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Applying for a New York Drivers License

As our handout on Understanding Driver's Licenses & Traffic Laws in New York explains, drivers with a valid license from their home country are able to drive in the US legally. However, some foreign nationals prefer to get a New York State license, since some police officers and insurance companies will not recognize an international license. When you obtain the NYS license, you will be asked to surrender your foreign license to the DMV. You may ask that it be stored for you and then pick it up when you complete your current program in the US, but the DMV often has trouble locating such documents after several years. If it would be difficult or problematic to replace your home license, you may want to apply for a NYS Non-Driver Photo ID card instead of a license.


NYS Driver's License Eligibility

For international students, scholars, and employees, your eligibility to apply for a New York State license is tied to your program dates. Your authorized status in the US must have a total duration of at least one year, AND you must have at least 6 months remaining before the current expiration date.


Application Process

The application process is fairly simple, but can take several months to obtain your official New York State drivers license. You must first obtain a Learner's Permit, which involves a written test and eye exam, followed by the completion of an authorized driver safety course and then pass a road test. If you already have a license from another US state, these requirements may be waived. For more details and links to required forms, please visit the NYS Department of Motor Vehicles online.

  1. Study the NYS Driver's Manual to prepare for your test. The ISO usually has printed manuals available, but you can also access it online or request a copy from the DMV.
  2. Submit the necessary application forms and fee to a local DMV branch office.  You must have 6 points of identification and bring either a U.S. Social Security Card or a letter of ineligibility from the Social Security Administration issued less than 30 days before.  Acceptable proofs of identity and date of birth are established by the DMV and may change. You should read the requirements carefully and make sure that you have the proofs needed to submit your application.
  3. Pass the written test to receive your Learner's Permit.  The written test is based on the safety information and traffic laws in the Driver’s Manual.
  4. Complete a mandatory 5-hour mandatory pre-licensing course.  You will receive a certificate of completion, which is needed to schedule your road test.  You can find approved courses in the Rochester phone book under 'Driver Instruction'.
  5. Practice for your road test. You may drive with your Learner's Permit as long as you have a licensed driver 21 years or older to supervise you.  DMV recommends that new drivers have at least 50 hours of driving (15 at night) before taking their road test.
  6. Schedule your road test, by phone or online, using the certificate of completion for your pre-licensing course.  You must bring a vehicle to complete the road test and have proper documentation to show that it is registered and passed inspection.
  7. Once you successfully pass the road test, you will receive a temporary license to keep with your permit.  The official Drivers License will be mailed within a few weeks.