Driver’s License Process for International Students

Learning the driver’s license process for international students in the United States can open up a lot of new opportunities. Driving saves time and energy, and it can improve prospects for social life, travel, and many other important aspects of life.

International students who want to drive in the United States will need to apply for a driver’s license from the state that they reside in.

The driver’s license application process for international students is slightly different from state to state. However, there are many things that are common among them, and you should understand the process in your state before applying for a driver’s license.

Understanding the US Driver’s License Process

For international students applying for a driver’s license will follow the same basic steps. While there are differences from state to state, many of the requirements for international students are from federal regulations.

Therefore, foreign students applying for a driver’s license anywhere in the United States will likely need to know the following:

International students should always check with their Designated School Official to gather local driving license information.

Students should also make sure that their information has been uploaded to the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).

It is also important to wait for approximately two weeks before applying for a license. The I-94 immigration information that students provide when coming into the country needs time to become visible in DMV systems.

Finally, foreign nationals in the United States on extended visas (i.e. international students) will need to apply for with a Social Security Number (SSN) or an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).

Once the preliminary steps have been taken care of, it is time to call the local DMV. Make a list of all the required documents when you call. If you have all of the requested documents, it is a good time to schedule your driver’s license tests.

Unless the DMV in your state recognizes foreign driver’s licenses and offers to transfer your current foreign license to a state document, it will be necessary to schedule a driving and written test.



There are several pieces of documentation that need to be submitted, including ID documentation, immigration forms, and sometimes proof of address. These requirements vary from state to state but most will require the following.

Form I-94

Form I-94 is a form that comes from the U.S. Customs office and shows a record of your travel history, including arrival and departure dates. The DMV will need to see this information because driver’s license approvals often depend on how long a foreign applicant will remain in the United States.

Form I-94 is available here.

Form I-20

Another important document that you will need to show is Form I-20. Form I-20 shows your eligibility for a driver’s license based on your status as a ‘nonimmigrant student’.

More information about Form I-20 and what you can use it for can be found here.

Social Security Number (SSN)

Another document that you will need to bring in most cases is your Social Security Number (SSN). Your social security number is not needed by DMVs in every state, however.

For more information, the Social Security Administration website can be found here.

Proof of Residence

As part of the driver’s license process, DMV offices also need to see that you are a resident of the state in which you are applying for the driver’s license. It is not allowed to carry driver’s licenses from multiple states and this is a requirement for all driver’s license applicants.

Accepted documents to show for proof of residence may include:

  • bank records and statement
  • official mail addressed to you at local address
  • rental/lease agreements
  • mortgage bill
  • school documentation
  • insurance documentation

Passport and Visa Information

Finally, you will need to provide your passport and copies of your current student visa as proof of ID. Simply providing your passport is usually sufficient to fulfill this requirement as the DMV officer will make any necessary photocopies at the DMV office.

Driving and Written Test Requirements

If the DMV determines that it will not accept the foreign driver’s license as an equivalent, a driving and written test will be required. These tests can usually be scheduled on the same day, but not always.

The written portion of the evaluation will test your working knowledge of the local driving laws, signs, and procedures relating to accidents and other emergency situations.

The driving test will help the DMV determine your readiness for driving on US roads and usually involves taking a short drive with an instructor, following directions as you drive.

Once complete, the driver’s license process has come to an end and the DMV will provide an answer quite quickly in most cases.

Regional Differences

Before applying for a driver’s license in any state, it is important to contact the local DMV office nearest you to learn what requirements exist for international students.

While most states follow similar rules and regulations regarding international driving licenses, there can be significant differences as well.

Final Thoughts

Driving in the U.S. can certainly bring a lot of positive elements into your life as an international student. Driving in the United States may seem daunting at first. However, the process for getting a driver’s license is easier than you might think. Just be sure to collect the necessary paperwork and research the driving rules in your state and you’ll be behind the wheel in no time.

Related Questions

How long should international students wait before applying for a US driver’s license? 

It is best for international students to wait for at least 10-14 days from arrival before applying for a driver’s license from their state. It can take up to 10 working days for immigration systems to update international student information.

Is there an international driver’s license for foreign students?

In most US states, students cannot drive legally with an international driving license or an International Driver’s Permit (IDP). Students should apply for a state driver’s license and follow the processes outlined by local DMV offices.

Taxes for International Students

If you are an international student studying in the US, or you are considering becoming one, it is helpful to know how tax laws work for foreign students in the United States.

For a full list of rules and requirements regarding US tax laws affecting international students, further reading on the IRS website can be found, here. However, we’ll summarize the main points for you here to save you some time.

Tax Requirements for International Students

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) defines international students as both nonresident aliens and resident aliens.

Depending on your visa type, you may fall into either category at the time of filing your taxes. The IRS outlines a separate set of rules for resident and nonresident aliens. However, the IRS also views international students through a different lens than other types of nonresident aliens. Therefore, some unique conditions apply to international students.

As such, to understand which income sources to report, as well as what can be deducted, you must first be sure about your tax filing and visa status.

Income Reporting Requirements

One of the first things international students should know about reporting requirements is that all international students and scholars should file. Even if they have made very little US-sourced income.

International students should file and pay their taxes if:

  • they have received a grant or scholarship that is considered taxable,
  • or if they received any income from work or any other source.

An important note about capital gains tax for international students:

International students in the United States for longer than one year should file and pay taxes if they have made money in the stock market, or by selling any other physical property (such as a boat, house, or car). The IRS enforces a 30% capital gains tax.

Many international students do not have to file taxes if:

  • their income is from another country,
  • they earn interest from a bank or investment account,
  • or if they received a grant or scholarship that is tax free.

It is important to note that there is no minimum income trigger that the IRS uses for international students. That means all earning count towards the filing requirement, even those that are very small.

Treaties and Special Circumstances

Apart from the general set of rules outlined by the IRS for how international students should be taxed, there are also many treaties and special circumstances that can be considered.

Most notably, the United States maintains several treaties with countries around the world. Each of those treaties outlines separate set of rules for taxation of nationals of those countries.

It is always a clever idea to check the list of treaties before seeking tax advice. Most sources of information that you will find will give generalized information that may not pertain to your situation.

Start with page 19 of the Treaties document from the IRS and look for ‘Students and Apprentices’.

Specific Taxation Rules Depending on Visa Type

Depending on your field of study, level of education, and time spent in the United States, you may have one of several student visa types that exist.

The three most common student visas are F1, J1, and M1, though many students also have H-1B visas and Green Cards. Tax rules for each are different and knowing the differences can save you a lot of time, money, and energy.

Here are some general rules for each of the listed visa types:

  • F-1 – This visa is meant for academic studies. Most international students have an F-1 Visa, and these students are allowed to do limited, part-time work. The visa is a nonimmigrant visa and the applicable tax rules apply.
  • J-1 – This visa is meant to provide international students with an opportunity to complete paid training in their field of study. It is a nonimmigrant visa and shares tax rules with F-1 status visas.
  • M-1 – This visa type is for international nonimmigrants who wish to attend training programs or vocational schools in the US. M-1 holders are not allowed to work in the US, and therefore do not pay taxes.
  • H-1B & Green Card – International students with immigrant visas, whether they hold an H-1B Visa, a Green Card, or are transitioning from an H-1B to a Green Card, must follow the same tax rules as US citizens. Students with these types of visas include but are not limited to graduate students and professionals continuing their education. Resident aliens must report all earned income.

Final Thoughts

The US tax system is certainly complex, but it does not have to be difficult to understand. The first step is to learn how international students with your particular visa type are taxed. Then, check to see if you are exempt from any of the rules associated with that visa type by checking the treaties document on the IRS website.  Once you are sure about your tax situation, it is time to decide how you would like to file your taxes.

Related Questions

When should I file my taxes in the US as an international student?  

International students should file taxes before the annual tax deadline. Usually, students should send their tax returns by May 17th. Sometimes, there are extensions that can push the date back.

Can international students file their taxes for free? 

Yes. International students can file their taxes for free. There are a number of resources available. International students can download and fill forms directly from the IRS website, or use a tax preparation service that offers free services.

Do international students need a Social Security Number to file taxes?

International students must have their Social Security Number (SSN) or an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) when filing taxes.