Undocumented residents might be able to get a driver's license depending on the state they live in.
In 19 states and Washington, D.C., you can get a driver's license even if you are an undocumented immigrant. You will probably need to show some kind of proof of identification, though. Depending on where you live, this might include a state tax return, an active foreign passport or a birth certificate.
Can undocumented immigrants get a driver's license?
Undocumented immigrants can get a driver's license in 19 states and Washington, D.C.
Even though you can get a license in these states, it might not give you all the same perks as a license for a citizen. Licenses for undocumented immigrants are often restricted, which means they only give you permission to drive but they aren't valid forms of federal identification. For instance, you may not be able to use a restricted license to board a plane.
States that let undocumented immigrants get a driver's license
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- Rhode Island
- Washington, D.C.
The type of driver's license you can get depends on where you live. And state laws are changing rapidly. Since 2020, four states have passed laws giving undocumented residents the ability to get a license. More states may offer licenses to undocumented residents in the future.
How to get a driver's license as an undocumented immigrant
Getting your license isn't too complex, but you will need to research your state's laws, gather some documentation and potentially take written or in-person driving tests.
Check your state's laws
Your first step should be checking your state laws to see if it's possible for you to get a driver's license. Not all states will give licenses to undocumented residents. Researching your state's laws could help save you time.
While you generally don't have to prove legal status, you will still likely need to show proof of your identity and proof that you live in the state where you're applying for a license. Each state has its own laws and documents that it accepts, but there are some that are more commonly accepted.
- State tax returns or a tax ID number
- A valid foreign passport
- An ID from your country's consulate
- State tax returns
- Status as a dependent of a tax filer
- Birth certificate
- Home utility bills
- Mortgage bills
Taking the time to gather the documents you need could save you time and stress when you apply for a license.
Fill out an application and take any required tests
You'll likely need to fill out a paper application to get a driver's license. You might also need to take a road sign test, written exam or a driving test. Vision tests are also common. You may be able to walk into your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to take these tests, or you may have to schedule them in advance. Once you've passed the required tests and shown that you meet the other requirements, you should be able to get your license.
Get car insurance
Once you have your license, you may need to buy a car insurance policy. If you own a car, you'll need to show your DMV proof of car insurance to register the vehicle. Undocumented immigrants can get car insurance, but you need to have your license before you buy a policy.
Types of licenses for undocumented immigrants
There are three types of licenses that you might get as an undocumented immigrant. The one you get depends on where you live.
Unrestricted license: This is the same license that most American drivers have in their wallets. Only New Mexico and Washington State offer unrestricted licenses to undocumented residents.
- Driving-privilege only license: This type of license only lets you drive legally. It can't be used as a state or federal ID.
- Driving-privilege license with state ID: This license gives you driving rights and is also a valid form of state identification.
Restricted vs. unrestricted licenses
Driving-privilege only licenses have to say "federal limits apply" somewhere on them, to comply with the Real ID Act. Basically, restricted licenses need to look different when compared to unrestricted licenses because they give you fewer privileges.
In some states, these differences are hardly noticeable, while in others it is clearer. Additionally, in some states, a restricted license can't be used by law enforcement to question your legal status in the country.
Frequently asked questions
Can undocumented immigrants get a driver's license?
Undocumented immigrants can get a driver's license in 19 states and Washington, D.C. In most states, this license isn't quite the same as the driver's license that American citizens carry. You can't use the card for federal identification purposes, including for boarding flights.
What does an undocumented person need to get a driver's license in California?
If you are undocumented and need to get a driver's license in California, you need to show proof of your identity and proof that you live in California. You can use several different documents to do this, like a state ID card, foreign passport, mortgage bills and utility bills. You also have to be otherwise eligible to get a California driver's license, including passing a vision exam and a written test. You may also have to take a road sign test or a driving test.
Can DACA recipients get a driver's license?
It depends. Because state laws vary, being a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient doesn't automatically mean you can get a license. But if you have a Social Security number and an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), you can get a driver's license in every state.
Information comes from the California Department of Motor Vehicles, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) and the National Immigration Law Center (NILC).