Driving in the U.S.

Find safe driving tips, renting a car and important documents needed for driving around the U.S.

Foreign Nationals Driving in the United States

People who drive in the United States must have a valid driver's license.  

To rent a vehicle in the U.S., check with the rental company and find out about documents and other requirements, like how old you have to be.  These requirements vary from state to state.  

If you are a visitor from outside the United States and Canada who plans to drive in the U.S., check with the motor vehicle department of each state you will drive in for its requirements.  Some of the states will require an International Driving Permit (IDP) in addition to a valid license from your own country.  

Short-Term Visitors

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 authorities of the country that issued your driver's license or its motoring association.
  • If you want to rent a car, you may need both your license and an IDP; find out the rental company's policies 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. Check the requirements in your state's department of motor vehicles.

  1. If you are eligible to apply for a driver's license, you can get a driver's license only from the state where you live. Check with your state's department of motor vehicles to find out how to apply.
  2. Once you receive your U.S. driver's license, you can drive anywhere in the U.S. Driving laws in each state differ; it is your responsibility to know and obey the laws of the state where you are driving.

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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. This can be convenient if your car is in the shop or when you're visiting another city. 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 (for items such as ski racks and car seats)?
  • 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: Some rental companies, particularly at airports, may require you to refuel within a 10 mile radius of the airport or show a fuel receipt when you return the car.
  • 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.

Some state laws cover short-term car and truck rentals. Contact your state or local consumer protection office for information or to file a complaint. Get more information from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners about renting a car.

Car Sharing 

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? And 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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Stay Safe on the Road

Driving-related dangers come in many forms. Education is key to understanding the risks and keeping people safe.

Safe Driving Tips

Distracted Driving  

Drunk Driving

Follow this Safe Driving Pinterest board for lots of great tips.

Driving Guidelines

Child Car Seats

Teen Driving

Older Drivers

  • Plan ahead and take steps to keep the older driver in your life safe on the road.
  • Find safe driving tips specific to each health issue an older driver might experience.

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