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Driving in the US
Massachusetts (MA) State law requires all residents to obtain a MA driver‘s license within 30 days of their arrival if they plan to live in MA for one year or more.
Citizens of certain countries may also utilize their home country‘s driver‘s license along with an International Driving Permit. For further details and to find your nearest Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) visit their websites below:
Seat Belt Law: In Massachusetts, everyone in a car must wear a safety restraint. Children must ride in a federally approved infant, toddler, or booster seat until they are at least 5 years old and weigh over 40 pounds (18 kg). Then, they (and adults) must wear a seat belt, whether they are in front or back seat of the car.
Boston with a Car: Driving practices differ in different parts of the US. It is important to understand Boston driving patterns, so you can avoid an accident. Many Americans from other parts of the U.S. think Boston drivers are rude and aggressive. Of course you should not “go native” and drive this way yourself! But it is important to drive defensively—you should always assume that another car might turn right from the left-hand lane, or go through a red light, or cut in front of you. Many international newcomers choose to take a one– or two-hour driving lesson with a professional driver education company when they first arrive. This might be an excellent idea for you, especially if you come from a country with very different traffic rules and driving habits. Look in the Yellow Pages telephone book under "Driving Instruction," or ask a friend to help you pick a good company. If you are a licensed and experienced driver in your country, explain this to the instructor. You will take the lesson in the teacher‘s car. Ask if they have a teacher who speaks your language. In Massachusetts, maximum speed limits vary from 55 to 65 miles per hour.
Obtaining a Massachusetts Driver’s License
The following is a summary of what most international students must do to obtain a MA Driver’s License.
Provide Necessary Proof of Identification
- International Driver‘s License (if applicable)
- Passport (Provides Photo ID, your signature and date of birth)
- Form I-20/Form DS-2019 (Provides proof of signature and date of birth)
- Document proving MA residency
- Slater International Center can provide you with a letter which states that you live on campus. Please complete an “On-Campus Proof of Residency Letter” request form. Note: The “On-Campus Proof of Residency Letter” must be no more than 30 days old when you go to the RMV.
- Social Security number (SSN) or an official "Denial Letter" from the Social Security Office no more than 30 days old (see “Obtaining a Social Security Number” section). A Denial Letter will be issued on the spot at the Social Security Office; a Social Security number is usually issued in approximately two weeks. Obtaining a “Denial Letter” does not affect your eligibility for a SSN in the future.
Pass a Written Exam and Eye Test
The written exam and eye test may be taken on a walk-in basis at any RMV between 9:00am and 4:30pm. If you pass, you will get a learner‘s permit. Driver‘s license manuals are available at the RMV to help you prepare for the written and road tests.
Pass a Road Test
Road tests are by appointment only and must be scheduled at least three weeks in advance after you have earned your learner‘s permit. At the time of the road test, you need to bring your completed application (obtained from the RMV); your learner‘s permit; payment for each scheduled road test; a registered, insured and inspected vehicle; and a sponsor. The sponsor must be at least 18 years of age, have at least one year of driving experience and possess a valid U.S. license issued by his/her home state. Foreign driver’s license holders are NOT eligible to be sponsors. If you have a valid out-of-country license from certain countries and a MA learner’s permit, you may take the road test without a sponsor (Please see RMV website). Many driving schools in Massachusetts offer private lessons and will even sponsor a student for a driving test. The closest school to Wellesley is the Wellesley Driving School at 159 Linden Street, Wellesley, MA. Please contact them directly at (781) 237-5010 for more information.
Costs Involved: (Methods of payment include cash, check, Visa or MasterCard)
- l Learner‘s Permit (written/eye screening test): $30
- l Road Driving Test: $20
- l Driver‘s License: $50; $100 for out-of-state conversions
- Wait 10 days after you arrive in the United States. You may want to apply for a driver's license but be patient. The 10-day wait allows time for all the government databases to update with your arrival information.
- Make sure your record in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) is up-to-date and in Active status.
- Wait two days after your DSO activates your record in SEVIS. This gives all the databases time to update with your new information.
***Please note that if you move after you obtain a MA license, you must inform the Registry of Motor Vehicles within 30 days of your move. ***
Owning a Car in Massachusetts
If you own or lease a motor vehicle in Massachusetts, you must meet certain obligations to keep your vehicle legally registered and safe for the road:
- Any vehicle to be driven on public roadways in MA must be insured.
- Your car must be registered by the end of the month in which you purchase it.
- The car must also be inspected within 7 days of its purchase.
- All vehicles must have a Certificate of Title. If you are buying a used car, to legally transfer its ownership to you, the previous owner must sign the title and give it to you. Before buying a used car, be sure to have a mechanic examine it.
- You must pay 5% sales tax on any vehicle purchased.
Most insurance companies will require you to have a MA driver‘s license in order to insure a car. You can use this comparison website to find an insurance quote. Note: Insurance rates vary depending on where you live. The closer you live to Boston, the more expensive it will be.
For a small additional fee, a dealer may register your car and get the license plate for you at the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV). If you register your car at the RMV, you must have your driver‘s license and title (or proof of application of title). You will receive the registration and your license plates. Please keep in mind that these services require a fee and automobile tax must also be paid on the vehicle. Your vehicle registration needs to be renewed every two years.
All vehicles that are registered in Massachusetts must receive a safety inspection each year. Vehicles must undergo both an emissions test and a safety inspection every year before its current inspection sticker expires (at the end of the month printed on the sticker). To avoid end-of-the-month lines, have your vehicle tested during the first half of the month when it is due for an inspection. If you purchase a vehicle (new or used), it must be inspected within seven calendar days of its registration to continue operating on Massachusetts roadways.
Bring your vehicle registration and the $29 inspection fee with you. Check with your inspection station for payment methods accepted. If your vehicle fails its safety inspection, its emissions test or both, it must be repaired and pass a re-test within 60 days of its initial inspection. If you drive with an overdue inspection sticker, you could get pulled over by police, fined and/or ticketed.