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Driving in the U.S.

Are you thinking about driving in the United States? You may not need to get a new license. New York honors all valid foreign licenses.

In fact, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) recommends only applying for a New York State license if you become a resident of New York. However, many non-U.S. residents find it difficult to register a personal vehicle without a U.S. license. You may also discover that automobile insurance companies charge higher rates or will not insure your car without a U.S. driver's license.

New York will honor your foreign license …

If it is in a language other than English, however, you will also need to carry a certified English translation. Find out about translation resources on campus.

Consider an international driving permit …

You may want to obtain an international driving permit in your home country before coming to Cornell. An international driving permit informs authorities, in several languages, that you have a valid foreign driver’s license.

Note that the permit by itself is not valid for driving in New York. You need to carry both the international driving permit and your foreign driver’s license.

Here’s what you need to know if you decide to apply for a New York driver's license.

You need to take a course and pass written and road tests.

If you have a license from any nation other than Canada ...

You must pass a written test, complete a five-hour pre-licensing course and pass a road test to qualify for a New York license. Your foreign license is valid for driving, but not for waiving the tests and course for new drivers. If you have a valid license from Canada, you do not need to take a driving course or a road test.

You must provide proof of identity and date of birth.

Other requirements include ...

You will be required to show your Social Security card or provide a letter (issued within the last 30 days) from the U.S. Social Security Administration stating that you are not eligible for a Social Security number. You can find more information from the U.S. Social Security Administration. To get a denial letter from the SSA, you will first need to obtain a letter from the Office of Global Learning stating that you are F-1 not working or J-1 not working.

If you do not have a SSN, your application may be delayed an additional one to four weeks while the DMV conducts additional background checks. The DMV will notify you when this process is complete so you can finish your application.

You will also need to present an I-94 card, with supporting documentation of your visa status, such as an I-20 or DS-2019. Some visa types cannot apply at the DMV in Ithaca or will need to show additional documentation. Get more information.

 You'll be asked to give up your foreign license.

Prepare to surrender or file your old license ...

When you receive your New York license, you must surrender your foreign license. Your old license will be stored at the local DMV office and destroyed after 60 days. If you will need your foreign license in the future, ask the examiner to file your foreign license. You may then request that license back by going to the office where it is filed and surrendering your New York license.

  1. Study
  2. Prove Identity
  3. Get Permit
  4. Take Course
  5. Take Road Test
  6. Get License

How to Get a New York Driver’s License

If you have never had a U.S. driver’s license before, here is what you need to do.

1 Study the driver's manual and take practice tests.

2 Bring proof of identity to the DMV.

Satisfy the requirement of six points of proof.

3 Fill out the application for a learner's permit.

You will need to pay a fee (around $75) and take an eye test when you apply for your learner’s permit. Then you can take a written test on New York State driving rules. If you pass, you will receive a learner's permit.

4 Take a five-hour pre-licensing course.

Pre-licensing courses are offered at area high schools or commercial driving schools. Look for classes online by searching "driving instruction, Ithaca NY.”

5 Schedule a DMV road test.

With proof that you have taken the five-hour course, you can schedule a road test with the DMV by phone or online. It can take as long as a month to get an appointment. Until you take the road test, you can drive with the permit, but only if accompanied by a licensed driver.

6 Receive your license.

Once you have passed the road test, you will be issued a temporary license. You will receive your official driver's license later by mail.

Where is the closest DMV?

The closest Department of Motor Vehicles office is located in downtown Ithaca at 301 3rd Street.