Applying for a New York State Driver License as an expat

Do you want to transfer/convert/exchange your Australian Driver License (or nearly any other nationality license) for a New York State license?

According to the New York DMV site: “You can drive in New York State with a valid driver license from another country. You don’t need to apply for a New York State driver license unless you become a New York State resident.”

So, if you are not a New York State resident and hold a license from another country, you can drive in New York State! Congrats. (Not sure if you’re considered a non-resident? Find the definition here: https://dmv.ny.gov/more-info/moving-new-york)

If you are a NY State resident, like I was, you will need to apply! Yay. Put simply – my Australian (and many others from different countries) license could not be transferred/exchanged/converted. It does not matter what your driver history in your home country has been. I had held a full car, motorbike and boat license in Australia for 10+ years and with hundreds of road hours on the road but still had to reapply.

When I decided to apply for my NY Driver License, I needed to follow the steps listed on the DMV website: https://dmv.ny.gov/driver-license/get-driver-license

Below was my detailed experience:

Step 1:  Determine what license class and type you need

  • I selected class D – Operator.

Step 2:  Get a learner permit

  • I found my closest DMV center to sit the exam.
  • I was given 90 minutes to complete 20 questions. The test was held on a touchscreen computer.
  • The passing grade was 14 correct answers (70%) – and I *just* passed (I had not studied the learner’s manual beforehand).
  • Once I passed the test, I had my photo taken, I had to sit an eye test, and then pay for my Learner’s Permit.
  • I was then provided an interim Learner’s Permit which allowed me to book in for the mandatory 5-hour pre-licensing course. I needed to carry my interim Learner’s Permit with me until my official Learner’s Permit ID arrived in the mail.

Step 3:  Practice driving and take a pre-licensing course

Pre-licensing course: The DMV website says that the class should cover the following subjects:

  • The DMV point system.
  • Rules of the road.
  • Car-restraint systems and the laws of physics.
  • Defensive driving techniques.
  • The effects of attitude, emotions, and skills on driver safety.
  • Drug and alcohol impairment.

However, the course I sat covered only three areas which were: the rules of the road, defensive driving, and drug and alcohol impairment. To cut a long, potentially boring post short, here are pics of the notes I took in class.

The teacher cut the class short at 4 hours and let us all go home early. Yay!

The overall message I took away from this $50 class was to never, ever, react to road rage because you may get shot in the face… yep, that’s pretty much it.

NY State Mandatory Pre-Licensing Class notes NY State Mandatory Pre-Licensing Class notes NY State Mandatory Pre-Licensing Class notes

Practice driving: I booked in for a driving lesson to get an evaluation of my driving technique. My driving instructor met with me outside our apartment on an early Saturday morning and we drove around Manhattan. He explained about the different stop signs and gave me hints of what would be assessed on the day of the exam. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to parallel park properly since the driver’s side is on the left, so my instructor had me practice parking up to 8 times and gave me pointers for the park.

At the end of the lesson my instructor said I should book in for the test. I was extremely happy with that news as it meant I didn’t need to pay for more driving lessons.

NY State Driver License

Step 4: Pass a road test

  • I sat my driver’s license exam on a Thursday. I was asked what time I wanted to sit my test by my driving school. I asked for first thing in the morning in Queens. My actual appointment ended up being at 3PM in Yonkers.
  • I paid was for the “Regular Road Test Package” which included a 90 minute simulated road test, road test appointment, and car rental for the test.
  • I met my driving instructor at the driving school at 1PM.  I drove the school car to Yonkers through Manhattan lunchtime traffic! I think that was considered as the “90 minute simulated road test”.
  • When we arrived at Yonkers, we parked the Learner vehicle along the side of a road. The test didn’t start at a DMV centre but on this side of the road. There was a queue of about 7-8 other cars waiting to sit the test. There were three DMV testing officers that walked along the road. They took turns popping in and out of the cars they were assessing. (I was able to sit my test a little earlier than booked as I had arrived at the driving school an hour ahead of time.)
  • My test went for about 10 minutes. The DMV officer that tested me printed out what looked like a shop receipt out of a handheld device which stated the areas I failed in. I was a little confused at the end of the test as I thought I had failed. But instead, I only lost 20 points.  The fail mark was 30 points.


Applying for a NY Driver License as an Australian overall
Overall, the entire re-licensing experience was okay.

It was expensive (although it could have cost a lot more if I had more lessons) and took quite a lot of time. Below were my expenses for getting my NY Drivers License (2015):

  • $77.50 – Learner’s Permit
  • $50 – Pre-Licensing Course
  • $60 – first driving lesson
  • $240 – driving test

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.