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My friend (non-resident J1 visa holder) was pulled over for speeding in NY state, Long Island. When he showed the police officer his drivers license, issued in a EU member state, the cop said something like: “you also get a fine for that, because you need a NY drivers license to drive in NY state”.

What should he have done in this particular case?

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    "What should he have done in this particular case?" You mean beside not exceeding the speed limit? – a CVn Dec 23 '17 at 14:04
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    I see a vote to close because of this being an expatriate question. To my unsuspecting eyes, it seems like the same discussion could have happened between the cop and a tourist in a rental car. If there is anything specific to the J1 visa (I still don’t know anything about the letter/number combinations of US visas and don’t intend to learn) that would change this assumption, please mention it in a comment. – Jan Dec 23 '17 at 18:10
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is a request for legal advice, not a question about travel. – David Richerby Dec 23 '17 at 20:13
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    @Jan You absolutely don't need a New York (or even American) driver's license to drive in New York as a tourist. The point is almost certainly that residents of a state need a US driver's license. You can drive for a while on a foreign license but not indefinitely. (Reposted because I just realised I originally conflated "J1" and "NY" into "NJ".) – David Richerby Dec 24 '17 at 1:56
  • @DavidRicherby Thanks, that’s the clarification I was hoping for. Voting to close now. – Jan Dec 24 '17 at 3:26
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The New York State DMV says this:

Non-residents

Out-of-state and foreign driver licenses\

You can drive in New York State with a valid driver license from another state or country. You don’t need to apply for a New York State driver license unless you become a New York State resident.

If you have a driver license from another country you do not need to have an International Driving Permit, but it is helpful. The permit verifies in several languages that you have a valid driver license. Police officers who can’t read the language on your foreign driver license will be able to read the permit. Contact the authorities in your home country to get an International Driving Permit.

If your friend doesn't live in New York State, then the police officer was mistaken and issued a wrongful fine - your friend can have the fine waived due to the guidance issued by the state DMV, as cited above.

For information on how to get fines waived or tickets rescinded, you could ask a question on the Law Stack Exchange.

If your friend does live in NY State, and the state defins that as intending to live at any address or addresses in NY State longer than 90 days then you need to seek legal advice - NY State exclude foreign students from the residency definition, but whether that includes J1 visa holders is a question I cannot answer with certainty.

I would suggest it does, as a J1 visa is dealt with in the same areas on US gov websites as the F1 visa, and links to the F1 and M1 visas under "other student visas"...

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    While living in Mass. for three years on a J1, I was required to file non-resident federal income tax returns, but resident state returns, so I decided I was a resident. They made it clear I could exchange my UK motorcycle licence for a US one, but I decided to take (and passed) the Mass. test, and thus got a local licence. I don't know what the duration of your friend's stay is, nor his tax status. But if you're a state resident for tax purposes, it seems quite a strong argument that you're resident full stop. – MadHatter Dec 23 '17 at 12:25
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    I'm curious, does this mean that drivers licenses from all other countries in the world are accepted? And how do the police verify whether one is a resident or not? – Revetahw Dec 23 '17 at 15:37
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    @Revetahw they usually just ask you in a conversational tone. “Oh, you’re from Somalia. How long you been in the US?” And if you say “9 months. Here on a J1” then they will fill in the dots. – Mark Henderson Dec 23 '17 at 16:42
  • If you show a foreign license, but then start messing up your length and reason of stay, he's going to arrest you for other reasons... you do not really want to be lying about your visa status. That's going to land you in a whole lot of trouble. – Nelson Dec 23 '17 at 19:11
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    @Azor-Ahai pretty much anywhere in the U.S., police can detain you for a reasonable amount of time (24 hours) until a LEO with the proper jurisdiction (e.g. INS) can show up to assess the situation if they believe you are committing a crime. – user25889 Dec 24 '17 at 8:03

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