How to get your NYS Drivers License

According to New York State Law, once an Australian ex-pat becomes a New York State resident, they have only 30 days to obtain an NYS drivers license, as their Australian license is no longer valid.

At this point there are those reading this chapter who will be arguing “How will the Police know?” Or “I can still rent a car with my Aussie license so why bother to get an NYS drivers license?”

But the law is the law. If you are caught speeding, or involved in a fender bender, lying to a cop (or worse still, a State Trooper) about how long you have lived in New York, your day is going from bad to worse in less than a New York minute.

Definition of Resident per Section 250 (5) of the NY State Vehicle and Traffic Law: “As used in this section, the term ‘resident’ shall mean domiciliary, that is, one who lives in this state with the intention of making it a fixed and permanent abode. It shall be presumptive evidence that a person who maintains a place of abode in this state for a period of at least ninety days is a resident of this state.”

So once you have met the NY State residency; i.e. maintained a New York address for 90 days, you have two choices.  One is to run the risk of being charged with a misdemeanor.  This understandably could have serious consequences the next time you reenter the US as it may be on your permanent record.

The other is to obey the law and apply for an NYS Learner Permit.  Australians typically have years of experience driving, so most find getting their NY State Driver License a no-brainer.

The Process.

Step 1:  Study the NYS Drivers License Road Rules.

You can go to the NYS DMV website to study and then take the online practice test.  Each state has its own website, and here is New York’s:

Step 2:  Get your Learner Permit by sitting the Road Rules Test.

Go to your local DMV and sit the Road Rules Test.  It is a multiple-choice test with around fifteen questions, that take about twenty minutes to complete.  The questions are similar to the online test.

Be sure to pass! 

A temporary learner permit will be issued after you pass the test, and your card will be mailed to you in about two weeks.  There is good news for ex-pats with a current Australian license.  Once you have a NY State learner permit, you are allowed to drive unsupervised if you want to fly solo.

Step 3:  Register with a Driving School. 

There are dozens in New York and you can search the web or use Yelp to find one closest to you.

Step 4:  Take the 5-hour pre-licensing course.

You will be subjected to hours of videos talking about basic road rules.  This can be quite mundane as much of it you will already know.  However, there will probably be a few things uncovered that you did not know, so it is nonetheless a valuable experience.

Step 5:  Take a few driving lessons.

You may only need one or two lessons to get the feel of driving on the right-hand side of the road.  Alternatively, if you live in New York, have a friend drive you across the GWB to a New Jersey Mall in Bergan County on a Sunday as they are closed.  It’s like having your own private driving course!

You can go to town practicing left and right turns, three-point turns as well as parallel (reverse) parking with minimal risk of hitting another vehicle – curbs, posts, and other inanimate objects notwithstanding.

Driving on the right-hand side of the road can be quite a frightening experience, even for the most seasoned Aussie driver.  A simple Mantra when driving in the US is to repeat “Keep Right, Keep Right, Keep Right”.  That way, whether you are going in a straight line, or making left or right turns, you are assured to be reminded which is the correct lane, and the side of the road to be driving!

Step 6:  Take the road test. 

Be sure to pick a DMV in a quiet neighborhood.  Also, have a friend or your driving instructor take you there.  If you drive there by yourself, it may be difficult to explain why you are driving unsupervised on a learner permit!

The road test takes ten to fifteen minutes.  With wait times, it could take up to an hour.  Watch out for the automatic fails including speeding, crossing the road divider line, and mounting the curb.

Step 7:  You are mailed your NY State Driver License.

Assuming you pass, your NY State Driver License will automatically be mailed to you in about two weeks’ time.

You are now good to go!

Why you should get a NY State Driver License.

The NY State DMV has created a video highlighting the differences between the new REAL ID, the Enhanced Driver License, and the traditional New York State license.

Most Australians will not qualify for the Enhanced Driver License as you must be a US citizen, but the Real license can be used for ID to fly domestically and enter US Federal buildings.

This is another great reason to get your NY State license as eliminates the need to carry your Passport for ID when flying on US Domestic flights!

Click here to read “Moving to the US for Aussies” from the beginning

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