Driving in the U.S.

Driver License Applicants Without Social Security Numbers

Important note: In order to apply for a New York State driver license, learner permit or state ID, individuals with an immigration designation of D/S (duration of status) need to have an immigration document (i.e. I-20 or DS-2019) that is valid at least 6 months into the future. In addition, the document must have been issued for a period of one year or more. Regulations pertaining to OPT/Academic training are explained further below.

Driving with a Foreign Driver License and an International Driving Permit

Do I Need a U.S. Driver License to Drive in the U.S.?

You may drive legally in New York if you have a valid foreign driver license from your country and either a certified translation of your license or a current International Driving Permit (issued for one year only) in your possession while you drive.

International Driving Permit: An International Driving Permit is not a driver license. The permit only verifies that you hold a valid driver license in your home country. Your foreign driver license, not the International Driving Permit, allows you to drive in NYS. Contact the authorities in your home country to get an International Driving Permit.

You do not need to apply for a NYS driver license if your foreign driver license is valid and you have no intention to reside permanently in New York State.

Note: Even though NYS will recognize your foreign driver license (as long as you remain a resident of your country), you will additionally need to have an International Driving Permit to rent a car in most cases. This document is quite useful since it verifies, in several languages, that you have a valid foreign driver license.

Obtaining a New York State Driver License/Permit/State ID

It is advisable to obtain a New York State license even if your foreign license is still valid. This will help to avoid problems if you are stopped for a traffic violation or at some other time when you need to present a driver license.

In addition, if you do not have a US driver license, many car insurance companies will not insure your vehicle, or will insure you through a high risk pool at much higher rates.

If You are a New Driver: NYS Learner Permit

If you do not currently hold a valid driver license, you should apply for the NYS learner permit. If you are a new driver, this will allow you to practice your driving skills before passing a road test.

I. How to get a New York State Learner Permit:

Apply for a learner permit. Fill out Form MV 44. Pay the application fee and the driver license fee. There is one application form for both your first learner permit and your first driver license. This single payment depends on your age at the application date: 18½ to 21: $62.50 - $65.00; 21 and older: $52.50 - $55.00

Pass the vision test. Take a vision test at the DMV office, or bring a valid form MV-619 (Eye Test Report) completed by an eye-care professional.

Pass the written test. No appointment is needed. You can prepare for the written test by studying the Driver's Manual and Study Guide. There is no limit on the number of times you can attempt to pass the test and no additional fees.

Note that you can also request a test in a foreign language if it is available; the DMV has written tests translated into 22 languages. Exception: You are not required to take the written test if you have form MV-285 (Driver Education Student Certificate of Completion)

Receive your permit and practice for your road test.

If you have a NYS learner permit, and you do not have a valid foreign driver license, NYS law requires a supervising driver to be present in the car with you. The supervising driver must be age 21 or over and must have a valid driver license to operate the vehicle that you drive.You may drive by yourself before the road test if you hold a NYS learner permit and a valid foreign driver license in your possession.

II. Steps for Obtaining a New York State Driver License:

Take a driver education course or a DMV-approved pre-licensing course. Attend a mandatory pre-licensing course or complete a high school or college driver education course. Most commercial driving schools licensed by the DMV offer the DMV-approved pre-licensing course.

You can do a web search for "Driving Schools in Syracuse" to find a list of local driving schools. These courses generally cost about $45.

Do not confuse the 5-hour pre-licensing course (required) with the 6-hour defense driving course (not required for the purpose of obtaining a driver license).

Make an appointment for a road test. Use your driver education certificate or pre-licensing course certificate to make an appointment by phone or on-line. The site has instructions on how to schedule your road test, what things to bring and requirements for the car.

You may not be allowed to take the road test if your vehicle does not satisfy certain safety requirements such as brake lights, blinkers, etc.

You are also allowed to bring a rented car or your friend's car. The car should have a valid registration and a valid state inspection. You must show the driver education certificate to the road test examiner on the day of your road test.

Pass your road test and receive your NYS driver license.

Make sure you don't show up to the road test alone. Remember you are not allowed to drive alone if not in a possession of a valid driver license. So bring a friend! If you did not pass, you can schedule another road test. If you do not pass the second road test, you must pay a $10 fee to take two more road tests.

If You Have a Driver License From any Nation Except Canada:

  • Follow the steps for new drivers
  • Surrender your foreign driver license to the DMV road test examiner

The local DMV office will destroy your foreign driver license the next day after your road test. If you plan to return to your home country and use your foreign driver license, you should submit a request in writing asking the road test examiner not to destroy your license.

If you need to get your foreign driver license, go to the DMV office on Erie Boulevard and submit a similar request in writing asking for your original foreign driver license. The DMV considers it a fraud if you drive while in possession of a NYS driver license and your foreign driver license.

If you have a valid driver license from Canada or Puerto Rico:

  • you don't need to take a driving course
  • you don't need to take a road test
  • your licenses are transferable

Requirements and Identification Documents to Obtain a New York State Driver License/Permit/State ID

Individuals with an immigration designation of D/S(duration of status) need to have an immigration document (i.e. I-20 or DS-2019) that is valid at least 6 months into the future.  In addition, the document must have been issued for a period of at least 12 months or more.

In order to obtain a driver license, a learner permit or a non-driver photo ID card you need to present documents that:

  • count for 4 points and your Social Security card (a total of 6 points)
  • Or documents that count for 6 points and the SSA letter if you cannot obtain a Social Security card * (follow the steps below)

ACCEPTABLE DOCUMENTS AS PROOF OF IDENTITY

(Note: At least one of your documents must contain your signature)

Document
Point value of document
A foreign passport with your visa and form I-94
with status code F1 or F2 and form I-20. You must show your original entry document and any extension document stamped by INS with form I-20.Note: Bring with you every I-20 that was stamped by the INS.
3
A foreign passport with your visa and form I-94 with status code J1 or J2 and with form DS-2019. You must show your original entry document and any extension document stamped by INS with form DS-2019 3
A US college photo ID card and an academic transcript. 2

You can provide only one of these items issued by a financial institution in the USA:

  • a bank statement
  • a cancelled check (which displays your pre-printed name)
  • an ATM card or a debit card (which displays your pre-printed name and your signature)
  • a valid major US credit card
1
A health insurance card or a medical prescription card issued in the US. 1
A utility bill issued in the US. 1
A photo driver's license issued by another state, jurisdiction or possession of the US, or issued by a province or territory of Canada. The driver's license must be valid or expired for less than one year. 2
A W-2 Form that shows your Social Security Number. 1
A NYS registration document for a vehicle or a boat only. 2

Additional documents that are accepted as proof of identity are listed on the DMV website. We also suggest that you periodically consult this list to check if the documents or their point value have changed.

Social Security Number

Note: Recent changes in the issuance of social security numbers (SSN) state that you can apply for a SSN once you have obtained an offer of employment on campus. If you do not currently have an offer of employment, you are not eligible to apply for a SSN.

For the purpose of obtaining a driver license, learner permit or state ID, you must provide a letter from the US Social Security Administration stating that you are not eligible. Follow the steps outlined below.

Step 1: Go to the Social Security Administration office located in the Federal Building in downtown Syracuse (100 South Clinton Street; 4th floor). Explain that you would like to apply for a driver license/ learner permit/state ID and state your visa type.

Explain that the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has asked for your SSN, which you do not have. Request a letter which explains to the DMV that SSN's are not issued for the purpose of obtaining a driver license. The Social Security office will give you a letter which you may take to the DMV.

Step 2: Bring the letter to the DMV within 30 days of issuance along with other necessary documents (see above) and apply for a driver license/learner permit/state ID.

Unfortunately, you are caught between two separate administrations. Each has its own operating rules.

Additional Regulations for Students Applying for OPT or Academic Training:

Based on the current DMV policy, the local office will issue a DL/permit/state ID with a notice indicating that your temporary visitor status will end on the same date as the expiration of your I-20/DS-2019.

If you are planning to undertake Optional Practical Training after your graduation, you will need to present a new I-20 reflecting the OPT approval to the DMV officer.

If you present a new I-20 with an approved OPT before the completion of your studies, DMV will issue you a driver license/permit/state ID indicating that your temporary visitor status will expire at the same time when you complete your OPT.

If you come in during your OPT, DMV will need to see your EAD card before issuing any documents. The visitor status expiration date placed on your driver license will then reflect the end date on your EAD card.

Students in J-1 status undertaking academic training will need to present an updated DS-2019 indicating a period of approved academic training.

Obtaining a Non-Driver Photo Identification Card

Many residents rely on a New York State Photo Driver License or Non-Driver Photo Identification Card as secure identification for check cashing or credit purchases. It cannot be "borrowed" to buy alcoholic beverages by people under the legal purchase age. It is almost impossible to forge or alter. A New York State photo document may provide increased identification security for you, plus law enforcement and driver safety advantages for everyone.
If you do not drive, you may qualify for a Non-Driver Photo Identification Card from the Department of Motor Vehicles. The DMV Non-Driver ID Card has the same personal identification information, photo, signature and special safeguards against alterations as a photo driver license. You cannot hold a New York State driver license or learner permit while also holding a non-driver ID card.
Non-driver ID cards are available to any person, regardless of age, who can provide acceptable proof of name and age. Parental consent is required for applicants under 16 years old.

How to Apply

To apply for a learner permit, driver license, or non-driver ID card, you must complete an "Application For Driver License Or ID Card" (MV-44), available at any motor vehicle office, by request from a DMV Call Center, and from the DMV Internet Office. You must present the required proof of name and date of birth, and pay the appropriate fee.

Proof of Name and Identity
DMV assigns point values to acceptable documents that prove name and identity. To qualify for a license or ID card, your documents of proof must total at least 6 points. These documents must be original or copies certified by the issuing agency. At least one must include your signature. Photocopies and documents with erasures or changes will not be accepted. 

Proof of Date of Birth

You also must prove your date of birth. Your document must be the original, or a certified photocopy from the issuing agency. DMV will accept ANY ONE of these documents:
Birth certificate issued and certified by a Board of Health or Bureau of Vital Statistics in the U.S., its territories, or possessions. Foreign birth certificates are not acceptable.

  • NYS Photo License/Permit/Non-Driver ID Card
  • Military Photo ID Card
  • Foreign Passport (with USCIS documentation)
  • Immigration Documents

Social Security Card
A U.S. Social Security Card is required when you apply for an original New York State photo non-driver identification card.  It is also required when you renew a non-driver identification card.

Valid Periods and Fees
If you do not drive, you may choose a short-term non-driver ID card valid for 4 to 5 years, or a long-term ID card valid for 8 to 9 years. The exact period of your ID card and your fee depend on whether you select a short-term or long-term ID and the relationship between the date you apply and the expiration date (your month and day of birth). A short-term ID card will cost between $9.00 and $10.00. A long-term ID will cost between $13.00 and $14.00. These fees include a $5.00 photo document fee.
About Your License or ID Card
You will receive a temporary ID card when you apply. You should receive ID card through the mail within two weeks. When you receive your ID card, examine it to make sure the information and photo are correct. If correction is needed, or if you have not received your ID card within two weeks, or if it has been lost or stolen, contact a DMV Call Center. Your ID card is durable, but not indestructible. Keep it from getting wet. Protect it with a plastic sleeve in your purse or wallet, but do not laminate it. Laminating could destroy special built-in security safeguards and make it invalid. The replacement fee is $17.50 for a "duplicate" photo license. The photo-ID replacement fee is $8.00 for cards valid up to 8 years, and $6.50 for 10-year discounted cards.

Name or Address Change
To change your name on your ID card, bring it with your proof of name change to any motor vehicle office. Your name change must be confirmed by presenting a marriage license or court papers. The documents of proof must total 6 points (see requirements for identification). The fee for a name change is $10.00 for a photo driver license or learner permit, or $5.00 for a non-driver photo ID card. To change your address, it is not necessary to apply for a ID card. Just write your new address in the space provided on the back of the card. Do NOT try to cross out or change the old address on the front. As required by law, be sure to report the new address to the DMV within 10 days of the change. Contact the DMV Call Center or visit the DMV Internet Office to receive a change of address form (MV-232). If you choose, you also may request an application for a "duplicate" ID card that will show your new address.