Foreign Nationals Driving in the U.S.
Learn if non-citizens need a U.S. driver's license when visiting or temporarily living in the United States and how to contact the Department of Motor Vehicles in each state. Also, get information on renting a car and what other documents you may need while driving in the U.S.
Foreign Nationals Driving in the United States
People who drive in the U.S. must have a valid driver's license. Some states require an International Driving Permit (IDP) from foreign nationals, in addition to a valid license from your own country. Contact the motor vehicle department of each state you will drive in for its requirements.
If you intend on getting an IDP, you must do so in advance of your travel:
- The United States does not issue IDPs to foreign visitors. To get an IDP, contact the motor vehicle department of the country that issued your driver's license.
- If you want to rent a car, you may need both your license and an IDP. Find out the rental company's policies and other requirements in advance.
- Beware of international driver's license scams.
Residents (Non-U.S. Citizens)
The residency requirement for obtaining a U.S. driver's license is different in each state:
- If you are eligible to apply for a driver's license, you must get a driver's license from the state where you live.
- Check the requirements and find out how to apply in your state's department of motor vehicles.
- A U.S. driver's license allows you to drive anywhere in the U.S. It is your responsibility to know and obey the laws of the state where you are driving.
Car Rental and Car Sharing Services
Even if you don't own a car, there are times when you may need one. When you rent a car, you're using a company's vehicle for a short period of time. Use these tips before signing the rental agreement to help you avoid unexpected problems and charges:
- Fees: What is the total cost, after all fees are included? Will there be an airport surcharge or fees for car drop-off, insurance, fuel, mileage, taxes, additional drivers, an underage driver, or equipment rental?
- Driving record: Ask whether the rental company checks customers' driving records when they arrive at the service counter. If there are problems with your driving record, the rental company could turn you away, even if you have a confirmed reservation.
- Insurance: Be sure that you aren't duplicating coverage. You might have coverage through your personal auto insurance policy, a motor club membership, the credit card you used to reserve the rental, or your employer, if you're traveling on business.
- Damages: Before driving off, inspect the vehicle for dents, scratches, and marks and check the tires. Report any pre-existing problems and ask the company to note them on your rental agreement. Try to return the car during regular business hours so you and the rental staff can look at the car together to verify that you didn't damage it.
- Fuel: Decide if you are going to refuel the car before you return it, or pay for the fuel options provided the car rental company.
- Payment method: Pay with a credit card rather than a debit card to avoid holds on other funds in your checking account.
- Rental deposit: Does the rental company require a deposit? If so, ask for a clear explanation of the deposit refund procedures.
If you’d rather rent a car on an hourly basis and have greater flexibility in where and when you can pick up a vehicle, you can join a car sharing service. You get the convenience of a car when you need one, without the costs of ownership.
- Fees: What fees does the company charge (annual fees, application fee)? Are they refundable, even if you cancel or are denied membership?
- Availability of cars: Are there cars available at times that you need one? How far in advance do you need to reserve a vehicle?
- Attendants: Are there on-site staff present when you check out your car and return it? This can be very helpful when you need to verify that the car is returned in the same condition as when you borrowed it.
- Fuel: Do you have to pay for gas out of your own pocket or does the company pay for it?
- Extension of time: How easy is it to extend the length of your rental? Is it done through an app or is there a dedicated customer service hotline?
- Cancellation: How far in advance must you give notice to cancel a reservation or your membership? Can the company cancel your membership without notification?
- Damages: Are you responsible for damages, even if they were not your fault or they happened after you returned the car? This is especially important if you return the car to a lot that does not have on-site staff.
- Insurance: Is insurance included? You may be insured by a personal policy or the credit card that you use to pay for this service.
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Last Updated: September 27, 2018