Yesterday I wrote about how to obtain your driver’s license in the state of RI. I would like to clarify the U.S. requirements for driving. The exact detail varies slightly from state to state, so my first advice is to call the state police department in your own state and directly inquire as to your state’s requirements. You can ask your LAR, but be proactive and advocate for yourself! This is a great place to start!
I have been consulting police officers in both RI and MA to ascertain the differences for the Au Pairs in my area. (Thank you, wonderful and patient helpers!) It is worth saying that obtaining a state-issued driver’s license is not very difficult, especially if you have your license in your own country. You will find a state-issued license to be a very useful identification to have during your stay in America. So although you may or may not be required to obtain one in order to drive, I highly recommend that you do go through the process, just like any other young person in America has to do, and get the state-issued driver’s license. Consider it a part of the cultural exchange experience! That being said, let me explain the differences.
In Rhode Island, an international driver (from a country recognized by us) is allowed to drive (for a period of 12 months upon entrance) if they carry with them the following documents: their home-country-issued, unexpired driver’s license and their valid passport (or other proof of date of entry into the U.S.). An International Driver’s Permit may be presented simply as a translation of the home-country license (if it is not printed in English), is only valid if it is issued in the home country, only for a period of 12 months from issuance and only when held in combination with the valid home-country driver’s license and valid passport. As a stand-alone document, an International Driver’s Permit gives no driving privileges. Check which documents will be needed on the L-1 Application for RI driver’s licenses and permits, page 3, when you do decide to obtain the RI driver’s license.
Be sure to study the RI Driver’s Manual before you go to take your written test, a process I described in a post yesterday. RI also has a fee schedule you should check online before going to headquarters in Cranston, RI, where most important transactions take place in person.
In Massachusetts, certain countries’ licenses are permitted, but must be presented with the passport and, if the license is not printed in English, an International Driver’s Permit. Keep in mind your home-country-issued license must be valid and you must provide proof of your entry date (i.e. the passport or valid I-94 document showing date of entry), since you are only allowed 12 months after entry. After that, a MA-issued license is required. Again, the International Driver’s Permit alone does not give any driving privileges in MA and I highly recommend going through the process of getting your state-issued license. In addition, many police officers may or may not be understanding of your ignorance of the law, so ere on the side of caution and get the state-issued driver’s license!
I don’t want to scare anyone, but in MA, it is an arrestable offense to be driving without the proper documentation, that is: your valid, unexpired home-country-issued driver’s license and your passport or I-94 document showing your date of entry into the U.S. OR a valid Massachusetts-issued driver’s license!
In Connecticut, as in other states, the home-country-issued license is valid for one year from entry, along with the International Driver’s Permit obtained in the home country. To show proof of your date of entry, you must present your I-94 document or your passport. In addition, it is valid to note that these out-of-country driver’s licenses generally do not qualify in America as a valid form of identification (I.D.), so your passport must be presented or you must obtain a state-issued identification card. If you bother to go through that process, you may as well challenge yourself that little bit further to take the written and driving tests and get the state-issued driver’s license. It will give your Host Family that much more confidence in your ability and makes you even more marketable should you decide to switch families when you extend for a second year!
I welcome your questions and comments about driving in the U.S. or hosting an Au Pair. I am your Go Au Pair Local Area Representative in Providence, RI, Joan Lowell, and I can be reached anytime at 401.309.1925 or firstname.lastname@example.org.