May I Drive In New York With An International Or Foreign License?

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Many people come to New York State to work, live, study, and go on vacation. In these scenarios, many individuals are coming into the state with a foreign driver’s license. There are some cases when it is legal for tourists to drive with a foreign license, and some when a motorist is required to have an International Driving Permit (IDP) or New York State driver’s license. This post will generally discuss how this works but feel free to call us at 212-683-7373 if you have received a NY un-licensed ticket or other moving violation. We can customize our advice to your particular situation and also defend you without having to appear in court.

Before Applying for a New York State Driver’s License

In order to be eligible to apply for a New York State driver’s license as a foreigner, you must first:

  • be at least 16 years old,
  • sign an affidavit (sworn statement) of never having been issued a Social Security Number and
  • provide proof of your name, date of birth, and residency status.


I Do Not Have A License In My Country, Can I Still Drive In New York?

If you are not licensed in your home country, you must apply for a New York State driver’s license if you plan on operating a motor vehicle while you are here. In order to do so, you must complete a 5-hour pre-licensing course, and pass a road and written test.

I Am Just Visiting New York, Do I Need A NY License?

If you are a visitor with an international driver’s license, you do not need a New York State license to drive here. You only need to apply for a New York State driver’s license if you become a “resident” of New York State, as defined below. However, some traffic courts insist that you produce a license from your home country and will not accept an International License. Our advice is to obtain, carry, and produce your host country license if you are stopped for a NY traffic ticket.

However, it may still be helpful to obtain an International Driving Permit. This verifies that you have a valid driver’s license in several languages. This may be useful if you encounter a police officer who can’t read the language on your foreign driver’s license. You will need to get in touch with the authorities in your home country in order to obtain an IDP.

Bottom line:  Having both types of licenses is your best defense to a New York offense of driving without a license.

Do You Plan to Become a New York Resident?

If you become a New York State resident, you must obtain a New York State driver’s license within the first 30 days. You may be eligible to exchange a valid driver’s license issued by another U.S. state or territory, a federal district, or a Canadian province for a New York driver’s license.

If you have a license issued outside of the U.S. or Canada, you will be required to apply for a new original New York State driver’s license at a New York Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) office. Once you pass your road test, you must give your foreign driver’s license to the DMV road test examiner.

When am I Considered a New York Resident?

Section 250(5) of the New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law defines “resident” as “one who lives in this state with the intention of making it a fixed and permanent abode or maintains a place of abode in this state for a period of at least 90 days”.

Living in a New York house, home, apartment, room, or another similar place for 90 days is considered to be “presumptive evidence” that you are a resident of the state. This evidence can be used by a police officer who issues a traffic ticket.

According to the New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law, students from other states or nations who attend school in New York State are not usually considered residents (even if you are here for more than 90 days).  Producing your student ID along with your proof of foreign licensure is usually sufficient to get an un-licensed ticket dismissed in these circumstances.  If you must get a New York State driver’s license or register your vehicle in New York State, the DMV does not decide if you are a resident. Ultimately, a judge decides if you are a resident of New York State by considering the law and evidence of your intent. Facts such as paying taxes, owning or renting a home here, and sending your children to attend school are often used to decide if your intent is to make New York State a “fixed and permanent” residence.

Do I Need to Be a U.S. Citizen to Apply for a New York State Driver’s license?

You do not need to be a U.S. citizen to obtain a New York driver’s license, permit, or non-driver ID card. Once you complete a 5-hour pre-licensing course, and the written and road tests, the New York State DMV will issue you an NYS license and destroy your foreign driver’s license. If you plan to return to your home country and still need your foreign driver’s license, you may ask the examiner how to make sure it is not destroyed. 

New York offers three types of ID documents- standard licenses and IDs, Real IDs, and Enhanced licenses and IDs. Non-citizens are only eligible for standard IDs or Real IDs. However, you must be able to provide proof of lawful presence to be eligible for a Real ID.

Can Undocumented Immigrants Obtain a Driver’s License in New York State?

As of June 2019, undocumented immigrants are permitted to acquire New York State driver’s licenses. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Green Light Bill that allows non-U.S citizens, above 16 years of age, to apply for a non-commercial New York State driver’s license, irrespective of their citizenship status.

How to Apply for a Driver’s license in New York

There are four steps you need to take in order to apply for a New York driver license:

  1. Determine what class and type of license you need. Most people need class D – operator, or DJ – Junior Operator, if under 18. Other classes include A, B, and C for commercial (CDL) licenses to operate tractor-trailers, busses, etc, M for motorcycles, and E for taxis. The types include standard, real, and enhanced, based on the necessity of the documentation, such as boarding domestic flights, entering federal buildings or military bases, and crossing U.S. borders.
  2. Get a learner permit. You must apply for a learner permit before you can get a license, and pass the written test.
  3. Take a pre-licensing course. In NY State, learner permit holders are required to have supervised driving practice and take either a pre-licensing or driver education course.
  4. Pass a road test. If you pass your test, the examiner will supply you with an interim license that allows you to drive until your new license arrives in the mail. 

What you are applying for, your age, and where you live will determine the fees you have to pay.

Are You A Canadian Citizen?

Although the U.S. and Canada operate under different laws and legal systems, Quebec and Ontario provinces have reciprocity with New York State. This means a New York traffic ticket conviction will transfer onto your Quebec or Ontario license and will result in demerit points (when that province assigns points for your offense) and could increase your auto insurance rates.

Impacts Of Unanswered New York Traffic Violations On Your Residency

If a person with a foreign license wants to become a New York State resident, or a U.S. citizen, serious traffic violations like DWI and reckless driving can affect future immigration status. Minor offenses like speeding will not likely affect your residency, however, it is imperative that you do not ignore the ticket because it could lead to higher penalties and would be disclosed to the immigration authorities.

Fight Your New York State Traffic Violation

If you have been charged with any traffic violation while visiting New York State from another country, it is best to contact an experienced New York traffic ticket attorney as soon as possible. The experienced lawyers at Weiss and Associates, PC know the ins and outs of New York State law and can fight your ticket without you having to appear in traffic court. Call 212-683-7337 or email today for a free consultation.

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