International Driver's Permit
When driving in Massachusetts, you must have your foreign license on you at all times. If driving with an international driver’s permit (IDP) you must also have your I-94 or relevant documentation with you when travelling. International driving permits are valid for one year and are not valid in the country of issuance. The year of eligibility to drive in Massachusetts begins again each time you lawfully re-enter the US. You are not required to have an IDP on you when driving in the United States, though it is helpful to have if your license is printed in a non-English language. Massachusetts does not honor licenses from every foreign country, and a complete list of countries can be found in HERE. An international version of a foreign driver’s license is only honored if on the complete list.
- Initial Application Process
- Scheduling a Road Test
- International License Conversion
- Massachusetts State ID Cards
- What to Bring When Applying for License or Permit
- Buying a Car
- Car Insurance
- Registering a Vehicle
- Car Inspections
You may obtain a Massachusetts driver's license from the RMV by passing a written examination, obtaining a learner's permit, and then passing the road test. The written test consists of 20 questions and is available in 25 languages. A Driver's Manual, used to study for the written exam, is available at the RMV. If you are unable to take a written examination, you have the right to request an oral exam. In addition, you must have your eyes screened for field vision and basic colors. Both tests are given on a walk-in basis at all full service RMV offices. Once you have passed both the written and eye exams, you will be issued a learner's permit. After you receive a learner's permit, you will be able to schedule the road test, which is a requirement for the Massachusetts driver's license. Learner's permits expire one year from the date of issue. You are not allowed to renew your permit. If you need another permit, a new exam is required. Learner's permits cost $30.
You can schedule your road test online or by calling the RMV Telephone Center at (857) 368-8000 or 1-800-858-3926. At the time of the road test, you need to bring:
- Your completed application (can be obtained from the RMV)
- Your learner's permit
- A $35 payment for each scheduled road test
- A registered, insured, and inspected vehicle
- A sponsor (see below)
To take the road test, you must supply a car that has a valid Massachusetts inspection sticker. The vehicle's registration must be presented as well. Please note that the examiner must be able to reach the vehicle's emergency brake or foot brake and a seat must be provided for the sponsor, if a sponsor is required.
Sponsor Requirements: To take the road test, you must be accompanied by a sponsor who is at least 21 years of age, has at least one year of driving experience, and possesses a valid license issued by his/her home state. Foreign driver's license holders are not eligible to be sponsors.
Upon passing the road test, you may exchange your learner's permit for a driver's license. Bring the stamped and signed learner's permit to any RMV full service office to obtain your driver's license. The cost of the actual driver's license is $50.
People converting licenses from other countries must take a full examination - written and driving (see above). For more detailed information, please consult the Driver's Manual.
Those without a driver's license will find a Massachusetts State ID or Massachusetts Liquor ID extremely useful. Identification is required for many common transactions. It is also required to purchase wine, beer, or alcohol, or to enter bars or nightclubs serving alcohol (the minimum age is 21). While a passport can typically be used, it is not always accepted and can easily be lost or stolen. It is possible to obtain a Massachusetts State ID or Liquor ID (not valid for driving purposes) from the RMV. Although it is not a driver's license, the Massachusetts State ID/Liquor ID is recognized as a valid form of photo identification.You will need to present the same types of identification as for a driver's license (see above), complete an application, and pay a $25 fee. Consult the websites for more information.
What to Bring When Applying for a Massachusetts Driver's License, Learner's Permit, or State/Liquor ID
You must complete an application for a Massachusetts driver's license, learner's permit, or state identification card in person at the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV). You must bring proof of the following (see details below): identity, valid immigration status, signature, date of birth, and Massachusetts residency.
*Important: You may only use a document for one purpose. For example: you may not use the same document (such as a Social Security card) to prove both your Social Security number and your signature.
1. Proof of identity:
- Olin ID card; or
2. Social Security number (SSN) or proof that you are not eligible for a Social Security number:
- Social Security card; or
- Paycheck stub showing your Social Security number; or
- If you do not have a Social Security number, you must show a letter from the Social Security Administration indicating that you are ineligible for one. To do this, you apply for a number at the Social Security Administration office and they will issue the letter of ineligibility.
3. A document that proves your signature:
- Passport (if you are not using it for proof of date of birth); or
- Employment Authorization Card; or
- Social Security card (if not used as proof of Social Security number); or
- A canceled personal check; or
- Official current or expired ID (expired not more than 12 months ago) issued by a U.S., Canadian, or Mexican government agency with photograph and signature
4. A document that proves your date of birth:
- Passport (if you are not using it for proof of signature); or
- Employment Authorization Card; or
- Original or certified copy of a non-U.S. birth certificate (if not in English must be accompanied by acceptable translation)
5. Proof of Massachusetts residency:
- Original school transcript with your name and address, dated within the past 12 months (only if you completed your degree in Massachusetts); or
- Checkbook with your pre-printed name and address; or
- Bank statement or other bank document (not more than 60 days old) on a form from the bank, displaying the bank's name and address, and your name and mailing address. (Be sure to black out your account number.)
6. Proof of valid immigration status, including all of these:
- Your most recent immigration document* (DS-2019, I-797, I-20, whichever applies to you). You may wish to carry previous/expired documents separately, in case you are asked for them; AND
- A valid passport with visa stamp from a U.S. Consulate; AND
- I-94 admission record printed from https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/#/home OR paper I-94 card (small white card in passport) from most recent entry into the U.S.
If the RMV tells you that your immigration document does not have a red stamp showing your last date of entry to the U.S., be sure to show your previous I-20 or DS-2019 that contains the stamp. The red stamp is placed on your documents when you come through immigration and customs at the border or airport.
WARNING: Unless your immigration document is valid for at least 12 months from the date of application, your application may be denied.
Owning a car in Massachusetts is expensive. Car-related expenses over time may exceed the price you actually pay for the car. If you buy a car, you will have to purchase car insurance, register your car in Massachusetts, and have your car inspected. Before buying a used car, have a mechanic examine the car. Massachusetts does have a "Buyer's Right to Return Law" which allows the buyer of a used car to return it for a full refund under certain conditions. Be sure the car you want to buy has a "title" (certificate of ownership). To legally transfer ownership of the car over to you, the previous owner must sign the title and give it to you.
Massachusetts law requires that all cars have insurance. Therefore, you will need to purchase car insurance. Your insurance company will be able to tell you the current minimum requirements for car insurance in Massachusetts. The price of car insurance is influenced by many factors, including the age of your car, how many years you have been driving, your place of residence, and the type of coverage requested. The average annual cost of insuring a car in Massachusetts ranges from $800 to $1500 per year or higher. To purchase insurance, present the title of the car and your driver's license to any insurance agency. There are many companies to choose from in Massachusetts that you can find online. Often, for a small additional fee, the insurance agent will register your car and get the license plates for you at the RMV.
If you choose to register the car by yourself, you must do so by the end of the month in which you purchased car insurance. You must bring proof of car insurance, the bill of sale, proof of payment of sales tax, and the certificate of ownership (the "title") to the RMV. Registration will cost about $60. You may also have to pay $75 for a Massachusetts title. You must also pay Massachusetts sales tax if you have not already paid it (about 5%) on either the price you paid for the car or the "NADA" trade-in value of your vehicle (whichever is greater). More information can be found at the RMV website.
Finally, you must have your car inspected within 7 days of registering it. Certain gas stations can inspect your car for the required safety features. The insurance agent can give you a list of garages which will inspect your car. You can also find a list on the RMV website. Inspection costs $35.
Remember, many car expenses will be annual expenses. Each year you will have to insure your car, have your car inspected, and pay "excise tax" on the value of your car. The town of Needham will notify you of the amount of excise tax you owe each year. More information HERE.