Driving in New York State

If you want to drive in New York State, be sure you know how to get a driver's license, what insurance you need, and what regulations may apply to you.

On this page:

Before You Travel to the U.S.

Even before you come to the U.S., you can take steps to prepare to drive in New York State.

Bring Your Valid Driver's License From Your Home Country

You can drive in NYS if you have an unexpired foreign driver's license with you. However, some police officers and auto insurers believe that you need a NYS driver's license after residing in NYS for a period time. Therefore, we recommend that you obtain a NYS driver's license if you are eligible.

Get an International Driving Permit

An International Driving Permit is not required in NYS, but it is helpful (especially if your license is not in English) because it informs authorities in several languages that you have a valid driver's license. By itself, the International Driving Permit is not valid for driving in NYS. You cannot obtain an International Driving Permit when you get to the U.S. so please bring one with you if you plan to drive in NYS.

Driver’s Licenses

Foreign Driver’s Licenses

Can I buy car insurance and register my car in New York State if I only have a foreign driver's license?

Yes, you can do both. HOWEVER,

  • Car insurance, which is mandatory in New York State, may be more expensive if you don't have a U.S. driver's license.
  • Insurance companies often add a surcharge to the cost of your insurance if you don't have a U.S. driver's license.
  • Some automobile insurers believe that you need a NYS driver's license.

We recommend that you obtain a NYS driver's license if you are eligible.

Will I be able to rent a car if I only have my foreign driver's license?

Usually, yes. But keep in mind that rental car companies may have their own requirements (e.g. minimum age), which you must satisfy.

New York State Driver’s License

When I get to the U.S., will I be eligible to apply for a New York State driver's license?

You will be eligible to apply for a NYS driver's license if you have one of the following documents and it is still valid:

  • I-20 or
  • DS-2019 or
  • H-1B approval notice (I-797)

How do I apply for a NYS driver's license?

You can follow the steps below to plan out your application process.

Steps for Getting Your NYS License

1. Study the NYS Driver's Manual

This is the “rules of the road” book. When you drive in NYS, you are expected to know, and abide by, these rules.

2. Visit the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and apply

You will go to the DMV, fill out the application and pay the fee for the driver's license. You must bring proof of your name AND proof of your date of birth to complete this application. (Please see the requirements below.)

NYS driver’s license fee rates for first-time drivers in the U.S. are available at the DMV website (look for your age under Class D driver’s license).

3. Take a written test and eye exam

The written test is based on the information in the Manual. If you wear glasses or contact lenses, please wear them for the eye exam.

4. Complete a 5-hour mandatory pre-licensing course

Look online to find out where you can take this course.

5. Pass a road test

After you have completed steps #1-4, you may make an appointment for a road test when you are ready to be tested.

What kind of documents can I show that will prove my name?

To prove your name, you must show 6 points of identification from the list below:

Acceptable Identification Documents

  • (3 points) Passport. 
    • Your passport must be in English. 
    • You must also provide your: 1) U.S. Visa, 2) valid I-20 or DS-2019, and 3) valid I-94 or Admission Stamp in passport
  • (2 points) Your UB Student ID Card + UB enrollment verification or UB transcript
  • (1 point) Valid Major U.S. Credit Card
  • (1 point) U.S. Cash Card (ATM) 
    • It must have your signature and preprinted name.
  • (1 point) U.S. Supermarket Bonus / Check Cashing Card 
    • It must have signature and pre-printed name.
  • (1 point) U.S Health Insurance / Prescription Card
  • (2 points) Photo Driver's License issued by another U.S. state 
    • It must not expire for more than 12 months
  • (1 point) U.S. Utility Bill 
    • It must have your name and address
  • (1 point) U.S. Bank Statement 
    • It must show your name and address
  • (1 point) U.S. Computer Printed Pay Stub 
    • It must have your name

If your U.S. Credit Card, Bank Statement and ATM Cash Card were all issued by the same bank, they only count as one point.

If you are applying for a Federal Real ID (not a general NYS license) you mut additionally have:

  • (2 points) U.S. Social Security Card. 
    • If you are not eligible for a Social Security number, you must get a letter from the Social Security Office stating that you are ineligible for a Social Security number. The letter of ineligibility does not have any point value, but is required. 
    • The Social Security letter must not be more than 30 days old at the time of application.

Obtaining Enrollment Verification

UB's Registrar is the office in charge of enrollment and transcripts. For information on getting enrollment verification from HUB please refer to their Enrollment and Degree Verification page.

ISS cannot help you obtain enrollment verification or official transcripts. You must contact the Registrar if you have any questions

What kind of documents can I show that will prove my date of birth?

To prove your date of birth, you must submit one of the following:

  • Your Foreign Passport, U.S. Visa and I-94 OR Admission Stamp (in passport). Your passport must be in English. If your passport is not in English, you should get a certified translation from your country's Embassy or Consulate
  • Refugee Travel Document (I-571)

Buying a Car & Car Registration

Are There Any Tips for Buying a Car?

New Cars

Used Cars

  • Take the car for a test drive.
  • Have the car inspected by a reliable mechanic or American Automobile Association (AAA) approved repair shop before agreeing to buy it.
  • Be sure to get a receipt.
  • Get the “title” for the vehicle.
  • Be aware of New York State 's “Lemon Laws”: NYS' new and used car lemon laws provide legal solutions for consumers who buy or lease cars. If a car does not live up to the written warranty and cannot be repaired--or if it has not been repaired correctly after a reasonable number of attempts--the consumer could receive a refund or replacement car.

You must purchase automobile insurance if you buy a car. This can add a substantial cost to car ownership. Please be sure to consider the cost of insurance when planning your car budget.

How to Register Your Car

You must register your car with the DMV every two years and there is a fee for the car registration. You cannot register a vehicle online. Auto dealers can register and title vehicles, and issue plates (and charge a fee for this). 

Car Insurance

What Do I Need To Know About Car Insurance in NYS?

New York State has requirements regarding the amount of insurance coverage you must have for your car. 

  • The cost for the insurance is called the “premium”. The amount that you must pay yourself if you get into an accident is called the “deductible." If you want insurance coverage for damage to your car, you will need to purchase "collison" coverage as well.
  • If you have a bad driving record or are a new driver in NYS, your premium will be higher.
  • You can reduce your auto insurance premium by taking a "Driver Improvement" course.
    • The American Automobile Association offers courses regularly at various locations in Western New York.