Driver's license for newly arrived immigrants

Whether you have found work on an H1 or L1 visa, or you are a student on F1 or J1 visa coming to study in the USA, or you are lucky recipient of a diversity lottery visa (DV), or you have been approved for a family based green card, or some other immigration benefit like TPS or asylum, unless you are planning to live in the heart of a large city and hoping to rely on public transportation (generally really bad in America even in big cities), you will need to drive a car, not just to work or go to school but also to go on with your everyday life, like buying groceries or eating out.

How to apply for a driver's license?
  1. Assuming you already know how to drive and have a valid driver's license in your country, get an international driving permit before leaving.  This will allow you to drive a car while you get a new American license.  Also make sure that your license is valid for a few years (you do not want to come to America with a license that is about to expire).  In some states, you maybe able to skip a test if you already have a valid license.
  2. Most likely you do not have a Social Security number.  To do so, bring along your passport and visa to any Social Security Administration office and complete a simple application to apply for a SSN.  The number arrives in a few days.  This is a unique number that will act as an identifier for you and will be used to file taxes, at banks, to apply for loans, etc.
  3. Figure out your housing situation.  Generally speaking, you will need to provide proof of residence in a state, so having documents like a lease agreement, utility bills, etc. are needed.  If you will be spending some time in hotels or with friends, wait to get a license because it will be nice to have your own address on your document so that you can then use this license to show to to banks, etc.
  4. Check the requirements from your state for a license by visiting the website of the department or registry of motor vehicles (DMV/RMV).  Typically, you will need an identification document like passport, proof of legal status in the US (the visa or whatever else let you enter the US legally), and if your foreign license does not allow you to get a license without a test, you will then need to take a test.  The first test is on a computer and I recommend that you prepare well for it and not rely on what you learned in your country.  If you pass this test, you will need to go with an officer for a road test in a car to be provided by you or your family/friends.  Then a simple eye test, post for a picture, pay the fees, and you get a printout of a license instantly.  A real card arrives in the mail in a few days time.

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