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When to Get Drivers License in USA?

Question from Aditya about Drivers License and State ID Card.

Please enlighten us about the need of State ID.

Is it Helpful if we get a Driver License soon? Does it help in lowering the insurance premium for the car?

I am not gonna buy a car now(but in maybe 2 years).

I’m not sure, if you have read my first used car buying experience.

Drivers License in USA

Rules to get Drivers License varies between states. Refer to your DMV website for more information about driver’s license.

But the overall process will look like this :

  • Pass written test (computer based)
  • Pass road test

Refer to DMV booklet for required Identification Documents (Passport, Home Address Proof, etc).

Why Drivers License

You MUST have some photo identification card with you all the times.

I can think of 5 forms of photo identification that can be used

  1. Drivers License
  2. State ID
  3. Passport
  4. Bank ATM Card with your photo (not used for age verification)
  5. College student ID

Lets say you want to buy Beer or cigarettes in grocery store, you can’t buy them without showing photo Id with age proof.

Likewise, several places require you to show photo id before making any purchase (when you pay using your credit card).

State ID or Drivers License

For students in F1 Visa, it’s not safe to carry passport with you all the times.

College ID will come in handy at some times, provided your age is listed in there.

Getting drivers license might not be feasible for everyone in fist couple of semesters. In such instance, get State Identification Card, instead of DL.

  • State ID – Identification card that looks like Drivers License. You cannot driver using state id.

When to get Drivers License

Try to get your driver’s license in USA ASAP.

Before coming to USA, please learn to car driving.

You will face several practical problems, while trying to learn to drive car in USA.

It’s not impossible, but your will have few issues like

  • Trying to find someone who would teach you to drive (using their car)
  • Risk of having an accident while learning from other students car
  • Cost of renting car in your name and finding a brave soul to sit with you in passenger seat.
  • Cost of attending driving class (professional driving class)

From my experience, students think about driver’s license only when they feel the need to drive. 

But, remember, if you are in USA then YOU HAVE to DRIVE a car one day. So, try to find a way to get DL.

Auto Insurance Savings

Even if you plan to drive only after 2 years, having drivers license will build your driving history.

For insurance company, they see when your DL was issued, not if you were driving/not driving the car.

Two years of driving history without any tickets and accidents will get you cheap car insurance rates.

Life in USA is complex till you get settled.

Several things are interrelated, like the following

If you get a ticket or have a car accident at your fault, your car insurance rates will go up for 3 to 5 years.

If you don’t have driving history, then car insurance will be high (new driver = not safe, accident prone)

So, try to get your driver’s license ASAP.

I came to USA in Spring (Jan) and had my car and drivers license by End of April. I got my car even before getting drivers license.

22 Comments

  1. Akshaya on July 29, 2019 at 3:22 PM

    I lost my Texas DL card. Do I have to pass the road test again to get new license? How do I go about it?
    I am currently in Oregon for internship. I am planning to go back to my DMV in Texas in January.
    Please help.

  2. SteveH on February 5, 2016 at 6:50 PM

    my I-94 expired along with my old passport however my Visa is still valid for another year and was able to get new passport. Can I get drivers license with expired i-94?

    • Raghuram Sukumar on February 5, 2016 at 11:07 PM

      If your i94 is expired you are out of status. Visa validity at that point doesn’t matter.

  3. Karen on November 28, 2012 at 6:02 PM

    I don’t have a driver’s license in my country and I’ll go to US very soon…can I get a driver’s license? I’ll be living in South Carolina and eventually I’ll need to drive…what should I do?

  4. Vish on October 27, 2012 at 6:25 PM

    You can buy a car with NO DL.

    Insurance is always bought after you buy the car but before you register/title it.

    Rules for requiring insurance for registering a car with insurance are different in different states for example MA needs insurance to register a car while NH doesn’t (Well NH doesn’t need seat belt/helmet law either. “Live free or die”)

    The practical question is if you have NO DL, what will you do with the car?

  5. Jenny on October 27, 2012 at 11:35 AM

    How can u buy a car without license. Isn’t DL and car insurance needed?

  6. Akshay.V.hiremath on March 10, 2012 at 11:52 AM

    Hi..Do we require a SSN no.. To get a State Identification Card…..

  7. javed on January 11, 2012 at 1:47 AM

    i planning to move t ousa..i having driving licence from UAE..dose it work to get licence in usa?

  8. Varun Kumar on January 10, 2012 at 4:20 PM

    International Drivers License is translation of a foreign licence. As per my knowledge, IDL or any foreign driving license is only valid in California BUT they bring high insurance too! U cannot drive without insurance. PAN cards can be used because they tell the date of birth but anyone can deny them because they are not considered stronger evidence of date of birth than the US issued state ID. Better get a state ID the day you report in college and a license too!

  9. atma on January 10, 2012 at 2:53 PM

    A nice article. Yes I also recommend getting a license ASAP and it does reduce your insurance premium even if you do not own a car right away.

  10. Pavel on January 10, 2012 at 2:44 PM

    In many areas PAN card, Indian driving license can also be used to purchase beer, cigarette etc. I have used them even in Walmart.

    If you didn’t learn to drive, in my opinion you should get a Learner’s Licence. With learner’s licence some of the car rental agencies allow you to be added as a second driver with full insurance coverage. Also in early days of learner’s, try to refrain from driving practice even if in the community parking lot when there are lots of cars parked. To my opinion, try to practice during the working hours when the count of cars parked are pretty less. Try to avoid the highways till you get your full license. (For driving tests you hardly need to be an expert in highway drive, most of the driving test circuits has a lot resemblance to community roads).

  11. Kranti on January 10, 2012 at 1:59 PM

    Hi HSB,

    I had question on same line, that right now I am resident of OK and have LP and planning to get DL may be in March. So if my state of resident will change to some other state in May So do I need to reissue my DL from new state or older will be fine. Or should I get my DL in new state only. Or having LP in OK wont work to get DL in other state.

    • Vishal on January 10, 2012 at 2:29 PM

      You should get the DL in your state now and when you go to a new state. Go to local DMV/RMV office and they will issue you a local DL without a written test / road test.

      In most states, once you have a LP, your Indian license is no longer valid, and they have it on their computers so even if you don’t tell the police officer, he will know that you have take a LP and if you are found driving alone, you are in some serious trouble. If you are a student, you are in even more trouble, in US they are particularly more strict with students for driving violations.

      All in all, if you have already got your LP, you should go for a road test and get a DL ASAP.

      • HSB on January 10, 2012 at 3:05 PM

        + in Texas IDP is valid for 1 month after you have entered USA.
        + in NC – To get NC license after moving to FL, written Test is required.

        Typically after moving to new state, you will have 30 days to get the new license and register your car in the new state.

        • Vishal on January 10, 2012 at 3:36 PM

          I agree with HSB. One important thing to note here is that in some states your out of country DL/DP becomes invalid as soon as you get a Learners permit. This is something that many people don’t know. I nearly got arrested for this in MA. Luckily I was not a student and the officer was kind.

          The officers are generally very strict with students coz they want to ensure that students don’t pickup bad practices.

  12. Vishal on January 10, 2012 at 1:57 PM

    Trying to find someone who would teach you to drive (using their car)

    I will strongly recommend against this. Please please never do this. The risk is insane. I did this stupidity to let someone try to learn on my car in the parking lot inside the community and the biggest problem is that the guys/girls who are new to drive hit accelerator instead of breaks when they panic. I pulled the hand brake just on time and luckily we stopped about a inch behind a parked lexus. another inch would have screwed us up (offcourse a guaranteed arrest for the driving friend). God forbid if you end up hitting a human with no license, you will be working all your life to pay for the losses.

    • HSB on January 10, 2012 at 3:10 PM

      Yeah, its very risky. Its better to learning driving before coming to USA.

      We were going for a walk and our neighbors were walking towards us (100 yards away). There was an intersection between us. We saw a car stop at the intersection Stop light, then the person took right turn, but after making the turn, he hit the accelerator and didn’t steer the car straight. So, he kinda made a circle and was going to hit my neighbors/kid in stroller. Luckily, the navigator (who was teaching other guy driving) rotated the steering to run into side of the road.

      Try to learn car driving before you come to USA. It makes life much easier for everyone. If not, ten consider getting classes from professional schools.

  13. Prateek on January 10, 2012 at 11:36 AM

    HSB, I like your way of writing these posts. They are informative and are interesting also. Thanx for the post.

  14. shreyas on January 10, 2012 at 5:29 AM

    hello hsb…
    can anybody please tell more about International Driving License we can get here in INDIA…?
    does it hv sm value of does it make getting license there easier…?
    plzz reply…

    • Vishal on January 10, 2012 at 1:59 PM

      There is no such thing as IDL, its a IDP permit no license. Its only a translation of your license in many languages. If your DL is in English, IDP is a piece of worthless paper for you in USA.

  15. Nirmal Utwani on January 10, 2012 at 4:03 AM

    Could you please put some light on International Driving Licenses??
    What if I get one from India itself?? Will it be equally weighty??

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