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The New York Motor Vehicle Bureau says that it is by no means essential but can be helpful to have an international driver's license ( in addition to your home countries license) with you upon arriving in the US. Primarily because the information is written in English (eliminating confusion), and because its another form of ID. If you want to go this route you can apply through the following channels:

In England:
The Automobile Association

In Japan:
Through the Japanese Police Departments

In Hong Kong:
The Department of Transport
In Germany:
Through the ADAC

In France:
The Automobile Association
68 Place de la Concorde, Paris

A tourist can drive up to a year in the U.S. using his home countries license, and passport/Visa. In theory a foreigner becoming a resident has only 30 days before he has to apply for a U.S. drivers permit. But, it doesn't seem to be a hard and fast or necessarily enforceable rule.

Procedures for a foreigner - New York State
Motor Vehicle Bureau, New York
Mon, Tues, Wed, Fri - 7:30am-4:30pm
Thursday 7:30am-5:30pm
Find our which bureau is closest to you.
In theory, upon arrival, you have 30 days in which to apply for a U.S. license. That rule has never been hard and fast. Once you apply, it will take two or three months to complete the requirements.

Documents required for application: Must add up to 6 Points
Passport/Visa 3 points
INS 151-perm resident card prior 1979 Green Card 3 points
INSI 551-perm resident card after 1979 3 points
Employee pay stub 2 points
Major credit card 2 points
Utility bill (Con Ed, Telephone) 1 point
Social Security Card 1 point
Health Insurance Card 1 point
Marriage or divorce papers (in English) 2 points

Applying for a drivers permit: At your local Motor Vehicle Department, fill out an M-44 form (permit application form), get an eye test, photo and complete a written exam. Application fee runs $32.00 - $37.00.
5 - hour lecture requirement: once you have passed the written exam, make an appointment to take a 5-hour class with a driving school, after which you will receive a certificate of completion.
Taking the road test: Once you have your permit and certificate in hand, you can schedule your road test.

Procedures for a foreigner - Connecticut
Motor Vehicle Bureau
Mon, Tues, Wed, and Fri - 8am - 4:30pm
Thursday 8am - 7:30pm

Documents required for application - You must have two forms of ID, one from each list:
List #1  List #2
Immigration or Registration Card  Birth Certificate
Alien Registration Card  Passport/Visa
Receipt Card I-151 or 1-551  Social Security Card
Legal Resident Card  
Naturalization Card  
Employment ID  
Employment Authorization  

Applying for a drivers permit:
Go to the local motor vehicle bureau and take the eye test and written exam. The fee is $36. There you make an appointment for the road test about three weeks from application). Or you can apply by mail to take all tests including the road test on the same day (about six weeks from application).

Procedures for a foreigner - New Jersey
Motor Vehicle Bureau - New Jersey
Mon-Fri 8:30am - 4:15pm

  • Documents required for permit application: Home country drivers license, passport/Visa, Social Security # and your international drivers license if you have one.
  • Application for drivers permit: Take the written exam and the eye test. The fee is $15. If you pass them, it is up to the discretion of the motor vehicle bureau if you will be required to take the road test. The road test might be available to you that day or you may have to wait as long as three weeks.

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