How International Students Get a Driver’s License and Social Security Number

by Jessica Stahl - Posts (449). Posted Tuesday, August 28th, 2012 at 5:14 pm

International students in America can get a U.S. driver’s license and a social security number (which you need in order to work), and the Department of Homeland Security compiled some useful guidance for students planning to apply for either. They tell students:

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.

They have three more bits of guidance for students, which you can see over on the Study in the States website. There’s also a comprehensive fact sheet on how to get a driver’s license as an international student available from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

But here’s one more important tip: Be aware that your unstamped I-20 may cause some confusion.  As of early August, U.S. Customs is no longer stamping your I-2o form when you enter the country.  It’s part of an effort to make the process less paper-based, said U.S. Customs and Border Protection, adding that a stamp was never necessary to validate your I-20 form.  It was always standard practice, but never required.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education though, unstamped I-20s have caused problems for some students applying for social security numbers of driver’s licenses.  They reported that many schools and benefits agencies weren’t aware of the new procedure, resulting in delays for students.  If you need to get your I-20 stamped, you can make an appointment with the local USCIS office (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) before November 21 to get it done.

65 Responses to “How International Students Get a Driver’s License and Social Security Number”

  1. nujan shrestha says:

    My drivers lisence expires in december 2012 but the college that I’m transfering to does not start till march so is there any possible way to extend the date till then?

    • Jessica Stahl says:

      There’s a link in the article to a fact sheet with a ton of information. If you’re in the country legally and have an active SEVIS record you should be okay. If you fall into the “program gap” issue discussed in the fact sheet, you may have a problem, so you should talk to your international student advisor.

  2. Very good , i hope that this gets practical enough for me .

  3. Ahmad says:

    Can International students travel within the U.S with a foreign valid Driver License?

  4. Li says:

    What if you are a foreign exchange student (not US citizen) in high school just turned 16, can you get your driver’s license here in the State? Like starting with the Driver’s ed?

  5. Paulo DaSilva says:

    If you are a foreign exchange student in Connecticut not eligible for a Social Security can you still get a driver’s license? My school official won’t provide me with a letter or anything but I really need a driver’s license

    • Jessica Stahl says:

      You should talk to your school’s international student office. Whatever your situation is, I’m sure they’ve dealt with it before and can advise you.

  6. Saif says:

    Hi, I’m a second timer in exchange student program , 1st time was in 2010 when i got my DL Learners Permit Virgina , ofcours now its expired like 2 years ago. but this summer i’m going to VA couple days and then i’m gonna drive all the way to Orlando FL. How i can renew my DL in VA within couple days ?,
    or is it ok,to drive with my valid foreign DL/International DL then do a new DL in Florida?

    Thanks!

  7. Sapir says:

    Hi!
    I’m international student in the university of Hawaii. I want to get a local driving license. My I-20 will expire in December, and than ill extend it since ill transfer to a 4 year college. My question is if ill get a licence only for this next 6 months, or for a few years? Also, should I go to the social security office and get a letter, saying that I’m not qualified for a SSN, but I can get a driving licence? Or should I go directly to the DMV?
    Thank you!!

    • Jessica Stahl says:

      I believe in the state of Hawaii your license will only be valid as long as you can show you are authorized to be in the country, but you should check with your school’s international student advisor/office, who will have dealt with this issue before and can advise you the best thing to do.

  8. Patrycja says:

    Hi! My name is Patrycja and currently I’m a foreign exchange student in California. I’m coming back to my home country in 35 days but then, in August 10th, I’ll be back in CA because I’m going to college here. I’m 18.
    My question is:
    How can I get my Driver’s licence before I leave USA? I want to get it before I’ll be back in CA so I can easily commute to my new school.

  9. PUNIT KAUR says:

    Jessica,

    I am an international student at University of Maryland. I am graduating on 5th july 2013. I moved to New Jersey 2 weeks back. I plan to work here after i graduate. I went to MVC for my learners permit in NJ.

    I had all the 6 point document they needed, valid passport with i94, bank statement with NJ address, SSN card.

    But, i was denied the permit because my i20 says, University of Maryland. I dont think this was justified but the front desk day just did not listen to any of my explanation.
    Can i get learners permit? Please Advice.

    • Jessica Stahl says:

      Maybe your workplace can provide a letter verifying that you work there? You should seek the advice of your international student office at the University of Maryland. They may be able to advise you based on past experiences with international students in similar situations.

  10. Manchester Chandra says:

    Hi, I am an indian citizen studying in florida……do i have to get a license from my local DMV at florida or can I use my indian drivers license/international drivers license to drive in florida? And if i want to drive a motorcycle, do i need to have a motorcycle endorsement or will I be okay with an indian motorcycle license/international driverse license?

    Thanks for your time and great article btw!

    • Jessica Stahl says:

      You should talk to your international student office or advisor to get their advice. The rules are different in each state, and your advisor will have dealt not only with the state rules but also with the peculiarities of your local DMV. So they are your best resource to turn to. Believe me, they like answering these kinds of questions so you shouldn’t feel shy about asking them for help.

  11. Cuong Nguyen says:

    Hi,
    I am an international student graduating from a university in Virginia. But i am currently staying with my relatives in california for summerand want to get a driver license here. Is this possible to obtain a driver license without being a californian resident? Thanks

    • Jessica Stahl says:

      If you already have a license from either your home country or from Virginia, then you don’t need to get a new one for a temporary stay in another state.

  12. kai says:

    Hey jessica!
    I have a query, i hope you can answer!
    I am a citizen of India and a permanent resident of USA(I got my green card few weeks back) :D . I am going to florida the next month and will make a United states DL at the local DMV. Now my query is, if i have a international license will it ease my process in getting a DL in United States? Will that help me avoid some fees, courses or tests? Will it help me make the DL at less cost?

    Thank you! And the article is great. Chiao! :D

    • Jessica Stahl says:

      I really don’t know the rules for each state. Have you tried calling to ask? I’m sure they will answer your question.

  13. Elmer Tsai says:

    Hello!
    I’m an international student graduating from a highschool in Texas. Before I go to college I want to get a driver’s license, is it possible to get a SSN for it before i attend the college? Thank you for writing this article, it really helps a lot!

  14. jay says:

    hi, is it possible for me to obtain an American drivers licence if I am on student visa and have no licence at all ?

  15. kushan says:

    Hello,
    I was in US on F2 visa for 10 months. I got instruction permit last month and I changed my visa status to F1 recently and it’s effective date was 17th of July. I went to the dmv to take the road test on 10th of July but they didn’t allow me to take the test and said that I need to update with the school (but I gave them only the F2 visa documents not the F1 ones). Then I went to the school and they told me that I have to wait till 24th of July so they can update me in SEVIS. Can I go for the road test again just after I was registered in the school or do I have to wait for 10 business days from July 17th?

  16. Daniel says:

    Hi Jessica

    Firstly , thank you so much for helping so many people here.

    I’m from India and i’m going to study in VA. DMV portal for VA says that my country’s license would do, if i’m a full time student and not employed. I’m on F1 visa that allows me to do part time job on campus. Is this considered to be a job ? or can use my country’s license?

    Another question, if VA allows me to drive with my existing Indian license, what happens if i drive out of VA to another state , where its law does not permit another country’s license ?

    Thank you , once again.

  17. Kushan says:

    Hello,

    I was in US on F2 visa for last 10 months. I applied to change my visa status to F1 and I got approved. It’s effective date was 17th of July. However I went to the DMV to get my driver’s license in June and I passed the written exam and got the instruction permit. Then after about two weeks I went to the DMV again for road test and they didn’t allow me to take the exam. After reviewed my documents they said that I need to update my status from school(But I gave them only the F2 visa documents not the F1 ones, as It was before the July 17th). Then I went to the school and DSO said that I have to wait till the 24th of July for the check-in procedure. Is it possible to take the road test with my older instruction permit or do I have to take the other exams again ? And also can I take the test by 26th of July or do I have to wait 10 business days from 17th of July ?

    Thank you.

  18. Juan says:

    What If The Individual Entered the U.S illegally

  19. Adnan Rizvi says:

    I have been in NJ since May 2012 and have got my driving license based on my F-1 status. But in April 2013 I applied to change of status from F1 to H1, the outcome is pending. Now when I went to NJ DMV to renew my license they say that I have wait till there is a response about my H1 outcome.
    Now my question is that how come individuals that entered US legally are treated like illegals. Didn’t the people who wrote this law thought that without a driving license how one can do the basic chores needed to survive where there is no piblic transportation.
    Thank you

  20. Charles says:

    can I apply for the license as a international high school student?

  21. Alice says:

    Hi my name is Alice and i am from china, i am in the US specifically in CT and need to help my mom get a connecticut license instead of the license from china. My does not speak english fluently but wants to buy a CT vehicle from a dealership. SHe needs a CT license to drive it and i’m not sure how to go about doing so.Please inform me of how i go about switching my moms license from a chinese license to an American/Connecticut one.
    Thank you so much,
    Alice

  22. Sally says:

    I’m international student but now I don’t go to college anymore I’m staying home because I have 2 kids can I have a driver license without going to college even if I’m staying home

    • Doug Bernard says:

      Hello Sally; it probably depends on the state you live in. But I know that in some states, at least, foreign nationals who are in this country for a while can definitely apply for a driver’s license. I would call your state Department of Motor Vehicles.

  23. Amy says:

    I am an international students ( F1 status). I had a learners permits from Maryland and had expired . Now i am again applying for my new learners permits. Do i have to take a computerized test to get my new permit. If any idea, then it would help me a lot.

  24. ramesh shrestha says:

    I have a question. I am a international student and I arrived here a month ago. I want to get a license for driving cars. I know how to drive a motorbike but I don’t know how to drive a car. So what are the necessary procedures that I need to follow in order to get a license and to drive car? Also, will I be eligible to drive bike with my license for car or I need to get a separate one? Also I am in Oklahoma right now and if I transfer to any other state will that license be still valid for me?

    • Doug Bernard says:

      Hello Ramesh. That’s a lot of questions you have! Your first stop should be the Oklahoma department of transportation – they’re the ones who issue drivers licenses. They can tell you exactly what the qualifications are and administer the tests. In most states, you need separate licenses for bikes and cars, but they’ll be able to help out with that, also. The one thing I can definitely say is that if you get a valid drivers license in one state, it will be honored in all the rest.

  25. Erica says:

    Hi I am international student in Indiana. I have a my country’s driver license. I will here until May 2014. Can I drive foreign license there? And Can I buy the car without U.S license? How can I get insurance? Please give me some advice. Thanks

    • Doug Bernard says:

      Hello Erica. You’re studying in Indiana? I’d recommend you contact the state Department of Transportation. They can give you the exact answers to their license requirements! Good luck; – Doug.

  26. elis sholla says:

    i am still waiting to take my driving licence and i needed a car to drive and i bought one.But the insurance is really high.what can i do to low a little bit my insurance.
    P.S and i wanted to ask another question.if i am a F1 visa holder can i find a way to take a social security and be ellegible to work during the F1 time ?

  27. Andreas says:

    I am a swedish citizen, coming for summer school. in 2014 i’ll be 16 and 6 months old, i don’t have a driver licence, and i wanna get one in the U.S, FL if possible, do you think i can get one if i follow all the steps?

    • Doug Bernard says:

      Andreas – I’m not at all sure, because I don’t know your specific situation. Perhaps if you had a Swedish drivers license first, that might help?

      • Andreas says:

        I’m 16 so i can’t get a driver license in sweden( there you can get whrn you’re 18), so i am planning to get the drivers licence to help me out around the summer in the USA, to get so some summer scho pr something like that.

  28. Ronnie says:

    Hi! I am an international student in Washington DC on an F-1 visa, but reside in Maryland since I’m taking my courses at the Maryland campus. I went to the MVA at White Oak and after the MVA official had scanned my documents (2 proofs of residence, Foreign passport, statement of SSN ineligibility, a letter from my school, I-94 and I-20) and taken my photograph, I was told I wasn’t qualified for a DL. The lady further says she’d contacted the DHS or is it USCIS to confirm my status, but gave me a note that MVA had denied my application. The Dean said she didn’t know why my application was denied but told me to wait. What do you think I should do next? Go to MVA and ask to see a senior official? And yes, my country changed the DL rules so everyone is required to reapply for new Dls; I could not finish the processing before coming to the US, so I have my paperwork from the tentative DL and an international driver’s license. Thanks.

    • Doug Bernard says:

      Ronnie – yes, I would definitely go back to the Maryland DMV and ask to speak with one of the senior managers there.

      • Ronnie says:

        Hey Guys! I went to the MVA and explained to a supervisor. But was told that my application has been forwarded to the DHS for approval but that they haven’t got a reply back from DHS which usually takes 60days. It’s been more than 60 days and having literally gone there after the 60days, it just looks like a case of merry-go-round. What next can I do. It’s really frustrating to be an international student applying for a learner’s permit or driver’s license in Maryland.

  29. Juma says:

    Hi there,
    I have an Arkansas DL when I used to study at ASU, but now I transferred to LSU in Louisiana. I’m I required to change my DL to a Louisianna DL?

  30. Khaled Salem says:

    Hi, Im an International Student (F-1) studying in NY at Stony Brook, and i already have an international driving license..Can I use it for the whole 4 years, and can i purchase a car using that licence or am I obliged to have a US license? And can I issue a US driving license using my International one?

    Thanks!

  31. Onur says:

    Hello, I’m international High School student in Connecticut. I have an F1 visa and I want to get an SSN in order to get driver license, is that possible?

  32. matengale says:

    I am an international student. I will be living in Philly and going to school in new jersey, so which state is going to give me a driver license

  33. Kenny says:

    Hi,
    I am international student with I-20 visa. I applied for the school in Memphis when I first came to the US, unfortunately in the year a big storm hit the state so I have to go live with my uncle in TN and applied for the school their. And right now I’m already 15 y.o and I want to have permit to drive. But the state department require me to have SR-22 insurance and if I want one of those I have to have custody, my uncle say he don’t have the custody when that school in Memphis give him all my paperwork and things. So what I have to do now?

    • Doug Bernard says:

      Kenny – that’s far too complicated for me to offer help, unfortunately. It sounds like you should talk to someone at the school in Memphis, maybe in the student affairs office, for help.

  34. Jad says:

    Hi,

    I am an international student who lives right now in Ohio and on OPT visa. I have got a job in California. I will be working there legally through my OPT F1 visa and I will get driver license from California once i start there. My wife also goes to school here in OH and want to go with me to California and finish the rest of here classes online. Can she obtain a California driver license although she is technically a student in school here in OH?

    Thank you,

      • francis mercado says:

        Hi im from the Philippines, I came here in the USA last 2010 with a tourist visa then I applied to F1 visa on same year.Im planning to go home sometime this year for a vacation, would there be any problem as to my coming back?Our school clerk told me that since I got my F1 here I might be having trouble coming back.I dont believed him because in my understanding F1 visas are all the same irregardless to where you get it.I mean either from your home country or here in the US.I will really appreciate your inputs.Thanks

  35. heric says:

    does getting a driver license require the approving of my insurance company?

  36. […] The Voice of America has a great list of tips about what to do to ensure that the process of obtaining a drivers license and Social Security card goes smoothly.  While these tips are great, it is always best to check with your school’s international office, as they will have more specific information and will possibly be able to facilitate the paperwork. […]

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