Driving in the United States

You must understand the local, state and federal laws if driving in the U.S.
You must understand the local, state and federal laws if driving in the U.S.
Photo via Pixabay

Driving in the United States

Remember that cars drive on the right side of the road in the USA. If you plan to drive in the U.S., you must understand the local, state and federal laws regarding driving. The best recommendation is to consult the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in the state in which you would like to drive. If you purchase a car, you must also purchase insurance to cover yourself and passengers. Never drive after drinking alcohol and never get into the car with a driver who has been drinking. Always wear a seat belt.

Local Departments of Motor Vehicles (DMV)

Local DMV offices may be found through an Internet search, or by visiting the state's official DMV website. For more details about the DMV and driving in the U.S., please refer to the Resources section of our website.

International Driver's License

If you intend to drive in the U.S., we strongly recommend that you get an international driver's license before you leave your home country. You cannot get one in the U.S. Depending on the day you obtain your International Driver's License, it should be valid in any state for up to one year.

Foreign Driver's License (Home Country Driver's License)

All U.S. states recognize foreign drivers' licenses. In most cases, your license will be valid for up to 4 months after the date you enter the U.S. Consult the DMV in the state where you wish to drive to confirm the length of validity and the rules for driving with a foreign driver's license. Your foreign license is valid if accompanied by your international passport.

Obtaining a Driver's License in the U.S.

Contact the local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for the state where you will be working to find out whether you are eligible to apply for a U.S. driver's license. If eligible, obtain a copy of the state driver's manual from the DMV so that you can learn the state's driving rules, and study for the written test and the driving test. Ask which documents you need to present to the DMV when applying for a license.

At a minimum, you will probably be required to show the following documents in order to apply for a state license:

  • Passport
  • Home country driver's license
  • International driver's license
  • Social Security card

Motorcycles require a special driver's license, and many states have laws requiring that you wear a helmet. The accident and sickness insurance provided by InterExchange will not cover you in the event of an accident while you are driving a motorcycle.

What to Do in the Event of a Car Accident

In the event of a car accident, find out if anyone is injured. If someone requires medical attention, or to report the accident, dial 911 from any phone. 911 is the free direct number for emergency services with the local police anywhere in the U.S. If possible, do not move your car until the police arrive and are able to assess the accident scene. While waiting for the police, exchange the following information with the driver of the other car:

  • Name, telephone number and license ID number.
  • License plate number, model and year of the car.
  • Registration number and expiration date.
  • Name of the insurance company and policy number.

If there are any witnesses, ask for their names, telephone number and address in the event of insurance problems. If you have a phone with a camera, takes pictures of the damage and accident scene. If you have hit a parked car, you must leave your name, phone number and license plate number on a piece of paper and put it under the windshield wiper, so they may contact you. Also write down the car's license number and model of the car.

Failure to leave your information or report the accident is considered a crime.

Make sure that any car you drive has insurance that will cover you as a driver or a passenger in the event of an accident.

You are responsible for any fines for moving violations or parking tickets. Failure to honor these fines may impair your ability to get a visa to the U.S. in the future.

Use Extra Caution

  • Follow posted speed limits.
  • Stay on marked roads.
  • Be aware of special weather and road conditions (e.g., snow, black ice, fog, flooding and detours/construction).
  • Use extra care around school buses.
  • Follow parking rules.
  • Be aware of pedestrians and crosswalks.
  • Don't always trust GPS. Be aware of Road Closed and Bridge Out signs to steer clear of danger.
U.S. Department of State-Designated J-1 Visa Sponsor
Alliance for International Exchange
The International Coalition for Global Education and Exchange
European-American Chamber of Commerce New York
Global Ties U.S.
International Au Pair Association
WYSE Travel Confederation