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I am visiting Illinois for a couple of months with J-1 visa for work and I could use a driver's licence, but I do not have one. I am wondering if I would be eligible to apply for one.

What I have already figured out is that there are three types of licenses: (1) Regular driver license, (2) Temporary visitor driver's license, (3) Non-visa status applicant temporary visitor driver's license. I found that options (2) and (3) require at least 12-month stay in the US, so I am not eligible. But as far as I can find, there do not seem to be limitations in the regular option (1).

Just to clarify, I am a foreign citizen visiting with J-1 visa. I have a US social security number, rental contract, utility bills, US bank account, etc (I have lived in US before). I do not have a driver's licence from any country.

  • Do you have a driving licence in your home country? – Berwyn Jun 30 '16 at 0:06
  • Unfortunately not. – TomH Jun 30 '16 at 0:07
  • Ok. Perhaps would be useful to edit into your question for clarification. – Berwyn Jun 30 '16 at 0:10
  • 1
    If you do not have a license from anywhere, you will almost certainly have to pass the test. – Andrew Lazarus Jun 30 '16 at 0:27
  • @StephanBranczyk as I understand it, RealID compliance requires states to verify immigration status, for which a SSN is insufficient. This implies that either your state is not compliant or the requirements have changed since you last looked at them. – phoog Jun 30 '16 at 18:54
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Technically, you could, but not in every state. From US Immigration and Customs Enforcement website:

Who is eligible for a driver’s license or ID?

Any F, M or J nonimmigrant in lawful status may apply for a driver’s license or ID card, per state or territorial law. The nonimmigrant must present necessary supporting documents required to verify legal presence in the United States. For a list of required documents, see What documentation must a nonimmigrant present to the DMV? [...]

[...]

When can a nonimmigrant apply for a driver’s license or ID?

Please be aware of the following timing requirements before applying for a driver’s license or ID:

  • The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record must be in Active status when an F, M or J nonimmigrant applies for a benefit. A nonimmigrant with a record in any other status will not have success applying for a benefit.

  • Wait at least ten calendar days from the date of entry into the United States before applying for a driver’s license or ID to allow time for arrival data processing. [...]

  • Wait at least two federal business days from the activation date in SEVIS to apply for a driver’s license or ID to ensure that the nonimmigrant’s Active status updates in all relevant databases.

  • Several states require that a nonimmigrant have at least six months left on the Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” or Form DS-2019, “Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status,” to be eligible for a driver’s license. Either consult with the state or territory’s DMV or visit its website to see if this is a requirement.

In your case it's down to the last point: do you need at least 6 months remaining on your visa in the state where you live?

EDIT: To find out whether you need the 6-months validity on your visa, simply contact your local DMV or call IL Department Of State Driver Services:

  • Springfield: 217-782-6212
  • Chicago: 312-814-2975

Anecdotally, this forum posts alludes that you do need the 6-months validity.

  • Thanks! This confirms what I thought. Unfortunately, it still does not answer my question. Any idea where to find information about specific states, i.e. Illinois in my case? I spent a while browsing Illinois DMV website, but could not find the info. – TomH Jun 29 '16 at 22:25
  • @TomH I updated my answer. The simplest thing is to call the DMV - I added Illinois numbers for you. – Aleks G Jun 30 '16 at 10:02
  • If the Illinois BMV is anything like the Indiana BMV, you'll have to have a lot of patience on the phone. It will take them a while to figure out something like this. – FreeMan Jun 30 '16 at 17:35
  • Thanks! I called to Chicago DMV and they told me that if I already have a SSN, then the 6-month requirement does not apply. I guess I'll give it a try and update the post for future reference later. – TomH Jun 30 '16 at 20:18
  • @TomH Great! Certainly update your post with your actual experience. – Aleks G Jun 30 '16 at 20:33
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For Illinois, nformation regarding driving licences for immigrants with permanent resident status or a nonimmigrant visa is available here. The relevant conditions for your status appear to be:

  • Are an alien lawfully admitted for permanent or temporary residence
  • Have a valid, unexpired nonimmigrant visa or nonimmigrant visa status

To get an Illinois Driver's license you must:

  • Visit a Driver Services Facility, show your identification, and have your photo taken; To find the Driver Services Facility near you, see the Secretary of State Facility Finder;
  • Pass the vision, written, and driving tests;
  • Pay the Fee.

This site also gives relevant information and a list of the documentation that must be provided. Note that two documents proving residency must be provided.

Neither of those sites appear to list a minimum residency period.

-1

You don't need a Driver's license if you're just visiting for a couple months.

An international driver's license will do, and most often your own country's driver's license is all you need to rent a car. The international driver's license is only a translation of your driver's license in a bunch of other languages, and is meant to be presented with the actual license.

  • I know this, but it does not work, as it would require having a driver's licence from some other country. – TomH Jun 30 '16 at 0:09
  • well if you don't have a license, that's a different question. – MrE Jun 30 '16 at 0:11

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