Back to School: Your First US Driver's License - Live Work Travel USA|Live Work Travel USA

Back to School: Your First US Driver’s License

Having a car in the United States is a necessity in most areas. Hardly anything can be reached conveniently by foot or on the bicycle, and if your destination is very close, it’s usually not very easy to get there without having a car or using public transportation. Sometimes there just aren’t any sidewalks or greenways to get from A to B. It can even become pretty dangerous, especially riding a bike. You might get yelled at in some states, because they’re just not used to see people riding bikes on the road.

So you’ll probably want to buy your own car eventually. Gas is super cheap and cars can be leased for very low monthly rates. However, being an immigrant with a car is not always easy, or cheap. Insurances charge you like a beginner, even though you have been driving for 5, 10 or 30 years already. Doesn’t matter! You’re new to the US, and who knows who taught you how to drive. So you’re being seen as an inexperienced driver who has to pay the highest rates.


International Drivers License

It’s definitely an option to get an international drivers license in your home state before you enter the US. But this is only a temporary solution for the first few months. In most states you will still have to get an US drivers license at some point. The police won’t give you a hard time about it when they stop you for speeding, but insurance will. Everything that isn’t a US driver’s license is just causing you to pay more or to spend time and effort proofing that it’s legit. If they even insure you.


How to get started?

You see, it kind of makes sense to just get a US drivers license and get it over with. The good news is, it’s very cheap to get one and not difficult either. And it’s the common form of photo ID here, so you can stop carrying around your booklet type passport.
Provided that you already have your SSN (Social Security Number), you should download the Driver’s Handbook of your local DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles). Just google DMV and your state to get to the right government website. This handbook will tell you everything you need to know, starting from what documents you need to provide to the actual driver’s lessons.

Whenever you’re confident enough that you can pass the test you can either just go to the next DMV location and wait in line or you call beforehand and make an appointment, cutting the waiting time by a huge amount. If everything works out well, you could be in and out with a driver’s license in your hand within 2-3 hours. They’ll even take your picture in the facility.


Written test

Fotolia_4376263_Subscription_XL_dkMake sure you paid some extra attention to all the traffic signs as well as everything that has to do with the school bus. It’s these yellow buses with lots of blinking lights, a stop sign on the side and they always come to a full 3 second stop before crossing rail road tracks. Watch out for these buses, because you area required to stop whenever a school bus stops on either way. Check your Driver’s Handbook for exceptions.
Signs, school busses and traffic light behavior are probably the main differences to where you come from.
The test itself will most likely be on a computer with 20-25 multiple choice questions. In most states you can have up to 5 wrong answers and still pass. That’s it.
Careful, there might be some tricky questions about percentages, so you’ll need more than just a good guess.


Vision test

The DMV will make sure your vision is good by testing you right on location. You’ll look into a machine and will have to identify different lines, circles or traffic signs. So ensure you know the correct names prior to the test.


Driving test

You have the option to take the driving test in your own car as long as it’s safe, registered and insured.
Make sure you drive on the right side of the road. If you can master that, you’re almost done.
All joking aside, depending on the instructor, it’ll be no more than driving for about 15 minutes, maybe a three-point turn (turnabout) or parallel parking. If you have been driving before, it’s a piece of cake. Just make sure you understand the instructor and do what they ask you to do.
However, sometimes you get somebody who is just waiting for a reason to let you fail the test. I’ve heard of people who failed because they didn’t shift gears early enough. So just show your best behavior and show the instructor that you’re a calm, experienced driver that knows the rules and adheres to the speed limit.

20 to 40 bucks and a few hours later you are the owner of a brand new US driver’s license with your picture on it, that shows the mood you were in that day.
Check out the expiration date on your card. You’ll have to renew it after a few years, but don’t worry. It’ll just be another vision test, 20 bucks and an hour of your life.
Attention visa holders: If you’re required to cross the border every couple of years in order to extend your visa, your driver’s license expiration date will be tied to that.

Have you experienced anything out of the ordinary during your driving test? Please share it in the comment section!
For more examples of what other expats experienced during the driving tests, check out this post.

photos by © Dudarev Mikhail, © MAK


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