What happens when a foreigner gets a speeding ticket / traffic fine in the United States? I've heard that the issuing officer will demand payment on site or will confiscate the drivers license. That sounds a little too extreme to be true but on the other hand I'm not sure how they would enforce punishment for these infractions on people who can just leave the country.

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    I've heard that the issuing officer will demand payment on site or will confiscate the drivers license. That sounds a little too extreme to be true - I don't see what's so extreme here. This is definitely also the case in France (where I've actually been stopped by the police before), and I think also in Belgium (of which I am a resident, so no hands-on experience here as a tourist). And concerning the enforcement: they just won't give you your drivers license back before you payed (and they will escort you to an ATM if you don't have the money with you)...
    – fretje
    Jul 15, 2011 at 13:27
  • ... so "leaving the country" is just no option.
    – fretje
    Jul 15, 2011 at 13:29
  • I have deleted some comments left on this question earlier that were left because it was closed as 'off-topic'. For the sake of keep the discussion on-topic for now, that back-and-forth exchange is not needed. Jan 22, 2012 at 18:06
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    @fretje In France, confiscation of the driver's license (technically it's a “rétention” for 72 hours at most, pending a decision) seems possible only for DIYs and driving more than 40 kph over the speed limit. As far as I understand, it's a separate measure meant to get a dangerous driver off the road, not a way to enforce penalties like regular traffic fines.
    – Relaxed
    Aug 23, 2013 at 23:53

3 Answers 3


According to the "Foreign Visitors Driving in the U.S." page on usa.gov:

The laws in each state vary from one to another. It is your responsibility to know and obey the laws of that state while driving.

Searching for "confiscation of driver's license" on google, I found answers to the question "Can police confiscate your drivers license for a speeding ticket?" and it seems that the answer vary by state. So, as we say here, you mileage may vary.

BTW, If you are not paying a traffic fine in the USA, a Failure to Appear warrant will be issued for your arrest. This means that if you are ever pulled over by the police after the warrant has been issued, you will be thrown in jail and will have to work your way through the justice system.

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    I wasn't asking about dodging fines, I was asking if the drivers license would be confiscated. Jan 23, 2012 at 18:36
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    Tried to improve the answer. Bottom line, it varies by state. If you give us the state, we can further answer. Jan 24, 2012 at 20:15
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    @theycallmemorty The answer to that question is yes. In a lot of states you can have your license confiscated with mandatory court appearance for reckless driving.
    – Karlson
    Jan 24, 2012 at 20:52

I have some personal experience with this. My aunt from China came to visit and after spending some time in the Bay Area (where it is nearly impossible to speed on the highway, and when you do the police are rather lenient) she attempted to drive to Las Vegas. In Barstow she got pulled over for speeding.

My Aunt had a Chinese driver's licence and passport in her possession and was legally in the United States on a tourist visa.

The Officer wrote her a ticket for speeding. The ticket noted her passport number and English name. Without an address on record the officer will give you a written appearance date a a few days later in the local courthouse. I called and requested an extension (90 days). At a later date I then called and was able to pay over the phone with a credit card to clear up the ticket. No actual appearance was required.

The officer did not demand any immediate payment or confiscation of papers and was satisfied with recording her identification numbers.

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    I can assure you that it is not at all nearly impossible to speed in the Bay Area. It's quite common to see cars going 85 mph on 280 south of Hillsborough. It's not super common to be pulled over, but speed traps do happen. Jun 6, 2016 at 21:48
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    Yes, that was an exaggeration. The freeways open up at night and many during the midday. In general though, when friends visit from out of state they don't have any trouble since traffic is bad enough during the day you have to go out of your way to get in trouble.
    – Phil
    Jun 6, 2016 at 21:50

Since another question has been linked to this, which I feel isn't a totally duplicate question, and nobody has raised the issue on this question, I'd like to add some information about other consequences of speeding that a typical foreign violator might incur that haven't been raised previously.

If you are driving a rental car, the registered owner of the car is of course the rental agency. Typically the rental agency will receive the fine and will normally be required to notify the authorities who was driving. They will do so, providing the state requires it, pay the fine, add on a processing charge and then charge the driver using the credit card on file.

[Note: The info in the above paragraph is only true for parking tickets because parking tickets are issued to a car. A speeding ticket issued by an officer in person is issued to the driver. Not a car.]

Of course credit cards expire, are reported stolen, etc., but that does not normally prevent a charge being made on them. The rental agency will charge the closed/expired credit card and the credit card company will redirect this charge to another card related to it. If it is not possible to locate the card owner then it's likely that the deficiency will be raised to credit reporting agencies and the rantal company will be alerted. After attempting to contact the driver, they will probably offload this debt to a debt-collection agency.

In the end, evading fines is not something that usually does you any good. Sometimes you might get away with it, but if you aspire to have a good credit history in order to buy a house, a car, other assets are obtain credit cards in the future, this will soon come back to haunt you.

  • This is somewhat incorrect, Berwyn. (1) in all 1st world countries, it's (now) utterly linked through rental car companies. (I have never rented a car without getting a ticket - must be dozens of countries.) You trivially and as a matter of course get found by the notification. (2) They don't in any way "charge your credit card", that would be bizarre. You know when you speed (in your own country) and basically get a letter from the cops saying "you must pay a fine". it's utterly no different if you happen to have a foreign address: sadly, computers know how to print foreign addresses. You...
    – Fattie
    Jun 9, 2016 at 16:07
  • .. you just get a letter from the cops saying "you must pay fine X", no difference whatsoever from if that happens locally, you know? That's the deal! Note that this: "In the end, evading fines is not something that usually does you any good." is not really a correct view of the situation. In the "Old days" of course, you simply threw away any foreign speeding tickets / parking tickets. Very simply, those days are gone: as you say today you simply "have to pay them", exactly as with tix from the locals.
    – Fattie
    Jun 9, 2016 at 16:08
  • (Sure, there may be some odd exceptions, like "if you get a ticket in Rwanda, hah hah, they still don't have PCs there so you can just throw it away.")
    – Fattie
    Jun 9, 2016 at 16:09
  • @JoeBlow I read your comment, but am a bit confused. Have you had a fine in a foreign country and been sent the fine directly to your home address without involving the rental car company?
    – Berwyn
    Jun 9, 2016 at 16:09
  • Hi Berwyn, right. Yes, of course, it's commonplace. It must have happened a dozen times. Note there are two systems (depends on the country). You either very simply get a letter directly from the cops (absolutely no different from how "their" locals, or you as a local, get such a letter .... computers which print on envelopes, have the ability to print all country names) or you get a form letter from Hertz stating that they have just given your address to the cops due to speeding ticket 1234567, and then you get the one from the cops.
    – Fattie
    Jun 9, 2016 at 16:17

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