, may also require you to complete a course before you can receive your US driving license.⁶

Road skill test

Finally, you may need to take a road skill test before you can get your US driver’s license. This is a practical test that assesses your ability to drive, including common maneuvers like parking or turning.

You’ll likely have completed one of these tests when you first applied for a license in your home country, so you should know what to expect.

Take refresher driving lessons or practice basic maneuvers to prepare for your road skill test.

Pay your fees

There are some fees to pay before you can receive your US driver’s license. This includes:

  • Driver’s license application fee
  • Written test fee
  • Road test fee
  • License fee⁴

Your application fee, written test fee, and road test fee are one-off payments to cover the costs of your application. Your license fee is the cost of a US driver’s license – and it typically ranges from 10 USD to 90 USD.⁷

Your fees may differ depending on your state. Plan your budget in advance to accommodate any test or license fees.

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State-specific procedures for license transfer

Every state has a different process for transferring your international driver’s license, so you’ll need to check with your local DMV before proceeding with your transfer.

For example, Texas has license issuance reciprocity with France, Germany, South Korea, and Taiwan. If you have a valid driver’s license from one of these countries you won’t need to take a written or skills test to receive a license to drive in the US.⁸

In New York, you can drive as normal in the state with a valid foreign driver’s license. You’ll need to apply for a US license if you become a New York state resident – and you’ll need to pass a written test, a 5-hour pre-licensing course, and a road test.

You’ll also need to hand over your foreign driving license to a DMV examiner when you get your US license.⁶

Common questions about transferring your international driver's license

If you’re transferring your foreign driver’s license, you may have questions about the application process. Let’s take a look at some frequently asked questions.

What to do if your foreign license expires?

If your foreign license is expired, you may need to renew it in your home country before transferring to a US license.

Many states, such as Texas, require you to have a valid, unexpired license to make the most of any transfers.⁸

Transferring a license vs. applying as a new driver

There are some differences between transferring a license and applying as a new driver.

In some states, you may not need to complete any tests to receive your US license. This makes it easier for those with a foreign license to transfer, rather than applying as a new driver.

However, this can depend on your state, as some states still require you to complete the same tests as a new driver.

Do you need an International Driving Permit (IDP) along with your foreign driver's license in the USA?

You’ll need an IDP if you want to drive with a foreign license, with different rules for different states. This permit lets you continue to drive without transferring to a US driver’s license.

You can apply for your IDP from your home country before traveling to the US, but if you’re staying in the US permanently, you may want to transfer to a US license to drive like a citizen in all states.

What is the difference between an International Driving Permit and a foreign driver's license transfer?

There are some key differences between an IDP and a US driver’s license, transferred from your foreign license.

You typically apply for an IDP before you come to the US, so these permits are aimed at short-term visitors. Anyone can get an IDP before coming to the US, whether you’re a legal resident or not.

The rules also differ. You can typically only use an IDP in one state, whereas a US license lets you drive across the country.

Transferring your foreign driver’s license can help you continue to drive as usual in the US. You’ll need to go through the necessary checks and tests before you can receive your license – but all US residents are eligible to apply.

Make sure to check any rules or requirements with your local state DMV before applying for your license in the US.

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  1. US Government
  2. Drive Test Academy
  3. Indiana University
  4. Drive Test Academy
  5. All About Vision
  6. DMV New York
  7. World Population Review
  8. DPS Texas

Sources checked on 03.25.2024

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This publication is provided for general information purposes and does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its subsidiaries and its affiliates, and it is not intended as a substitute for obtaining advice from a financial advisor or any other professional.

We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether expressed or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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