How to Get a New Jersey Driver License as an Expat



Photo © ExpatAussieInNJ

LIFE IN NEW JERSEY: OK. You’re an expat and you’ve been here two months already. You have an International Driver License (IDL) but do you need a New Jersey Driver License too? Well according to the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (NJ MVC), the answer is yes!

When to get a New Jersey Driver License

The MVC and it seems also, New Jersey Police, are of the opinion that the 60 day limit  given for out-of-state US drivers to get a New Jersey Driver License, applies to out-of-country drivers as well. This means that 60 days after first arriving here, expats should at least have started the process of applying for your permit, whether you have an IDL or not. While it seems a bit unclear to me what happens to you legally if you miss the 60 day deadline but still have your IDL in date, I have heard expat stories of unpleasant roadside encounters with State Police, that make me cringe a little in terror. Auto insurance policies in the US can distinguish between an IDL versus a state-licensed driver, in how expensive the premium is, and perhaps your coverage as well. So to avoid hassles from both police authorities and insurance companies, it may be safer to get the license as recommended before your 60 day anniversary.  Since you will need a Social Security Card and other forms of ID and residency proof, most newcomers will have to wait to apply until at least a few weeks after arriving. After the right documents have been obtained though, other than skilling up on New Jersey road rules and getting driving practice, there is no real reason to wait.  

What will you be tested on?

The NJ MVC will test you on three specific areas: Vision, Knowledge and a Road Test (practical driving skills). If you wear glasses to drive you should wear these to your test.


The New Jersey Driver Manual. You’d be surprised at how many details are included in this book that you can be tested upon. Photo © ExpatAussieInNJ

Getting to know the New Jersey Driver Manual well enough to pass the knowledge test, is the main challenge that most expats will face. Although you only need an 80% test mark to pass, it’s not exactly the most riveting stuff to learn. Using an online test site is always helpful for practicing with sample tests. Learning the New Jersey Driver Manual is not rocket science. Knowing all the penalty levels for every conceivable driving infraction is exceptionally tedious but necessary .  

If I’m an experienced driver, do I have to do a Road test?

If you have no driver experience, then you will have to do the road driving test. Even when you are experienced though, to avoid the road test, you will need a valid permit from your home country or last place of residency as proof of previous driver experience elsewhere. The NJ MVC recognizes driver permits from any countries that are signatories to the UN Convention on Road Traffic. If your country is not listed here but you have a valid driver permit, you should ring the NJ MVC to ask if there are other options available for you to avoid the road test.  

Where do you apply for a Permit?

An application for your driver’s permit can be obtained at any MVC office location and after completion, submitted with your ID and residency documents as per the process described below. Not all MVCs do road tests though, so if planning on doing one of these, you should make a booking for it online. If planned ahead, you may be able to schedule doing both the Knowledge and Road test in one day at the same location.


Photo © ExpatAussieInNJ


What documents will you need as an expat to apply for a Permit?

You need to provide proof of your ID (6 Points of ID) and New Jersey residency (1 proof).  Personal Identification The six points of ID can include:

  • Your passport with at least six months left on the expiry date, together with your immigration papers (I-94 form). As these are done electronically now, you will need to go online and access your latest I-94 details and then print a copy to bring with your passport. (4 Points)
  • A Social Security card (1 Point)

Other forms of ID (worth 1 Point) in your name that can be used to make up the total of 6 Points. This can be one of the following:

  • An ATM card, or
  • A bank statement, or
  • A Work Authorization card (EAD) or
  • A Health Insurance Card, or
  • An employer Personal Identification card with pay stub.

Proof of Residency

Only one proof of residency is officially stated as needed by the NJ DMC. It is always a good idea though to have a second proof as back up, just in case. Acceptable proofs of residency with your name and address include:

  • A bank statement, or 
  • A utility bill, or
  • A signed lease.

 You can check the details of these options or find alternatives for ID and residency proof at the State of New Jersey MVC website.

Original documents

All documents should be originals and must also be available in English or be translated by an acceptable agent. The translations should accompany the originals. Sometimes an original birth certificate may be requested if there is any question about your identity. Like above, this needs to have an accompanying translation if the original is not in English.   

How long will it take?

 I am not sure if the New Jersey Driver License application process was modeled on the British TV comedy ‘Yes, Minister’, or perhaps the MVC is thinking of starting their own bureaucratic Olympics event. Either way, the process seems interminably long and rigorous. I know they need to be very careful but wow…. The application process has several stages that usually include:

  • A check of your paperwork
  • A check of your immigration status
  • Paying your $34.00 payment
  • Taking the vision test
  • Taking the knowledge test
  • Getting your photo taken
  • One last scrutiny of your details before receiving your photo license card (assuming you pass).



Sample of New Jersey Driver License. Photo © ExpatAussieInNJ.

The MVC offices are often very busy and the process can seem to take forever. There is usually limited seating so if it is crowded, you may be standing for a little while at least. Staff can be gruff and very serious, just like at Immigration on entering the US. This is not the place for jokes or a warm/personal exchange. One other word of warning: the staff do not take kindly to people accompanying the applicant through various stages. I don’t just mean the test process but even standing in the queue. So if you have come along to help your spouse navigate the process here, you may be told to sit down or leave the applicant on their own to get photographed, answer questions on their documents and even to pay. Don’t take offense-that’s normal.  

Doing the Road Test

Keep in mind if you are doing the Road test, you need a licensed NJ driver to accompany you. You are expected to provide your own car which should be roadworthy, and have current registration and insurance papers. You will need to pick up some decals (red round discs) which have to be placed on your car. Whatever you do, don’t have your mobile phone on during the test. If it rings and you answer it, it’s an instant fail!


Photo © ExpatAussieInNJ

 Good luck and good driving. Remember to stay on the right (or is it left?) side of the road!    

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12 thoughts on “How to Get a New Jersey Driver License as an Expat

  1. Hi,

    Do expats have to go to any specific DMV to get the permit prior to the vision/knowledge test? I’ve been told that we have to go to one of the main offices and that there is a limit of them issuing foreigners license so we have to turn up by 7:30 am. I’ve not seen this mentioned anywhere and as your article is fairly recent I thought I’d check 🙂 Ideally we’d like to try a more local office as it may be slightly less busy but I’m sure it will still take time.

    Great website by the way !t’s helped loads in the first few weeks of being here.


    • Hi Neil,
      There are only some DMVs that actually do full testing of vision, knowledge and road (driving) tests. A while ago they reorganized, so that there is only one DMV per county provides the full service range, the rest of the offices are ‘agency’ offices or inspection centers. For example, in Essex County, it is Newark MVC, in Morris County it is Randolph, in Passaic County it is Wayne MVC, etc that provide full driver testing. There are a lot of MVC agencies, however only a Driver Permit can be obtained here, not the full license, as they do not do testing. I have never heard anything about a limit of licenses given to foreigners, and I have taken many people to MVC offices in NJ, in my job as a relocation agent. You can always get a permit from an agency but you will still need to go to a testing center for the full license. I just like to try and limit it to one visit, so I always take my clients to a full licensing center. Getting there early, is a good idea, only because you miss the crowds that come later, especially on a Saturday morning. Here is a link to a website that lists all the locations by township and whether they are an agency or testing center:

  2. Hi, do you have any advice on obtaining car insurance here? My husband and I have been here two months, he just recently got his NJ licence and we’re looking to buy a car. We called up some insurance companies to enquire about how much it would cost and it is through the roof!

    • Hi Susanna,
      Car insurance is unfortunately, very expensive in NJ. There are some things I would suggest:
      1. Get lots of quotes from different companies – they do vary
      2. Try varying the deductible amount- if you offer to pay a bit more deductible, then your premium will likely go down.
      3. It is always cheaper for two cars versus one for insurance premiums e.g. two cars cost us ~$3,000 per annum while 1 car cost ~$2000/annum.
      4. You can bundle other insurance together to get a better deal.
      5. You can check out different quotes on this website:

      I hope this helps a little.

  3. I have a class D coach licence from UK what do I need to do in order to drive a bus or coach in New Jersey USA

  4. rodney vivanco says:

    hello. My foreign driver license is expired. Can I still use it to skip my road test?

    • Hi Rodney,
      That is a great question but I am not sure of the answer. Normally I tell people to arrive here with valid licenses from their home country. if it is just a NJ license renewal, there is no problem as they won’t ask for your home license. For new NJ driver licenses though, normally they expect it to not be expired.

      I would try it and see. They can only say ‘No’.

      Sorry I couldn’t be more helpful,

    • No you cannot. I sent mine off to the UK for renewal, but because I didn’t have it they had to put me down as a new driver as oppose to experienced driver (of 15 year argh). I have to do my road test.

  5. Hi,

    I’m not sure if others have had this issue, but just today I passed my knowledge test and when the woman at the MVC attempted to validate my UK licence, the book they use to do so had an outdated image of the UK licence, without the Union Jack flag which has been on all UK licences since July 2015.

    Because the licences look different they insisted I must now return in 20 days to do a road test. I tried to show her the UK government website on my phone showing my licence is indeed valid but she was sticking to policy:”If it isn’t in the book I can’t validate it”.

    I’m wondering if anyone else has experienced this and if they managed to resolve it?


    • Hi Simon,
      What a nightmare for you! I have only heard this happen once before with someone from India who had a very old license. I would be tempted to ask for the supervisor or just go to another MVC to see if they let you through! Can you say which location it was at?

      • Interesting. My husband’s UK Driver License was issued in 2013, so it doesn’t have the union Jack flag. I am not afraid that if they updated their book and the new book shows the one with the Union Jack flag but his doesn’t have, it will be the reverse situation… I will keep you posted.

        • I truly wish this part of the process was transparent because of all the documents one has to provide, this area seems to create the most inconsistent rulings. According to the NJ MVC handbook, licenses from countries that have signed the UN Treaty on Road Traffic, should be exempt from doing the driving test, as those countries have some uniformity of rules and driving requirements that may be comparable to the US. These countries are recognized by provision of a version of the International Driving License to their natives to use overseas.

          However, the NJ MVC told me that if you for some reason didn’t have your IDL, even if from a known signatory like UK, Australia etc., you would then have to do the driving test!!!! This is not truly providing equity of treatment at all! In fact I know of some clever expats who come from a non-signatory country who purchased an ‘IDL’ over the internet, who then were allowed to avoid the driving test because they had an IDL. No checking was done of their country against the UN treaty list. This seems an example of poor training and ignorant administrative staff, who have been using a simple way to avoid extra checking that is now abused by the smart ones.

          It truly is a like a box of chocolates… always a surprise what is acceptable!!

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