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Drivers Licenses and State IDs

Obtaining a Massachusetts driver's license may be useful even if you do not plan to drive while in the US. A license can be used as proof of identity for everyday purposes instead of a passport. Alternatively, you can apply for a Massachusetts state ID card (called 'MassID'), which does not allow driving but also serves as an official proof of identity. Both driver's licenses and state IDs are issued by the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles, or RMV.

Please note however that under current Massachusetts state law, persons in the US on non-immigrant visas such as the F-1 student visa must document legal status for a period of at least one year, as reflected on their Form I-20. Persons in the US with legal status for less than a year will be ineligible for driver's licenses through Massachusetts. It may be possible, however, to enjoy driving privileges on the basis of your foreign driving licenses, per information provided by the Massachusetts Registrar of Motor Vehicles (RMV).

Massachusetts currently offers two types of driver's licenses: a standard license and a Real ID. Go the RMV for more information about the differences between the two types of licenses. In addition, there are two types of MassID cards, one of which is for persons at least 21 years of age who wish to purchase liquor (alcohol).

Registry of Motor Vehicle (RMV) Procedures and Locations

In general, any driver's license and ID card processes must be started online and finished in person at an RMV office. Do not go to the RMV office without first visiting the RMV web site. Once you are ready, you can find the nearest RMV service center on the RMV web site or To find the RMV office nearest you, or click on the links below.

To qualify for a Massachusetts Drivers License or State ID, you must have the following documents:

  • Valid passport with unexpired visa
  • Unexpired immigration document showing valid status for at least 12 months, such as
    • A Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 (for F-1 / J-1 visa holders)
    • I-797 Approval Notice (for H-1B visa holders)
  • Form I-94 showing valid non-immigrant status
  • Proof of Massachusetts residence (e.g., a copy of a bill or lease document with your name and address)
  • Social Security Card or other document with your Social Security Number, or a denial letter from the Social Security Administration

For a complete list of identification requirements, go to the RMV's Massachusetts Identification Requirements page.

In general, the process for obtaining a driver's license requires three steps involving the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV):

  1. Start an online application for a learner's permit
  2. Go to a RMV Service Center with your required identification documents to complete the application and to take your Learner's Permit Exam (study for the exam by reviewing the Driver's Manual)
  3. After you have passed the exam, get your learner's permit and practice driving
  4. Schedule your road test with the RMV
  5. Pass your road test and obtain your license

Effective July 2018, Massachusetts General Law (Chapter 90, Section 10) was changed to allow validly licensed drivers from any country to operate validly registered motor vehicles in Massachusetts. If your foreign drivers license is not written in English or does not contain an English translation, you must obtain and carry either a valid International Driving Permit or an acceptable alternative translation document. There are more requirements that must be meet in order to comply with the law. Review these by clicking the link or reading further below.

Requirements of Foreign Licenses

International Driving Permit (IDP) and Acceptable Alternative Documents

An International Driving Permit (IDP) is a translation of a drivers license into 10 major languages. It does not convey any driving privileges but must accompany a foreign license if the license is not in English. If you do not have an IDP, you must obtain a Translation into English of a Foreign Driver License alternative document that properly identifies the license holder and translates the relevant license information into English.  This form can be found on in the “Learner’s permit, driver’s license and ID card forms”  section.

Certain foreign licenses may be converted into a Massachusetts drivers license without a knowledge test or road test. For more information, go to the RMV web site.

Owning a Car

The International Center does not recommend purchasing a car unless you plan to live in Massachusetts for an extended period of time or if you do not have convenient public transportation options. If you do purchase and own a car, you should keep in mind the following considerations:

  • Required car insurance and car title and registration fees
  • Annual car inspection and local car (excise) taxes
  • Potential car repairs
  • Purchasing snow tires and driving safely in snowy and wintery conditions
  • Traffic and congestion
  • Parking fees and restrictions (learn more about parking at Tufts)

To learn more about buying and owning a car in the US, consult this useful resource.

Driving Laws and Immigration

It is extremely important for international students, scholars, and employees to understand and comply with all requirements for driving responsibly while in the US. In particular, you should be especially aware of the consequences of driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or other intoxicants. A DUI arrest or conviction may lead to revocation of your visa as well as other extremely serious legal consequences. If you are subject to arrest or conviction due for driving under the influence or as a result of another serious driving violation, we encourage you to consult with the International Center and a qualified immigration and/or criminal attorney to assist you.