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The International Student’s Guide To Getting Your Driver’s License in CNY

The International Student’s Guide To Getting Your Driver’s License in CNY

It’s a simple reality of life in the USA. You have to have a driver’s license. As an international student, you will need to have a valid and easily understood I.D. to not only drive in the states, but to also be eligible for better rates on car insurance—A massive savings over a 4-year student stay.

A driver’s license can also help you enjoy life’s simple luxuries. You can stay in hotels, enter bars, and possibly apply for a job.

The following steps make this process clear and easy: First you will need a “learner’s permit”. This would legally allow you to drive a car, once you complete the following preliminary steps:

You must complete a 5-hour pre-licensing course, conduct a supervised practice driving test, take an official road test, and finally receive your driver’s license.

Get a Learner’s Permit

1. 6 Points of Proof of Identity

People in New York State who apply for a driver’s license must present 6 points of proof of identity.

The qualified materials for international students usually include: passport, I20, Student ID Card, Transcript, Social Security Card (SSN) or letter of Social Security ineligibility letter, debit card or credit card.

  • Transcript:

International students at Syracuse University should bring the student ID card to Steele Hall 106 to receive your transcript. New students can even receive a blank transcript. Your transcript plus your I20, student ID card would suffice as proof of your identity as an international student.

  • SSN/ A letter of SSN ineligibility:

If you do not have SSN, you are required to get a letter of SSN ineligibility at the Syracuse Social Security Office. Make sure you bring your passport, I20, SUID, and transcripts, and explain to the staff that you are in the process of applying for a driver’s license . Note that this letter is valid for 30 days. It must be valid on the date that you take the written exam, so make sure you do some careful planning, to avoid repeating this step.

Syracuse Social Security Office

Address: Federal Building 4th Floor, 100 S Clinton St, Syracuse, NY 13261

Phone: 1-800-772-1213; 1-800-325-0778

Office Hours: Mon, Tues, Thurs, Fri: 09:00 AM – 04:00 PM; Wed: 09:00 AM – 12:00 PM; Sat & Sun: Closed

2. Practice Tests
Most questions of the written exam are selected from practice tests. If you are a Chinese International student, you can also choose to take a Chinese version of the exam.

To pass the written test, you must answer at least 14 out of the 20 multiple-choice questions correctly. In general, if you practice these tests, it will be easy for you to pass the real exam.

The following are links are for the practice exam in both English and Chinese. You can also take the test in many other languages including Spanish, French, Greek, Bosnian, Italian, and Russian, amongst several other language selections.

Driver’s Manual & Practice Tests:

Chinese Practice Tests:

3. Take The Written Exam

As an international student in Syracuse, the most convenient place to take the written exam would be at the Department of Motor Vehicles at Western Lights Shopping Center, 4671 Onondaga Blvd. You are also free to take the exam at a number of different locations in CNY area.

In order to reduce the waiting time before exam, you can make a reservation in advance at the official website:

Remember to bring all the materials to prove your identity, on the day of your exam. You will not be allowed to take the exam if any of your materials are missing or incomplete.

When you arrive at DMV, you must notify a staff member that you are taking the written exam and you have made a reservation. The staff will give you a queue number and a form, which you must complete before you are called.

If all your materials are valid, you will need to take a photo which will be present on your driver’s license. Make sure you are groomed and ready, because re-takes are not always permitted.

After you have finished the exam, the staff will grade your exam immediately. If you pass the written test, you will be charged $64.25 and will receive a temporary permit.  You are likely to receive the official learner’s permit in 2 weeks. If you do not pass, you can take it again for no additional fee. There is no limit to how many times you can take the written test.

Syracuse DMV Office:

Address: Western Lights Shopping Center, 4671 Onondaga Blvd, Syracuse, NY 13219

Phone: +1 518-486-9786

Office Hours: Mon-Fri: 8:30am-4:00pm; Sat & Sun: Closed. (You cannot take written test after 3:30pm.)

Complete a 5-hour Pre-Licensing Course

This course is about knowledge of safe driving. Every driving school in New York State offers a 5-hour pre-licensing course, which generally costs around $40. You can find nearby driving schools online, and compare prices if you are on somewhat of a budget.

You are required to bring your learner’s permit when you take the course. Upon successful completion, you will receive a certificate which will allow you take the road test. Your Pre-Licensing Course Certificate is valid for one year, and it must be valid on the date that you make your road test appointment.

If you are an international student of Syracuse University, Branch’s Driving School is one of the better choices. Classes are offered at the university every Sunday. Online registration is slightly cheaper, costing you a total of $36 as opposed to $40 or more.

Pre-Licensing Course registration of Branch’s Driving School:

Conduct Supervised Practice Driving

Professional driving lessons in the US are relatively expensive, which means at this point, you should consider obtaining your driver’s license as an investment.

A 45 minute course usually charges around $60. If you do not want to go to driving school for any reason, you can hire a private coach or simply ask a friend who is twenty-one years-old or older, with a state registered driver’s license to teach you.

The practice items should include: steering, acceleration, braking, clutch/gears, Speed, following distance, traffic signs, signals and markings, stopping position, lane selection and position, communication, observation, anticipate and react.

More information about prepare for your road test:

Take Road Test

1.Make an Appointment for the Road Test

It is recommended that you file for a road test 2-3 months in advance.  You are not required to take your road test in the area of the state in which you live.

Registration online:

Registration by phone: 1-518-402-2100

2. Take the Road Test

You need to bring to the road test your learner’s permit and original copy of your Pre-licensing Course Certificate. You also need a vehicle to drive during the test that has a valid registration and inspection, operates properly and is in clean condition. You will also need a driver that is twenty-one years-old or older, and also has a valid driver’s license. Arrive up to 30 minutes before the time of your test.

You do not need to pay for the first two road tests, if you do not pass your first two road tests, you are then required to pay an additional  $10.00 fee.

After you passed the road test, you will get an interim license that allows you to drive. You  should then expect your your official driver’s license in 2 weeks.

More information about the road test:

Tips for passing road test:

Now that you have received your license, it’s important to re-familiarize yourself with New York state driving laws.Be vigilant, wear your seatbelt, and remember to keep proof of your new-found freedom on the road, securely in your wallet or dashboard.

About The Author


This site celebrates the people places, and culture that make Central New York one of the most vibrant and livable regions in the country. From Auburn to Utica, from Syracuse, to Ithaca, this is LivableCNY.

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