I'm a foreign national who's been living in the US for a few years. I don't intend to drive in my home state (Maryland) so haven't bothered converting my foreign license to a US license. I do, however, want to be able to rent cars for short trips in states other than my home state (California, Colorado, etc. picking up a rental car at the airport).

Many of the state DMV websites claim that as an out-of-state or foreign short-term visitor you can drive on your out-of-state or foreign license, but I'm unsure if this strictly applies to the special case of residents of another US state holding a foreign license.

The few times I've tried I've had no problem renting a car, but am I playing with fire by doing this (e.g. if I get pulled over or the car gets damaged)?

  • 1
    My wife and I concluded that she can do this fairly safely, since as you've noticed state law doesn't generally distinguish people who reside outside the US from people who reside in other US states. She hardly ever actually drives, however, so we're not too worried about being wrong. You might want to look at terms of rental insurance policies, in case they have any requirement about the insured being licensed by the jurisdiction in which he or she resides.
    – phoog
    Commented Sep 12, 2019 at 21:11
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    FYI, getting a US driving license is extremely easy compared to Europe. In most states all you need to do is drive around a few blocks. It might be worth converting just for the sake of having an extra piece of local ID.
    – JonathanReez
    Commented Sep 12, 2019 at 21:23
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    @MarkJohnson that's a very broad statement. In reality different countries/states have different rules for license recognition so not all would necessarily require residency.
    – JonathanReez
    Commented Sep 12, 2019 at 22:17
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    @JonathanReez you are confusing the enhanced license, which is available only from five states and only to US citizens, with Real ID, which requires license applicants to prove their lawful presence in the US. All states offer those licenses. Some states, including New York, also issue licenses to people who have not met the lawful presence requirements, that are labeled "not for federal purposes." I have such a license. But some states do not offer that option; Real ID is mandatory. My wife's main use for such a license would be the TSA, so a license like mine is not going to do it for her.
    – phoog
    Commented Sep 13, 2019 at 1:41
  • 1
    @JonathanReez Real ID licences are available to both citizens and non-citizens who are legally present in the US. In California, immigration checks are applied even for non-Real ID licenses and the license expires when the immigration documents do. This is a real pain, as it means I have to renew my DL every 6 months these days. (Ironically, California will issue a 5-year DL to people who are illegally present in the US, but people like me with temporary legal presence cannot get 5-year licenses.)
    – Thomas
    Commented Jan 27, 2020 at 12:53

1 Answer 1


My advice is to invest the time and exchange your license to avoid unnecessary problems.

There are so many different regulations, state by state, that the chances of falling faul with one of them are high.

There is also the problem that the Police may not know how to deal with Foreign License properly.

There is also another aspect that should not be ignored: as a Maryland resident not having a Maryland license may be considered for the Police as strange and suspect you (as a foreigner) of some something far worse than just not having a valid license.

Last but not least: at some point your license will expire and since most jurisdictions will not renew a license of a non-resident you will have no license at all and must start again from scratch.

A exchanged license will retain the information of the original issuer.
When returning to you home country the Maryland license can be exchanged back.

USAGov site: Foreign Nationals Driving in the U.S. states:

Residents (Non-U.S. Citizens) The residency requirement for obtaining a U.S. driver's license is different in each state:

  • If you are eligible to apply for a driver's license, you must get a driver's license from the state where you live.
  • Check the requirements and find out how to apply in your state's department of motor vehicles.
  • A U.S. driver's license allows you to drive anywhere in the U.S. It is your responsibility to know and obey the laws of the state where you are driving.

Since you are eligible the first statement applies to you. The last point also makes it clear how complex the matter can become.

A Lawyers site warns about possible problems with the Police not knowing how to deal with foreign licenses:

Generally speaking, if you are NOT a Maryland resident and you have a valid international license from your country of origin, its OK to drive with that license. Unfortunately, individuals with a valid international license who drive in Maryland often get charged with driving without a license. Driving without a license is a serious Maryland traffic offense, which carries jail time. I see these Maryland traffic cases all the time. I believe police officers simply don’t know that its permissible to drive with these licenses, they don’t believe the licenses are authentic, OR they belive that the individual is actually a resident of Maryland. If you are a resident of Maryland, the law is not clear on how long you have to obtain a Maryland license. If you have an out of state (not out of the country license) and you become a resident of Maryland, you have 60 days to obtain a Maryland license.

Pennsylvania warns, as one state regulation of many, of a time limit since arrival in the United States:

  1. Can I drive in Pennsylvania with my Foreign Driver's License?
    Individuals who possess a valid foreign driver's license from their country are authorized to drive in Pennsylvania for up to one year from their date of entry into the United States, or upon expiration of their foreign license, whichever comes first. International driving permits are strongly recommended, but not required.

This case shows that, for Pennsylvania, you may not drive at all since you have been in the United States longer than a year.

As far as I can tell from the California site, such a time restriction does not exist.

Colorado Driver’s License Requirements for Visiting Foreigners

Foreign visitors driving requirements pertain to any non-permanent resident with an international driver license or a driver’s license from another country who plans on driving in Colorado for longer than 90 days.

This point does not apply to you for 2 reasons

  • you will be there less than 90 days
  • you are a permanent resident (not a visitor to the United States)

I didn't see the combination of permanent resident and foreign license...

And these are only 3 of the 49 mainland jurisdictions of the US.

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