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Driver's license in New York: what immigrants need to know


Lyudmila Balabay

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All immigrants in New York, including illegal immigrants, are eligible for a driver's license. In 2019, New York State passed a law called the Green Light. It allows all New Yorkers to obtain a driver's license if they pass the required driving tests, regardless of their immigration status.

Types of driving licenses in New York

The State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offers three types of rights:

  • extended driver's license;
  • REAL ID;
  • standard driver's license.

Standard Permissions issued to everyone without reference to immigration status. These licenses have the words NOT FOR FEDERAL PURPOSES in the right corner, but otherwise they will look the same as other types of driver's licenses.

Photo: DMV

To get REAL ID stricter requirements for documents, in particular, it is necessary to confirm the legality of stay in the United States and many more details. These rights have a small star in the corner and are suitable for federal identification.

Photo: DMV

Extended driver's license can be used instead of a passport when crossing certain borders and are only available to US citizens.

Photo: DMV

If you are applying for a standard license, DMV staff should not ask questions about your immigration status.

Which type of rights to choose from several provided

It's up to you, but there are a number of things to consider. To obtain a REAL ID and an extended driver's license, you must legally live in America, as well as have a Social Security Number (SSN) and two separate documents confirming your residence in New York.

So if you do not have something from this list, apply for standard rights. In this case, you do not need to confirm the legality of your stay in the United States, it is not necessary to provide an SSN, and you can confirm your residence in New York with one document. In addition, DMV accepts consular ID cards and other foreign documents as proof of identity.

But keep in mind: from May 7, 2025, their will not be able to use as proof of identity when boarding a plane or when visiting federal agencies.

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How to get a driver's license in New York

It is easy to guess that in order to obtain a driver's license in the state of New York, you need to pass a driving test (Road Test).

This process consists of several steps.

1. You need to successfully pass the theoretical part of the test

To do this, you must first complete a five-hour pre-licensing course at a driving school. After listening to the lecture (today it happens online), a “Certificate of pre-training” (pre-licensing course completion certificate, form MV-278) is issued.

With this certificate, you can register for a driving test (online or by phone).

The certificate is valid for one year after issuance. The document reflects the data of the course student: last name, first name, date of birth, eye color, specific address, Learner Permit number (Client ID). The data of the driving school are also indicated: contacts, license number, information about the instructor.

The original certificate will need to be presented to the examiner from the Department of Motor Vehicles on the day of the exam. Otherwise, admission will be refused.

2. On the appointed day, you should come to the driving test

Take your pre-training certificate and learner permit with you. During the test, the examiner will give you driving tasks, and you must complete them. Keep in mind: some tasks can be tricky and push you to break traffic rules. You are expected to notice this and explain why you cannot complete such a task. All tasks are in English, so be prepared for this.

3. Find out the test results

Exam results will appear on DMV website on the day of the test after 18:00. You will be able to download and print the Road Test Results (form MV-501), which is essentially your provisional driver's license, which is valid for 90 days. You will receive your permanent driver's license by mail to the address you provided within two weeks of passing the test.

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