How to get a NYS Driver’s License

Many Americans understand the difficult process of getting a driver’s license at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), whether it is the long line ups you endure to get your first license or the piles of documents you must take to obtain a new license when moving from another state. The process can be even more difficult when you are not a US citizen, but an immigrant living in the US. Most cities and towns in the US do not have an adequate or efficient public transportation system, so many people feel forced to have a vehicle of their own, which requires getting a driver’s license. So, what options does an immigrant in the US have?


New York State recognizes foreign driver’s licenses.  As a result, it is not recommended that you get a NYS driver’s license if you currently hold a valid foreign driver’s license (note: foreign driving permits do NOT count). While possible to get a driver’s license, the DMV does not recommend it for the following reasons:

  1. Your foreign license is recognized;
  2. If you have a license from any foreign country (other than Canada) you must pass a written test, pre-licensing course and pass a road test;
  3. You must have a social security card (not typically given to non-immigrants), or letter from the US Social Security Administration stating ineligibility for a Social Security card; and
  4. When you receive your NYS driver’s license, you must give up your old license, which will be held for 60 days then destroyed by the DMV.

Immigrants/Residents (and non-immigrants who choose to get a NYS driver’s license)

Depending on the state you live in, the DMV process may vary (usually the DMV requirements can vary based on the county or even location you go to), so it is always best to be over-prepared and set aside a good portion of your day to be spent at the DMV. Below are a few general steps that immigrants living in the US with a valid VISA or Green Card may follow in order to get a New York State Driver’s License:

  1. Visit the NYS DMV website to get a list of documents required and accepted by the DMV when applying for a  driver’s license:

Acceptable ID

The DMV requires one of two paths be followed:

  1. Passport/Green Card/ Employment Authorization Card AND  Social Security Card AND Four (4) points; or
  2. Passport/Green Card/ Employment Authorization Card AND Six (6) points.

The list of acceptable documents for “points” is listed at the above link. It is important to note that only ONE (1) DHS/INS issued document will be accepted and it must be used as both the Proof of Birth and Name. This means that you can only use one of the following: I-94, Employment Authorization Card , DS-2019, or Green Card and must provide any of the other documents on the list for the rest of your documents.

Example set of documents:

Permanent Resident:

  1. Passport;
  2. Social Security Card;
  3. Foreign Driver’s License*
  4. Green Card;  and
  5. Utility Bill from Home or Credit Card bill with name and NYS address.


  1. Passport with I-94;
  2. Stamped I-120;
  3. Foreign Driver’s License*
  4. Social Security Card (if issued for limited employment) or letter from SSA stating ineligibility; and
  5. Supporting documents used by SSA to issue Social Security Card or Letter of ineligibility.

* Canadian Driver’s licenses will be recognized and no test will be required. Applicants with licenses from other countries must re-take the written exam, a 5-hour course and driving test. *

  1. Take all required documents to the DMV. To be as prepared as possible, it would be best to bring a few additional documents found on the “required documents” list to have back-up should it be required. (Having additional documents showing your immigrant status – school records, work documents, etc. – as well as documents showing your residence – utility bills, credit card bills with your name and address, bank account statements, etc. – are recommended) In addition, make sure to take your check book and/or cash or credit card to pay for your license.
  2. Be prepared to wait. While DMV personnel are equipped with the information and training to process licenses for non-citizens, many of them do not encounter the situations frequently and will need to ask for assistance and have you wait for a supervisor to assist you. Having all your documentation (and then some) in order will help move this process along as quickly as it can.
  3. Follow any additional instructions given by the DMV personnel.
  4. Obtain your temporary license and wait for your license in the mail.