Issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), the Driver License or state ID card serves as most people's primary identification document.
Foreign nationals may drive with a valid, unexpired driver's license from another U.S. state for up to 90 days after moving to Texas. A valid, unexpired driver's license from another country is also accepted for 90 days, but we strongly recommend that you have an International Driver's Permit (IDP) with your license. The IDP is a document that can only be secured in your home country, and it serves only as a valid translation of the home country driver's license. It may not be used by itself, as the official home country driver's license must accompany it to be considered a valid driving document. Please check with your home country government office on how to obtain an IDP in your home country. You will not be able to get an IDP once you are already in the U.S. Although the IDP is typically valid for one year, please keep in mind that you are only allowed to drive in Texas without a Texas driver's license for up to 90 days.
Please note that an IDP is not an International Driver's License - the internet has a lot of false information regarding an invalid document called an "International Driver's License". Please do not purchase one of these false documents, as it is not an acceptable legal document to drive in the U.S.
For more information, please see our DPS Frequently Asked Questions page.
- Applying for a Texas State ID
For the State ID you will need to complete an application form, show your passport, visa stamp, I-94 card or printout, immigration status documents, proof of residency, and pay the application fee. You must have been a resident of Texas for at least 30 days to apply for a Texas ID Card or Driver License. You may not have both a state ID and Driver License, so if you are applying for a Driver License, there is no need to apply for a state ID.
- Applying for a Texas Driver License (TDL)
- Study the TEXAS DRIVERS HANDBOOK, published by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), as you will need to take a written exam.
- Provide proof of identity.
- Provide proof of valid immigration status.
- Provide proof of Texas residency.
- Provide proof of SSN or sign an affidavit affirming you are not currently eligible for an SSN.
- Provide proof of having completed the Impact Texas Drivers (ITD) requirements.
- Provide proof of Texas vehicle registration and proof of liability insurance for your car if you own one.
- Complete required forms available at any Texas Driver License office.
- Pay the required application fee.
- Pass a vision exam – take your glasses or contact lenses if you need them to drive.
- Pass a written exam – the exam consists of two parts, road rules and road signs. The passing score is 70% on these two sections.
- Pass a driving exam – upon passing the written exam you will need to schedule a driving exam (please note that you will usually not be able to take this road test on the same day). You will need to provide your own car for the driving test. If you do not own a car, you may use a rental. Please note that unfortunately Zipcar is no longer available to use for road tests.
- For individuals between the ages of 18 to 24, you will also require proof of having taken an approved driver's education course. For approved courses, click here.
- For additional information, please see our DPS Frequently Asked Questions page.
- DPS now offers an option to get in line online, once you have selected which location you will visit. We recommend taking advantage of this service, as otherwise wait times can be several hours.
- You must provide a properly registered and insured car to drive for the exam, you may rent one if you have not bought one yet. When you go to the DPS office to take the skills test, the DPS officer who administers the test will inspect the vehicle before setting out on the road. A score of 70% is also required for passing. After the test, the officer will go over the results with you, explaining the errors you made. If you do not pass, you may take the skills test two more times within 90 days without having to pay the fee again. If you pass that test, a receipt will be issued. This will reflect your driver's license number and may be used for 60 days or until you receive your license in the mail.
- DPS Frequently Asked Questions
- Contact the DPS office if you do not receive the license within 60 days.
- Any time you move, notify DPS of your change of address within 10 days. You will have to go to a DPS location in person to update your address on your driver's license or state ID.
- Obey all laws when driving. Do not take unnecessary risks. Be a polite and considerate driver.
- Alcohol and drugs, even prescription or over-the-counter drugs, and mixing medications, can affect your driving skills. Penalties for driving while intoxicated (DWI) are strictly enforced.
- Always carry your driver's license when driving.
- Buying a Car
Getting around in Houston without a car is not easy; yet owning a car is not a simple matter. One can never seem to be free of worry when they have a car. Some problem, responsibility, or detail presents itself daily: registration, insurance, inspections, license tag renewal, and maintenance, maintenance, maintenance! Still, most people cannot seem to resist the lure of owning this bright, shiny, powerful expression of who they are – or who they think they are – no matter how much trouble a car may be. Are you one of those who HAS to have a car? (Most of us are!) If so, you need to be aware of a few things before you even think of shopping for that Dream Machine. Otherwise you may want to take a look at our "Surviving in Houston without a Car" article.
Purchasing a new car is great – if you can afford it. International students seldom have established credit, and thus, must pay cash for their cars. This puts most, then, in the position of looking at used cars which usually do not require credit references and most of the time can be purchased with cash. However, if you are not careful, purchasing a used car may cost more in the long run. It pays to be informed when making any purchase. Especially when buying a car from a private seller, there are several things one must learn about to ensure that they are in compliance with the law and not being scammed. Students and scholars at Rice have provided OISS with the following information:
- Get an overview on used car prices. Very helpful free sites are Edmund's Automobile Buyer's Guide and Kelley's Blue Book.
- Before making a test drive: Find out if you need liability insurance. In some cases, the current owner's insurance will cover any driver. Many times, however, if you want to drive on public streets, you will need your own liability policy first. If at all possible, have the car inspected by a mechanic before you make any commitment to buying it.
- Before buying the car: Get all the information on automobile insurance policies, including liability, comprehensive, and collision costs for the vehicle model, make, and year. Get the vehicle identification number. Ask to see the Title ("Certificate of Title") of the car. All the information needed to inquire about insurance for this particular car will appear on the Title. (This will also prove that the person selling you the car is the owner). Important: Make sure that no liens are recorded on the Title. (If money is owed on the car, another name will appear in the space for "lienholder.") In addition, the "clear" Title (no debts are held against the car) is blue, and the temporary Title (proof of sole ownership has not yet been issued) is red.
- Make arrangements with the insurance company you have chosen to begin the coverage, especially the liability insurance required by law, before you meet with the seller to finalize the transaction. Learn more about car insurance here. Types of Car Insurance include:
- Liability: Liability insurance is required by law. It is illegal to drive without it. If you cause a crash, this type of insurance pays for the other driver’s damaged car.
- Collision: Collision insurance is not required, but is recommended. In the event that you are in an accident that is not your fault, collision insurance will pay for the expenses to repair your car.
- Comprehensive Coverage: Comprehensive coverage is not required, but can be very useful. This type of insurance pays for any damage to your car that is not caused by an accident involving another car. If your car is stolen, damaged in a natural disaster, caught on fire, or hit by a falling object, this type of insurance will cover it.
- When buying the car: Take the amount of money agreed upon and in the form agreed upon (cash, check, etc.) to the pre-arranged site of the sale. Complete the form titled "Bill of Sale and Invoice." Both buyer and seller must sign. It is preferable to have the signatures notarized, but if there is no notary at the site of the sale, it is good idea to take someone with you who can witness the transaction. Complete the form "Application for Texas Certificate of Title." Be sure the instructions are printed on the back of the form. The seller signs on line 22; the buyer signs on line 23. The buyer and seller also sign on the indicated lines on the back of the Title.
- Where to buy a car – Private Seller vs. Dealership:
- Private Seller: Private sellers are typically people who are trying to sell their car. It is usually cheaper to buy a pre-owned car from a private seller than a dealership, but it is much more time consuming. Private sellers can be found on websites such as Autotrader, Craigslist, and Cars.com. Be careful when meeting with a private seller. Always meet during the daytime in a public space, and bring someone with you. Make sure to watch out for possible scams such as someone trying to sell you a car that is in bad condition. It is also recommended to research the car beforehand and negotiate with the seller!
- Dealership: Buying a car at a dealership can be more expensive, but it’s an easier and more reliable process. Dealerships have both new and used cars. It should be noted that car salespeople work on commission, meaning that they get a percentage of the sale they made, so the higher the price of the car, the better it is for them. It would be advisable to take a friend with you and to make sure you carefully read and understand everything before making a decision to get the best possible deal. Again, research and negotiate! If the price seems too high for the condition/model of the car, it might be possible to drive the price down.
- After buying the car: Take the Title, "Application for Texas Certificate of Title," and the "Bill of Sale and Invoice" to a Harris County Tax Office. You will pay a fee and the sales tax on the vehicle (approximately 6.25% of the sales price of the car) to transfer the Title to you, the new owner. The seller need not go to the Tax Office with you. You should receive your Title by mail within 4 to 6 weeks. For more information on how to register your car, click here.
- You may also consider purchasing an AAA (American Automobile Association) membership, which costs about $5/month. The AAA has 24-hour roadside assistance that will help you if you get a flat tire, need a jumpstart, break down on the road. You can learn more about their services at www.aaa.com
- Zipcar Rental
Perhaps you don’t want to buy a car, but you need one occasionally for moving, shopping, or going on a road trip.
Become a member of the Zipcar program on campus! Any international student or scholar who is 18 years of age or older with an international or U.S. driver license may sign up for this program for a $25 membership fee. Once you sign up, you can rent the car by the hour or by the day and not have to worry about gas or insurance since it is included in the rental price. You can reserve the car online and let yourself in with your Zipcard. Please note that unfortunately Zipcar is no longer available to use for DPS road tests when applying for a U.S. driver license.
If you do not have a U.S. driver license, you will need to submit a driving record from your home country. Further information about this requirement is available on https://support.zipcar.com/hc/en-us/articles/115012010647-Applying-with-a-Non-US-Driver-s-License.
Find out more about the Zipcar and sign up at https://www.zipcar.com/universities/rice-university.