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driving license in the USA
Michele Spinnato

Getting a driving license in the USA, the process

As we have all seen in movies, driving in the US is such an experience so getting a driving license in the USA even more. Getting yourself behind the steering wheel, filling up the tank and roll on the famous Route 66 or the Pacific Coast Highway.

If you’re a foreigner and you already have your own driving license from your country, you’ll be required to issue the International Driving Permit to get your driving license in the USA. This will allow you to drive within one year since the expedition. You may rent a car for a road trip or a small van if you need to carry your stuff from one place to another. However, most of the American cities aren’t thought to be walked and depending on your commute to your workplace, you may consider the option of buying a car. In that case, you’ll need to get a driving license.

The first thing you have to know about the driving license in the USA is that there isn’t a nationwide driving code. That means every state has its own regulations. Although the main principles are common (such as traffic signs colors and shapes, obligation to fasten seatbelts…), there are slight differences between states: speed limits, blood alcohol concentration maximums, penalties due to offenses… For example, in New York, you can’t proceed to a right turn when you’re staring at a red traffic light, but in New Jersey, it is allowed under some circumstances. So, to get your license, you should first look for the driving code of the state you’re living in.

Once you’ve decided to take the exam, you’ll need first to register. Since everybody needs a car in the US, my advice would be to get to your Motor Vehicles Office as early as possible – even before the opening – to avoid endless lines. To register you’ll need to prove by original documents your identity, your legal presence in the US and your residence place. You can use your passport, I-94 document and your original and signed the DS-2019 form to demonstrate your identity. American bank statements or utility bills sent to your apartment can be used as proof of residence. After letting them know that, effectively you are yourself, they’ll register your exam application, they’ll take a picture of you and you’ll be given an exam permission for three months.

Next step is, of course, studying for the exam. You may read the driving code, which is usually available and free at MVC offices or just download it from the internet. There’re also some webpages where you can practice for the written test. They have questions just like the ones you’ll face in the exam and it’s a useful way to get ready for it. After passing the written test, you will have to pass a vision to be sure that you are able to see properly.

The last stage on the way to obtain your driving license in the USA is the road test. If you already have your home country driving license, you may be suitable to skip this part because your driving skills are considered proven. However, you’ll be required to show your driving license and, in some cases, you’ll need to have it translated into English (they don’t accept the International Driving License). If this is not your case, then you will have to face the road exam. You’ll have to schedule an appointment with an MVC examiner and bring your own car to the exam, which can be a rental car. During the exam, you will be asked to drive along some streets and also do some maneuvers like a 3-point turn or parallel parking.

As it happens everywhere, although the exams are easy to pass, the whole process takes a long time especially due to bureaucracy matters. Anyway, if you’re thinking of getting your US driving license don’t take it as a pushback. In a couple of months since your registration, you can have the license issued, and fees are not expensive!

Note: this is my experience at the New Jersey Motor Vehicles Commission. Procedures may be different in other States.

Eric Angelats

Trainee at Inglese ArchitectureNew Jersey

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