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Who needs an international drivers’ license in the USA?

All drivers, wherever they originate from, need a current driver’s license when driving in the United States and the license must be applicable to the type of vehicle that they drive.

In the U.S., drivers’ licenses are issued by each state and state traffic rules may vary a little from one state to another. In addition, vehicles are registered in individual states. If you are an American citizen or resident, then you will normally have applied for a driving license in the state that you are resident in and, in fact, residency rules usually restrict you to applying for a license in that state only.

State licenses are valid anywhere in the U.S.

If you move from one state to another, then it is perfectly acceptable to use your own state driving license anywhere in the country, although you must take into account the individual traffic rules in that state.

Most states also have a residency rule relating to vehicle registration and license use. This means that if you have a Florida vehicle license, but have moved to California with your own automobile and have been living there for more than a few months, you may not only have to get your vehicle re registered, but apply for a new license as well.

Your overseas license will probably be all you need while here for a short visit

If you are an overseas visitor and are only here for a relatively short time, then your overseas license will probably be perfectly suitable and accepted by all states you are likely to visit. If you are going to hire a car on your trip, your license will certainly be important, because you won’t be able to hire a car unless it is valid for use in the U.S

The problem arises when you are from a non English language country and your license has been issued in a language other than English. To be honest, this means a lot of possible countries! If you are approached by a traffic or police officer, they will need to be able to read your license and understand the name of the license holder, what type of vehicle that you are eligible to drive, and the validity of your license.

If your license is not in English, it is best to get an international drivers’ license

The easiest way around any potential complications is to get an international drivers’ license before you leave your own country. They are NOT possible to get in the United States after arrival, as the ones issued here are for residents of the U.S. who wish to drive overseas.

What the international license does is to translate your license details into a number of common languages – English, French and Spanish for example – and this means that they can be understood by not only the car rental dealer but the average police officer as well.

If you are from Canada, Britain, Australia or New Zealand to name a few countries, then your license will be in English anyway, so there is little need for an international license as well.

The residency rules also apply to overseas visitors on an international license. If you have taken up residency in the United States for any reason – work, study, research etc – you should ask your local state motor vehicle licensing office what the rules are about licenses as you will probably find that you need an ordinary state license after a certain defined period, e.g. after a year.

 

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