If I am to rent a car from one state (DC) and then to travel another state (NY) on the United State do I need any special permissions or permits? I'm using a foreign driving license.

  • Keep in mind that technically, DC is not a "state". It is a special Federal jurisdiction that is outside the jurisdiction of any specific state. For most travel purposes, including driver's licenses, it is considered to be equivalent to a state, but there are political differences that primarily impact voting. Foreign tourists would be wise to avoid getting involved in local debates on the political situation of DC. A somewhat similar situation exists in Puerto Rico. – Robert Columbia Aug 22 '17 at 12:00
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    This question currently asks several different questions and should be broken up. – Jacob Horbulyk Aug 22 '17 at 13:33
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    @RobertColumbia: although driving a car between PR and any other US jurisdiction is rather difficult :) – dave_thompson_085 Aug 22 '17 at 16:41
  • There are no laws against driving among the several States and District of Columbia. Yes, the rules can change, but not significantly, except within New York City. – Johns-305 Aug 23 '17 at 16:20
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    Sometimes car rental companies restrict which states you can take the car to. It's probably more common with the cheap rental companies. I don't think there would be any other kind of restriction, though (especially) if your license is not written in English you might require an IDP in some states and not in others. – Spehro Pefhany Aug 29 '17 at 20:30

If there is any chance that i might want to leave the state then I ask when renting. The answer has always been yes. If you need to know in advance, go to the websites of some companies and look for a "contact us" facility.

There appears to be some variation in rules. When visiting a new state, I check. This is worth doing anyway as the rules may differ a lot from home. For example, it took me a long time to become comfortable turning right through a red light. Four way stops were very unfamiliar as well.


I did not respond to licences. I am not an expert here but I would be very surprised if your licence was valid in some states but not others. I would expect all or nothing. Let us know where your licence is issued and someone may be able to help. My licence is from the UK and has been happily accepted in many states.

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    To be clear, rental companies sometimes impose restrictions on how far away the rented car or vehicle can be taken, but if so (IME) it isn't affected by the licensing of the renter. – dave_thompson_085 Aug 22 '17 at 16:39
  • @dave_thompson_085 i don't expect a connection between the licence and taking the car out of state. They are probably independent questions. The question on rules is yet another independent question. – badjohn Aug 22 '17 at 17:07
  • @GayotFow In the absence of a relevant expert, I gave a partial answer based on personal experience. I referred him to the websites of some rental companies where he should be able to get definitive answers. – badjohn Aug 22 '17 at 17:12
  • Fair enough, removed from review queue, thanks. I will up vote also to help give your answer some momentum – Gayot Fow Aug 22 '17 at 17:35

The road rules differ very little because there's a lot of work at the Federal level to harmonize rules. Speed limits differ dramatically, but those are posted (in some cases, few and far between). Don't speed in Ohio. Don't mess with (litter in) Texas.

Things which tend to differ state-to-state

You do see odd differences. For instance California has very few passing zones on 2-lane roads. Some regions are in love with roundabouts. Some states, you make U-turns a lot; other states hardly at all.

Drive right, pass left: Only use the left lane to pass. You would never realize this rule if you only drive in the city. It's inapplicable on a road too busy for the rule to make sense. And it's universally ignored in California and cities. Elsewhere, you can get written up for it, especially in rural areas. Don't be the one guy driving in the left.

Traffic signals can be sequenced in unexpected ways. Sometimes opposite direction traffic goes at once, other times in sequence. Sometimes lefts happen first, other times last. At intersections with signaled left turn lanes, they have differing ways to tell you "turn when clear". Some flash yellow, some flash red (technically wrong) and some don't allow it. Some traffic lights take a very long time (3-5 minutes) to go through all their phases.

Some roads eliminate all left turns with "Michigan Lefts".

Right on Red (when clear/safe, and after a stop) is legal everywhere except where a sign prohibits it, and also New York City. You just have to know that. Also in a few states, some traffic signals display a red right-arrow -- when lit, this prohibits a turn-on-red that would otherwise be legal. Some traffic signals have a green right arrow, explicitly authorizing a right turn without stop.

An octagon sign is only used for a stop sign.

If your American experience is only certain urban centers, you may be surprised to see surface railroad crossings on heavy and fast lines. It's easy to come up on them much too fast - a common mistake is to T-bone the side of the train at night. A circle-shaped sign is only used for early warning of railroad tracks. A Saltire (X shape) is only used at the railroad tracks. You must slow, look, listen. Many crossings do not have warning devices other than these signs. A slow train is not safer: Half of all fatals happen with train speed below 5 mph.

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    This appears to be a list of miscellaneous driving tips. I'm not sure what part of the question this tries to answer. – Jacob Horbulyk Aug 23 '17 at 5:44
  • @JacobHorbulyk OP asked what about US roads differs from state to state, or from area to area. This is a list of things that do. For instance NYC has nearly 100% of its major railways grade separated. Ohio does not, so a lifetime Euro/NYCer can be caught off guard by a major mainline having a crossbucks only crossing on a minor road. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Aug 23 '17 at 6:49
  • The NYC rule is actually posted in some places at the city limit, so if you can read the sign, you don't just have to know it. But the signs are of course too small to be read while driving past them. Is right on red really allowed in every state? When I was a child, there was at least one where it was not permitted, namely New Jersey. Speaking of which, they have a different way of eliminating all left turns. – phoog Aug 23 '17 at 19:57
  • @phoog when I was a child, they were illegal in my state also. Fuel crisis perhaps? I learned driving in a flyover state in mid-America, and their drivers' ed manual specifically called out the NYC exception. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Aug 23 '17 at 20:09
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    @Harper: exactly. I was living in Boston around '80 when right-on-red came in and the city plastered 'no turn on red' signs almost everywhere. One intersection near me was already signed 'no left turn' (because heavy traffic) and 'no right turn' (because trolley tracks) and they added 'no turn on red' anyway! – dave_thompson_085 Aug 23 '17 at 20:26

Do the traffic rules change: yes.

Do you need a permit: no.

Can the rental agency place restrictions of their own: of course.

And that's all there is to it. Usually you're fine driving out of state with a rental car, but leaving it at a dropoff point in another state usually costs you a (sometimes quite high) fee to the rental agency who will have to transport it back to the place you got it from (which is what the fee is there to cover).

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