How to Convert an International Driving License

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Rules for obtaining a drivers license vary by state.
Rules for obtaining a drivers license vary by state. (Image: wallet and car key image by Richard Seeney from Fotolia.com)

An international driving permit (IDP) is recognized by US law enforcement when accompanied by a valid foreign drivers license. An IDP does not replace your driver's license from your government. It merely acts as an extension of it, translating the information contained on your foreign driver's license so that it can be understood by officials in this country. If you travel to the United States with an IDP and choose to reside here, you must apply for an American driver's license. Driver's licenses are issued by the state in which you reside according to their own laws and regulations. The federal government does not issue driver's licenses. A state-issued driver's license enables a person to drive in any state.

Obtain proof of your residency within the state to which you are applying. This could be a utility bill, a bank statement, an insurance policy, or correspondence from a government agency addressed to you at your address. Most states require two proofs of address. A lease agreement or mortgage statement would also be valid proof. Check with your state's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV). Links to the DMV of each state can be found on the U.S. Government website.

Secure driver's insurance according to your state's requirements. Proof of insurance will be required when applying for your license. Some insurance providers require the year's premium to be paid up front, while others offer monthly or quarterly payments.

Contact your state's DMV to find out their requirements for international drivers. Though all states will require you to take a test, some may just require a written exam. DMV offices in heavily populated areas will likely require an appointment for driver exams.

Prepare for the exam by familiarizing yourself with state driving regulations. Most of these can be found on your state's websites of the Departments of Motor Vehicles, Transportation, and Public Safety. Understand road signs, traffic lights, traffic flow (when and how to overtake a vehicle, how to merge with traffic, how to respond to emergency vehicles on the road, etc.), and passenger safety laws. Know your state's laws on seat belts, child and infant restraints, airbags, and cell phone usage. Many DMV websites will offer guidance on how to prepare for their exams.

Take the state exam and submit your application with all state required identification and documentation. While at the DMV clerk's counter you will be fingerprinted, photographed, and required to take a quick eye exam. Your signature will be captured electronically and filed. Most states will display it on your license. You will be asked to disclose any disabilities and they will likely be noted on your license. Most common "disabilities" noted on a drivers license concern eyesight and the dependency on glasses or contacts. You will also be given the option of identifying yourself as an organ donor on your license. This is something to think about beforehand. Application fees vary by state, as do acceptable forms of payment, so check with your DMV in advance. Most states will issue the driver's license immediately. Some still issue a temporary one and send the official license by mail.

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