Can you drive in the US with a foreign license?

drive in the us with a foreign license

Planning on going on an American road trip? Road trips across the U.S. have become an almost mythical experience often featured in films and shows. Both the size of the United States and the number of things to see make taking an American road trip an excellent plan. Learn about driving in the USA with a foreign license to make the most of your trip. 

What do you need to drive a car in America? Do you need an international driver’s license to drive in the U.S.? Is there a US driver’s license for foreign visitors? Here we describe how to drive in the United States with a foreign license.

What Does the Law Say About Driving in the United States?

Under current American law, all you need in order to drive in the U.S. is a valid driving license issued by your country if you will be in the U.S. for a maximum of 3 months. A foreign license to drive in the United States will be considered valid in 49 states, except for Georgia, which requires a US driver’s license for foreigners, known as an International Driving Permit (IDP). In every other state, your foreign driver’s license, together with your biometric passport for the U.S., are sufficient documentation for you to rent a car or in case you are stopped by the police.

This means that it is possible to drive in America with your Australian, UK, Irish, or New Zealand license. A European driver’s license in the USA is also valid to rent a car and drive in the country.

Those who wish to travel to the United States should bear in mind that they first need to meet the entry requirements. Citizens of 39 countries can obtain the ESTA, an electronic travel authorization necessary to visit the U.S. If you’re not a citizen of one of the 39 nations in the Visa Waiver program, you will have to apply for a US tourist visa at an American embassy or consulate.

But What About in Practice?

Recently, more and more car rental agencies have changed their policies and a greater number require an International Driving Permit to rent a car. It might not be a bad idea to get a US driver’s license for foreigners in your home country before your arrival in America. In the event a car rental agency asks for an IDP, you will already have one.

Moreover, because more and more tourists that visit the U.S. carry an international permit, police have become used to seeing the IDP. As a result, driving in America with just your foreign driver’s license (as opposed to an IDP) can be problematic. Even though driving solely with your foreign license is technically legal, the authorities might be unable to read it if it is written in a language other than English, which can cause delays or misunderstandings.

It is recommendable that you obtain an international driving permit before you arrive in the U.S. and so that you can rent a car without any difficulties.

What Else is Necessary to Drive in the United States?

Generally, you must be at least 21 years of age or older to be able to use your foreign driving license in the United States. You should also be aware that many rental agencies, especially the major ones, ask that customers be at least 25 years old to rent a car. Before organizing your trip, make sure to check if you will be able to rent a car. Driving in the USA with a foreign license won’t be an issue if you meet the age requirements.

Moreover, no matter your nationality, if you wish to drive in the United States you should be absolutely certain that your foreign driving license will be valid during your entire time in the country. An expired foreign drivers license will not be valid to drive in the United States.

Driving in the USA with a foreign license

As a general rule, people who drive in the U.S. must have a valid driver’s license.  As mentioned in this article, some states will require an International Driving Permit (IDP) from foreign nationals, in addition to the foreign driver’s license. You can contact the motor vehicle department of each state before your trip.

Short-term visitors should know that the United States does not issue IDPs to foreign visitors. Below, we explain how to get an IDP. Bear in mind that if you want to rent a car, you may need both a driver’s license and an IDP. Before planning your trip find out the rental company’s policies and other requirements. Beware of international driver’s license scams. Only U.S. residents can obtain a U.S. driver’s license.

When driving in the United States with a foreign license is it strongly advised to have all your papers with you at all times. You will need to have your foreign driver license and your passport while driving. Whether you have a European driver’s license in the USA or a license from Australia or New Zealand, make sure it is a valid license.

Obtaining an International Driving Permit

Fortunately, obtaining an International Driving Permit isn’t very complicated. Depending on your country, you will either go to a police station, post office or the government department/ministry that deals with motor vehicles. You will then have to fill out an application form and turn in the requisite supplementary documents (photograph, photocopies of your license, etc.).

Please check your local requirements and keep in mind that this is often possible to request an IDP online as well.

 Preparing for Your Trip to the U.S.

Just like with any trip abroad, it’s helpful to take a moment and think about the potential administrative requirements you will be required to fulfill prior to traveling. Visiting the United States is no different. Even though your country may be part of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), you will still need to fill out an online ESTA application. The ESTA for citizens of the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand are then entitled to stays of 90 days or less. This travel authorization is valid for 2 years.

With all your paperwork in order, you’re ready to start exploring those American highways! Whether it’s the mythical Route 66 or California’s Pacific Coast Highway, you can focus on making the best memories and living adventures without worrying about driving with a foreign license.


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