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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. If you're a foreign visitor, some states require you to have an International Driving Permit (IDP) and a valid license from your own country. Contact the motor vehicle department of each state you will be driving to find out its requirements.  

Short-Term Visitors

If you intend to get 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 by contacting 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

When you rent a car, you're using a company's vehicle for a short period of time. Learn how to avoid unexpected problems and charges.

Traditional Car Rental Company

These tips can help your car rental experience go more smoothly.

  • Rental agreement: Read the rental agreement before you sign it.

  • Fees: What is the total cost, including all fees? There can be fees for:

    • Airport surcharge

    • Insurance Fuel 

    • Mileage

    • Taxes 

    • Extra drivers 

    • An underage driver

    • Equipment rental

  • Driving record: Many rental companies check customers' driving records. If your driving record includes violations, the rental company could cancel your 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 
    • Your employer (if you're traveling on business) 
  • Damages: Inspect the vehicle for dents, scratches, and marks and check the tires. Report any pre-existing damages and ask the company to note them on your rental agreement. 
  • Fuel: Decide if you are going to prepay the rental company for fuel or refuel the car before you return it.
  • Rental deposit: Rental companies hold a security deposit on your payment card. Find out the amount of the hold and when the company will remove it.
  • Payment method: Pay with a credit card rather than a debit card to avoid holds on other funds in your checking account.

Car Sharing 

Car sharing services allow you to rent a car on an hourly basis. They offer flexibility in where and when you can pick up a vehicle.

  • 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 staff on-site when you check out a car and return it? On-site staff can verify that you returned the car 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? 
  • Insurance: Is insurance included in the membership fee? 
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Last Updated: August 31, 2020

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