Have you been driving in your country for many years before moving to America? It does not matter much here and you’ll be seen as an inexperienced driver regardless. Not any more experienced as a 15 year old highschool student when it comes to driving. You probably know what that means for insurance premiums. And the driver’s license is not only needed for driving, but also as a common form of identification.
So why not just get it over with and quickly pass the test for a driver’s license? It’s super cheap and easy… at least that’s what everybody says. And still, some expats get really nervous, even struggle or fail on the first attempt for various reasons. Lack of language skills is only one of them. American guidelines and bureaucracy can be hurdles too.
The pressure is definitely on, especially since the level of embarrassment is set so high by people who passed it the first time and are now cracking jokes on how easy it is.
I was lucky on the first attempt and remember that I only skimmed through the handbook mainly paying attention to the traffic signs. A mistake that almost had me fail the written test, because I barely passed with 20 right answers out of 25 questions. One more and I would have had to come back and retake the test. The driving test was indeed pretty simple though and all I had to do is drive out of the DMV’s parking lot into traffic, take a turn at a traffic light into a neighborhood, make a three-point turn and that was it.
But that’s just one story out of many. So I’ve been asking a few other expats about their experiences with getting the US drivers license. Enjoy!
Franziska is a German expat living in Charlotte, North Carolina. Visit her site at CharlotteExpatExpertise.com
“I must admit it felt really awkward to be tested on your driving and your knowledge after so many years. What struck me most was the fact that one has to recognize the traffic signs only by color and shape – without the actual warning or regulatory sign shown. I did not know about that in advance, but luckily I succeeded. However, it still does not make any sense to me as you will never ever see such signs on the road. So what’s the point??? As I am helping other expats to relocate to Charlotte, this is something I always point out to them when they are getting ready for their driver’s license. Moreover, knowing that you can skip questions during the multiple choice test and that you might not see them again if you scored 20 takes some pressure off your shoulders.”
Ritu is an Indian expat living in San Francisco, California. Visit her blog at WalkingThroughTransitions.com
“When I gave the written test for the driver’s license here in California, I studied for a week. I went through each and every page of the handbook. I took it seriously, so I passed with just one mistake.
Learning all the rules and actually applying them while driving is, of course, a very different thing. I passed the Driver’s test on my third try. The first time, I was much too careful and stopped a lot before the Stop signs than you are supposed to. That brought my entire total down. The second time, I learnt that a protected left turn on a green light can turn red very quickly. That was a major mark-down, and I failed on the spot.
The frustrating thing with failing the driving test is that the date for the next available slot can take a month or a month and a half. So, when you give your test, make sure you are prepared. Many times, you can find friends/colleagues who have given their test at the same location, or even do a Google search for the driver’s test route. Practicing on that route can really help if you are a nervous driver, or, like me, don’t perform well when you are being watched.”
Jenya is a Belarussian expat living in Los Angeles, California. Visit her blog at iDiscoverAmerica.blogspot.com
“I was 21 when I moved to USA from Belarus. In my country, you don’t get a car as birthday present for your sweet 16, hence my lack of driving license or driving experience at all.
Yes, I was a newbie. I believe this was to my advantage as I didn’t have to re-learn and adjust to the new driving rules; I had to learn driving from scratch – brake is on the left, gas is on the right. Not to say it wasn’t a struggle, learning to drive on the steep canyons and high-speed freeways of Los Angeles made me pray for my own life more than once.
While learning to drive was something I managed to accomplish within a month or two, applying for a driver’s license was tricky. Being on a temporary tourist visa at a time I’ve been turned down at multiple DMV’s. This situation might be different in other states, but in California, a state heavily populated by immigrants, the DMV workers do know how to screen. I had to try at least 6 times before I found a DMV outside of Los Angeles county, where I was lucky enough to get my application accepted.
So my advice would be to be persistent and do not give up – either at your driving test, written or applying. And watch the road!”
Laurence is a British expat living in Indianapolis, Indiana. Visit his blog and podcast at LostInThePond.com
“Examining British/American cultural differences for a living, I often hear expatriates from the UK talk of the challenges they face when adjusting to American driving etiquette. Such brits understandably face a sort of sensory culture shock at having to suddenly drive on the right side of the road using a left-hand steering wheel. Moreover, the road signs themselves are largely different, meaning that both driving tests—the written and the practical—can be equally daunting at first. For me, when I finally got around to taking driving lessons in the U.S., the challenges were of an entirely different nature. You see, I never actually learned to drive in the UK, so the adjustment process was relatively straightforward. In other words, I didn’t have to second guess myself or worry about the fact that “give way” was now referred to as “yield.” That said, I did still have to contend with the notion that, at the age of 28, I was learning to drive for the first time. I’m not sure it helped or hindered my confidence that the written test—at least in the state of Indiana—was so easy, I passed without preparation.”
Molley is an Autralian expat living in New York City, New York. Visit her blog at AMotherLife.com
“Arriving in the USA in 2005 made for interesting times. We were in the throws of starting a new business with partners who decided to rip us off, we’ve since fought a court battle and won, but that wasn’t a very nice start. After the rocky start in Indianapolis we headed East to New York, where we had an apartment we purchased as an investment. It wasn’t finished yet and we were having difficulty getting a mortgage. We were stuck in the new laws of the Patriots act of having to prove where every cent came from as well as being foreigners without credit scores. It was a tough time. Brought us to our knees in prayer for the first time.
During the process of getting credit and a mortgage, we needed to obtain drivers licenses. Not for the driving aspect but more for the identification box needed checking. You know America is ALL about checking the box. So while we were waiting to close on our Manhattan apartment we were holed up in a century old stone cottage by a lake in Connecticut. As luck would have it, that made things a little easier. We sought information on obtaining licenses and discovered that we would be required to take a written AND practical test, however we wouldn’t be required to do any classes. The closest DMV to our little cottage had no openings for months and as we needed the licenses quickly, we found a larger center with earlier appointments, unfortunately it was 100 miles away. And we discovered that we needed to have a Connecticut licensed car to test in. We had a vehicle but it was licensed in Indiana and that wasn’t acceptable. So managing to borrow our new friends BMW, we packed the kids in and headed 100 miles down the highway to get licenses.
We both passed our written tests and The King (note: Molley’s husband) passed his identity check, however I didn’t. Somehow my documents weren’t good enough. We booked both our practical tests for the following week, thinkning I would get the paperwork in time. We all piled in and headed back the following week for our tests and for me to try again with paperwork but still I didn’t have what was acceptable. The woman at the counter told me straight out that a wedding certificate from church wasn’t acceptable, but a baptism certificate was. Mortified, I replied ‘So you’re telling me I can walk out of here, find the first church, get Baptised, come back and you’ll accept that but this is unacceptable?’ She answered affirmatively to which I scoffed and said ‘that’s stupid.’
However, I was allowed to test and of course we both passed, my test consisted of driving around the block while the tester chatted about Australia to me. He admitted when we returned, that he knew I could drive before we even left the parking lot.
So we headed back home the 100 miles with the two little kids and only one license but everything completed. Once home we contacted our friend from a church in the City the King had met years before and told him our plight. He said they didn’t ‘do’ certificates but was happy for me to go ahead and ‘make one’. And so that’s what we did, in Microsoft word, we made a Baptism certificate, printed it out on fancy paper and I signed it.
The following day I drove the 100 miles there myself, handed in all my paperwork, including my acceptable fake certificate and received my license. I drove home as a licensed Connecticut driver and certified fake Baptism certificate maker.
How’s that for a stupid system!”
Toi is a Thai expat living in Colorado. Visit her blog at NewCountryNewLife.com
“In summer of 2005, after reading the manual 20 times, I passed the written exam and vision, but had still one more to go. I called to make an appointment for a Drive Test and rushed my Red Trek 4800 to the DMV Boulder, CO. I parked at a bike rail, a lot of people were already seated. I talked to an officer that I’m here for a 9:30 am appointment, and he had me waited. A woman with a black dress and wavy long brown hair came out and called my name. I walked up to her and then we walked out to her car. I heard my heart beating hard. She greeted and said it will be a short drive to a nearby neighborhood. She had me start the car and told me to drive in the parking lot. My job was trying to avoid the orange cones. Then I drove her out of there and made a U-turn to the neighborhood. My hands were shaking; I looked over my shoulder after I made a turn signal. I didn’t turn on a windshield wiper this time (Yay!). I sighed and made it to a stop sign. She said “Congratulations! You passed; you missed one out of 5”. I smiled, because I was really scared. In Thailand we drive on the left side of the street.”
Rachel is a British expat living in Atlanta, Georgia. Visit her blog at MeMyselfAndAtlanta.wordpress.com
“I’m not going to lie, before taking my driving test in Atlanta I was a little nervous, I didn’t want to be the stupid Brit who failed the simplest driving test in the world, especially after holding a licence in the UK for over 12 years! I skimmed the rule book, paying close attention to the ‘different’ rules here in the US like stopping for school buses and all-way stop signs, sat at the computer and started the questions. I had some pretty easy ones and some more difficult ones and there was a hairy moment where I thought there was a possibility I might not get enough right but the end result was green and part one was done. Phew!
Next up was the driving side of things. Moving to an automatic means things are much easier, the huge roads with at least 4 lanes in each direction are another thing though, along with America’s sometimes crazy drivers. I got behind the wheel, trying not to be too confident but thinking ‘surely I can pass this?’ The only thing I was worried about was the parking – I now have an SUV and it’s sometimes pot luck as to whether I can ace a parallel park. I didn’t need to be worried though, during my whole 5 minutes on the road I turned left about 4 times whilst the instructor asked me why I was in America before sending about 10 texts to his friends and I lost a mere 5 points for not indicating before I parked the car. A huge relief! I did try winding my husband up by telling him I’d failed – I think he bought it for about a minute before realising I was joking!”
Do you have a story to tell from your driver’s license experience in the USA? Any tips, incidents or funny situations that occured during the test? Please let us know in the comments!
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