If you’re moving to the US and want to convert your UK or EU licence to a US one, the simple answer is “you can’t.” That’s because there’s no such thing as a ‘US’ driving licence: licences are issued by each of the 50 states, and while holding a licence from any one of those states does entitle you to drive in the other 49, the procedure for getting hold of a licence can vary immensely from state to state.
That’s the first bit of bad news. The second bit of bad news is that, in the vast majority of states, there’s no such thing as a conversion process, either! Instead, new residents who’ve come from overseas have to undergo the full testing procedure (vision, theory and practical) that a novice would – the only thing your UK/EU licence is good for is proving that you’ve achieved the mandatory minimum number of driving hours most states require before you can successfully pass a test.
The good news – yes, there is some! – is that this is an issue that may not affect you at all. Some states (such as California) will let you drive on your existing licence for the entirety of the time you’re legally allowed to stay in the US; others require you to obtain a local licence after as little as 30 days. So while this blog post can give you a general overview of what’s involved, you’re strongly advised to check with the licensing authorities in whichever state you’re relocating to, and to do so as soon as possible.
As stated above, the process varies from state to state, and there’s certainly no space here to go into the individual requirements of all 50 states. But the following is a rough guide on what you’ll need to do.
- Turn up in person at a testing centre
There may be exceptions to this rule, but we couldn’t find any!
- Prove your identity and your residency status
Your passport/visa and existing licence will be essential here, as will your immigration paperwork and/or proof of US employment/residence. Again, precisely what ID will and won’t be accepted varies from state to state: the specific requirements in Kansas, purely by way of an example, can be found here.
- Pay an administration charge
This varies from state to state, but will most likely be somewhere around the $50 mark.
- Undertake vision, theory and practical tests
In most states, you’ll need to sit all three tests if you hold a UK/EU licence (but see Exceptions, below), just as a novice driver would.
- Hand over your existing UK/EU licence
This one seems obvious – but some expats suggest you shouldn’t actually do so if you can avoid it. Whatever licence you’re issued will only be valid for the duration of your stay, the argument goes, so if you have eight years before your UK licence needs to be renewed, and are (for instance) taking up a job in the US for one year only, it makes more sense to hang onto your existing licence, to use on your return to the UK.
Do be aware, however, that this may put you in contravention of local laws. So as US immigration officials are notorious sticklers for the rule book, you’re again strongly advised to look up the regulations in your particular destination state.
Because we’re talking about 50 different sets of licensing regulations, there are all kinds of variations, which can go in your favour or against you! In Colorado and several other states, for example, drivers from France, Germany, Canada, Taiwan and South Korea (but not the UK) can bypass the testing requirements completely and be issued a local licence on a straight conversion basis. So again, check locally. Speaking of which…
Where to find out more
Throughout this blog post, the mantra has been “check with the relevant authorities in the state you’re moving to”. But how do you actually do that?
Thankfully, the US government has already anticipated that question and put together this website which will guide you to the relevant local government office (usually the Department of Motor Vehicles) in each state, where you’ll be able to learn more about the process and requirements in that state. Bear in mind that not every US state experiences much inward immigration: for that reason, specific details for ex-pats may not be readily available on every DMV website, but you should at least be able to find a number you can call. Good luck!
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