Foreign Driver’s Licenses in NY – Traffic Tickets & Other Info

Many people from other countries come to New York to work, live, study and go on vacation. It is common for such individuals to drive in the state with a foreign driver’s license. New York State has several rules regarding the use of foreign driver’s licenses. This page will explain when it is legal to drive with a foreign license and when one is required to have an International Driving Permit (IDP) or NYS driver’s license.

When is a Foreign Driver’s License Acceptable?

A driver’s license from another state or another country can be used by visitors to legally drive in New York State. While many states require foreign visitors to apply for an International Driving Permit, New York State does not, but it is recommended for those whose foreign license is not in English.

When is a Foreign Driver’s License Not Acceptable?

Foreign (or out-of-state) licenses are not valid once a person becomes a resident of New York State (see below). A foreign or out-of-state license can also not be used to drive in the following instances:

  • The foreign license is for a different class of vehicle than the one being operated.
  • The foreign license has been suspended.
  • The foreign license has expired.

How Does a New York Traffic Ticket Affect a Foreign Driver’s License?

This depends highly on the country and the driver. For example, all Canadian provinces have reciprocity with New York State, so a NY traffic ticket will appear on their license and result in demerit points and auto insurance increases.

For other countries it varies. In most cases, particularly if the driver has an IDP or English-language foreign license, the DMV will make a record of the driver and the violation. If the foreign driver fails to respond to the ticket, that will be noted on the record. Should that driver return to the U.S. at a later date and be pulled over again, the unpaid ticket could be discovered, which could lead to higher penalties and more serious trouble.  So it is imperative that the ticket be handled by the defendant or better yet by an attorney who can fight it without the defendant having to appear in court (in most cases).

Also, if the a person with a foreign license wants to become a New York State resident or U.S. citizen, it is best to fight any traffic tickets when they are issued. While minor offenses like speeding will not likely affect one’s future immigration status, serious traffic violations such as DWI and reckless driving can.

When is One Considered a NYS Resident?

VTL 205 (5) defines a New York State resident as someone who lives in the state with intention of making it their permanent home. Evidence of such intention could include having a full-time, non-contract job in the state and/or signing a long-term lease for a residence. Other factors may also be considered at a judge’s discretion. The statute also clearly establishes that any person who has establishes a home for more than 90 days in the state is considered a resident.

A student from another state or country is not considered a resident.

Do You Need to Be a U.S. Citizen to Get a New York State Driver’s License?

No. Temporary visitors from other countries or those who have not yet obtained citizenship can still apply for a driver’s license. This is true regardless of whether the individual plans to obtain legal resident status or return to their home country following the expiration of their visa. A license issued to a temporary foreign visitor will expire on the same day as the visa. Those who are granted a visa extension or who receive legal resident status can receive new licenses by bringing the updated paperwork from the Department of Homeland Security to the NYS DMV.

Can Undocumented Immigrants Obtain a Driver’s License in New York State?

No. Foreign visitors who do not have a valid visa or legal status cannot apply for a driver’s license in New York. Recently, state politicians crafted legislation that would allow foreigners to get a NYS license, but it has not yet been voted on.

Note that some undocumented individuals obtain driver’s licenses illegally and then at some point in the future obtain a legal driver’s license. Using photo-matching technology, the DMV has been identifying and filing criminal charges against such individuals.

Can New York State Confiscate a Foreign Driver’s License?

Yes. Once a foreign individual becomes a resident of the state, that person must surrender their foreign or out-of-state license within 30 days. In addition, a person must surrender their foreign driver’s license in order to receive a New York State driver’s license.

In most cases, the non-NYS license will be destroyed. However, should a person need their foreign license for future trips to their home country, they can request that the license instead be kept on file at the time of their road test for the NYS driver’s license.

What Should Foreign Drivers Do About a NY Traffic Ticket

If you have been charged with any traffic violation while visiting New York State from another country or another state, contact an experienced NY traffic ticket attorney right away. The lawyers of the Rosenblum Law Firm are skilled traffic ticket attorneys who have handled cases for drivers regardless of where they were licensed. Email or call 888-883-5529 for a free consultation about your case.