What You Should Bring as a Visitor in United States?
If you are visiting United States and want to drive, you must bring a driver’s license issued by your home country.
As a temporary visitor on a non-immigrant visa (or a visa waiver program) with the purpose to enter the United States temporarily for business, pleasure, or medical treatment, you cannot get a US driver’s license in any state.
You can drive in all states if your foreign driver’s license is valid, and you have a legitimate visa on paper or in your passport. In some states, the length of your visit cannot exceed 12 months.
Visitors who plan to visit United States for a longer period and a different purpose including students, temporary workers, crew members, or journalists, must apply for a different category of visa.
In addition to your foreign driver’s license, you should also bring an International Driving Permit (IDP). This especially true if your driver’s license does not easily translate into English.
What is an International Driving Permit (IDP)?
An IDP is a valid form of identification in more than 150 countries worldwide, including United States.
This document has your name, photo, and driver information in 10 languages, which makes it understandable to local officials and authorities.
Permits can only be issued by motoring organizations or motoring authorities in your home country.
As a visitor in United States, you cannot get the International Driving Permit when you have already entered the States. You must obtain this document before you travel.
Please note that you should bring both your license and the IDP. An IDP does not serve as a replacement for your license.
Is the International Driving Permit (IDP) Mandatory?
If you are visiting United States and stopped by law enforcement, you will most likely be asked to show both documents, unless your license is in English or can be understood by the officer.
The IDP is not a required document in any state, but if your license isn’t in English and not from Mexico, Western Europe, or Canada, it may be a good idea to bring one. It can save you both time and hassle if you are stopped by the police.
If you want to rent a car, the rental company may ask for both your license and an IDP, depending on your home country.
If You Plan to Live in the United States
If you are going to live in the U.S. (become a resident), you must get a U.S. driver’s license once you are in the U.S. You apply for a license in the state in which you live (not from the federal government). If you want to drive, you may be required to get the license within a month or less, depending on state.
Remember, each state has its own rules for getting a driver license. They also have their own driving rules and regulations.
The residency requirement for obtaining a U.S. driver’s license also varies with each state. Check with your state’s motor vehicles department to find out how to apply. They can also give you more information about the rules of the road in their state.
Once you receive your U.S. driver’s license, you will be permitted to drive in all other U.S. states. But again, the laws in each state vary a bit. Which is true in one state, may not be true in the neighboring state.
It is your responsibility to know and obey the driving laws in each state you visit.
Things to Remember when Driving in United States
Right turn on red.
In most places, you may turn right on a red light after a complete stop and if the way is clear. If a turn against red is not allowed, there will be “No Turn on Red” sign posted.
In New York City, you may never turn against a red signal.
Stop for stopped school buses.
In general, you may only proceed without stopping if you are going in the opposite direction on a highway divided by a barrier or an unpaved strip.
There are severe penalties for breaking this law.
Stop for flashing red signals.
Use care when going against a flashing yellow signal.
If the way is clear, you should not stop, because other drivers will not expect you to.
A flashing yellow arrow allows you to make a left turn.
You will often see traffic lights with arrows.
The green arrow allows you to make a protected turn (oncoming traffic is stopped by a red light).
The flashing yellow arrow allows you to make an unprotected turn (oncoming traffic has a green signal). You must yield to oncoming traffic before turning.
The red arrow usually means that you must stop and remain stopped, but some states allow a turn after stopping and yielding. A rule of thumb is to remain stopped, unless you are sure a turn against the red arrow is allowed in the state you are visiting.
Move over when you see stopped vehicles on the shoulder.
If you see any kind of emergency or maintenance vehicles stopped on a shoulder you must move into a lane that is not next to the stopped vehicle. If you can’t move over, you must slow down to a reasonable speed.
Most American drivers apply these rules when they see any kind of vehicle stopped beside the road.
If you drive with small children, use appropriate child safety seats, and do not smoke!
You must always use child safety seats when you have small children in the car and rear-facing seats must always be fastened in the back seat. Rules can be complicated, but if your child fits in a child seat, use one that is appropriate for age, weight, and height.
Seat belt laws vary across United States, the best way to make sure you follow the law is to ask everyone in the car to buckle up.
Some states, like California, also have strict rules about smoking when there is a minor in the car.
Know what to do if you are pulled over.
If you are pulled over by a police officer, stop on a shoulder or side road. Remain in your car with your hands on the steering wheel. Don’t make any movements, like looking for driver’s license and rental agreements, until asked to do so by the officer.
If you are issued a ticket, you may be asked to sign it. Your signature on the ticket is not an admission of guilt, it is just a promise to appear in court when needed.
IDP Information for Americans