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Driving in the U.S.

Starting March 26, 2018, students and scholars with LESS THAN 12 MONTHS of stay granted on their I-20 or DS-2019 are not eligible for any form of driver’s license in MA. Those with more than 12 months of stay will be eligible for a driver’s license until the program end date on the I-20 or DS-2019 (the grace period is not included in license validity).

HOWEVER, starting July 2018, Massachusetts began to recognize the validity of all foreign licenses as long as certain requirements are met (see below). 

REAL ID
Starting March 26, 2018, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will offer the REAL ID, an ID in compliance with new federal government regulations. Starting in October 2020, a REAL ID (or passport) is required to fly within the U.S. or enter federal buildings.

If you want to get a REAL ID, please note there are new documentation requirements; all documents must be originals.

Standard IDs are still available but you will not be able to use it to fly within the U.S. or enter federal buildings. You will need to use your home country passport. The cost for either ID is the same but the documents required are slightly different.

*Some insurance companies will not approve insurance for your vehicle if you do not have a U.S. license.*

***Did you know? If you take classes at a Driving School, you may receive a deduction in your car insurance? Some Driving Schools will also serve as a sponsor and provide a car for the Road Test.***

FOREIGN LICENSE USE in Massachusetts

Starting July 2018, licensed drivers from any country may operate validly registered motor vehicles in Massachusetts, according to Massachusetts General Law, Chapter 90, Section 10

Foreign license holders who wish to drive in Massachusetts are subject to the following requirements:

  • Must be at least 16 years of age
  • Must be in possession of a valid driver's license from their home country
  • May drive a vehicle in Massachusetts of the same class indicated on the foreign license
  • Must have either an International Driving Permit (IDP) or the Translation into English of a Foreign Driver License which is an acceptable alternative if the foreign license is not in English or does not have and English translation.
  • Driver's license must not be suspended or revoked.

IDPs and Acceptable Alternative Documents

An International Driving Permit (IDP) is a translation of a driver's license into 10 major languages. It does not confer any driving privilege but must accompany a foreign licenses if the license is not in English. This must be acquired in the same country as where your license is issued.

*Please note that an International Driver's License is NOT the same as an International Driving Permit (IDP).

If a foreign-licensed driver does not have an IDP, the license holder must obtain the Translation into English of a Foreign Driver License alternative document that properly identifies the license holder and translates the relevant license information into English. This form can be found on Mass.gov/RMV in the “Learner’s permit, driver’s license and ID card forms” section.

Either an IDP or the alternative document must accompany any foreign license that is not in English.

Please refer to the Massachusetts Drivers’ Manual which can be found on the Registry of Motor Vehicle’s website for more information.

Required Documents for a MA license

Ensure that you have these documents ready when you go to the RMV.

  1. Your QR Scannable Document provided by www.mass.gov/id
  2. Social Security Number (SSN) or denial letter: 
    1. If you do not have an SSN or are not eligible, you must submit an SSN denial letter.
      1. Get an SSN denial letter by submitting the SSN application with your passport and I-20/DS-2019 to the SSN office at 70 Bond St in downtown Springfield and ask for a denial letter.
  3. I-94 (this is an electronic record of your travel history)
  4. I-20 or DS-2019. Your license or ID will expire the same date as your program end date.
  5. Passport and Visa
  6. Proof of Massachusetts residency or a letter from ISSS confirming you live on-campus. REAL IDs required two forms of proof for MA residency. Standard IDs only require one form of proof.

Application Process

In order to get a driver’s license, you need to do the following:

  1. Start online at www.mass.gov/id and print out the QR code scannable document (you will take this to the RMV to speed up the process).
  2. Collect the required application and documents. 
  3. Review the Permit Learners Exam Guide before you take your test. The written test is a short computer based test of road rules and traffic safety. 
  4. Go to the Registry of Motor Vehicles at 165 Liberty Street in Springfield or 1250 St. James Avenue in Springfield, to take the Permit Test (a written exam and eye exam). You MUST pass these tests in order to apply for the license. Check the Springfield's downtown office hours here
    1. If you need to use public transportation, please see maps.google.com for instructions/schedule. Bus 17 is probably the best option if you use public transportation from the University.
  5. If you pass the Permit Learners Exam, you will be allowed to drive with a licensed driver over 21 years of age. 
  6. Schedule your Road Test
    1. Road tests are by appointment only and must be scheduled at least three weeks after you have earned your learner‘s permit.
    2. At the time of the road test, you need to bring your complete application (obtained from the RMV), your learner‘s permit, payment for each scheduled road test, a registered, insured, and inspected vehicle, and a sponsor.
      1. The sponsor must be at least 21 years of age, have at least one year of driving experience and possess a valid U.S. license issued by his/her home state.
      2. ISSS can provide neither a car nor a sponsor for your Road Test. Many driving schools in Massachusetts will provide a car and a sponsor for a fee.
      3. If you have a valid out-of-country license from certain countries and a MA learner's permit, you may take the road test without a sponsor. Check with the RMV to determine if you come from one of these countries.
      4. Take your Road Test, pass, and receive your MA Driver’s License. It will be mailed to you two to three weeks after your test.