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Foreign Drivers Licenses and Driving in New York State

In the past few months, several international students have informed the ISSS of issues when presenting a valid foreign driver's license, rather than a New York State license for driving purposes. In fact, it is perfectly legal to drive in New York State using a valid foreign driver's license. However, not everyone is familiar with this policy. Even police officers have, on some occasions, ticketed an international student for “driving without a license” if the only license presented was from a foreign country. If your driver's license is written in a language other than English, police officers may have difficulty reading it. In that case, it is recommended that you have an International Driving Permit to present with your foreign driver's license.

The best information on this issue comes from the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles website. We repeat the text from their web link, below:

A valid driver license from another country is also valid in NYS. You do not need to apply for a NYS driver license unless you become a resident of NYS.
According to NYS law, a resident of another country can get a NYS driver license. The DMV does not recommend this because:
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. If you are not a resident of the US, you cannot apply for an International Driving Permit in the US.

You are not required to have an International Driving Permit to drive in NYS, but the permit has value. The permit verifies, in several languages, that you have a valid foreign driver license. A police officer who cannot read the language on your foreign driver license can read the permit.

A final note: Different states have different rules. What applies in New York State may not apply in other states.
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Last Updated: 8/2/12