Driver license laws tend to be confusing for many people. This is largely because the U.S. consists of 50 states that
regulate driving differently, not to mention two bordering countries in Canada and Mexico. With that in mind, if you
ever move to New York from out of state – or out of the country – and intend to operate a motor vehicle, we strongly
recommend that you take the necessary steps to earn a New York driver license. With that said, one of the most common
inquiries that we receive in our defensive driving course NY is whether or not you’re legally allowed to drive in the
state with a foreign driver license. We explain here:
Foreign Driver License Rules
The good news for New Yorkers that hold valid foreign driver licenses is that, with them, you’re legally allowed to
operate a vehicle in New York without any kind of supervision. There are no restrictions to where you can operate a
vehicle, except for restricted areas and DMV test areas, so you’re totally in your right to legally use a car to get
around town or to and from work.
However, it’s worth noting that if your license is in a language other than English, you must also possess an
International Driving Permit or translation of your license.
According to the New York Department of Motor Vehicles, this translation must be certified by an official U.S.
Agency, such as the Department of State, and include information such as name, birth date, foreign license
expiration date and vehicles you’re permitted to drive with the license. Depending on the country your license was
issued in, it can be a little bit of work to get everything properly squared away, but with a little bit of effort,
it’s not too much of a hassle.
Say you’re new to the country and only have a learner permit. If you don’t also have a valid foreign license, you’re
not legally allowed to operate any vehicle without supervision. A qualified supervising individual must be at least
21 years old and have a valid license.
What if You Want to Get a New York Driver License?
The good news about earning a New York driver license is that you don’t need to become a U.S. citizen to do it. All you
need is documentation from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that proves you’re a legal citizen of a foreign
country. Any legal status determined by Homeland Security will then be transferred over to your New York permit or
license. As we’ll cover in the next section, if you plan to be in New York for the long term, we’d advise you take the
steps to get a state driver license.
Certainly, if you plan to spend any significant amount of time in New York, it would behoove you to go through the
process to acquire a New York driver license. This is beneficial for both you and the state, as it eliminates a lot of
the obstacles that residents need to go through when driving with a foreign license. But for those who are new to the
country and who are concerned with how they’re going to get around once they’re settled in New York, it can offer some
peace of mind to know that they’re not breaking any laws to drive with a valid license that’s been issued by another
We cover this information and more in our NY defensive driving courses.