Driving as an International Student

Here’s what you need to know if you are an international student and you want to drive a car in Illinois and the US in general.

If you have a foreign driver’s license:

  1. You can drive in Illinois as long as you are a student at an Illinois university and your foreign driver’s license is valid. Please, refer to this website for more information.
  2. If you are not a student at an Illinois university, you can drive for the first 90 days after your arrival (in Illinois, other states might have different duration), and then you have to apply for a driver’s license or temporary permit.

To get a US driver’s license:

  1. You have to arrive at the DMV office. You might want to drive to the DMV office at Rantoul, as it is rumored to be less busy and have friendlier examiners.
  2. The US DMV offices do not provide you with a car. You have to arrive in a car that you will use to pass your behind-the-wheel test. Most car rentals and car sharing companies do not allow you to pass the driver’s test in their vehicles (U-Haul might be an exception, but make sure to check their policy first yourself). If you don’t have friends who are willing to lend you their car, you can contact driving schools to see if they can help you. I had luck with ICanPassDrivingSchool – they assess your driving skills, and if deemed ready, let you use their car for the test. Please, refer to their policy for more information.
  3. You have to present the following documents:
    1. Driving permission. This can be either your foreign driver’s license or learner’s permit.
    2. Passport.
    3. I-20. Make sure that the officer’s signature is still valid.
    4. Most recent I-94.
    5. Social Security Number.
    6. Proof of residence: your signed lease/utility bill dated within 90 days prior to application/bank statement dated within 90 days prior to application. To be eligible for Real ID, you have to present two documents from this category.
    7. Insurance card.
  4. The DMV agent will fill out your application, check your vision, and take your headshot photo.
  5. You have to pass the written exam on a computer. The written exam includes 35 questions and you have to answer 28 correctly to pass. Once you get 28, your exam stops and you proceed further. You can find the relevant driving rules and laws here. In addition, you can use mobile apps and web resources to practice. In my personal experience, this Android app had questions that were almost identical to the ones at the DMV.
  6. You have to pass the behind-the-wheel test. In Rantoul, the test starts with the examinator asking you to honk your horn and turn on/off your both turning lights and brake lights. Then you have to drive from the parking lot into the town streets. The driving test includes proper turning (including right turn on the red light), driving within 5 mph of the speed limit, driving through the school zone, the railroad intersection, making a T-turn, curbside parking, and parking back at the DMV office.
  7. If you pass the practical test, you will be given a paper version of your driver’s license, and you should receive the hard copy within 15 days by mail.

If you are younger than 18 years old, there are some additional requirements that are not discussed here (you can find them in the official sources).

If you want to apply for the learner’s permit, you have to basically do all the steps described above, except for the behind-the-wheel test, which you do separately after learning how to drive.

To learn more information, please follow this link to the official Illinois ISOS website.

You can find more general information about getting a driver’s license and buying a car in this MoneyGeek article.

All the information presented here is based on a personal experience of Temirlan Shilikbay (ts16@illinois.edu) in 2022. Please, make sure to make your own research to have up-to-date information.