How do I get a driver's license?

Students often want to get their driver's license while studying in the U.S. You may find information about how to apply for an Oregon Driver's License on the Oregon DMV webpage.

Please remember:

  • If you drive a car, you must follow Oregon motor vehicle law.
  • You must obtain a driver's license. Do not drive a car without a driver's license.
  • You must have insurance for your car.
  • You must register your car with the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles.

Social Security Number Requirement

Since Feb. 4, 2008, all applicants for Oregon driver's licenses, instruction permits and ID cards are required to provide a verifiable Social Security number and at least one other acceptable proof of identification and date of birth.

If you don't have a Social Security number, you must provide one acceptable proof of identity and date of birth. Most likely that will be your valid foreign passport with your Form I-94 (arrival/departure record). You will also be required to sign a Statement of No Social Security Number.

If you have a Social Security number, you must also provide DMV with one acceptable proof of identity and date of birth listed on the Oregon DMV website. Most likely that will be your valid foreign passport with your Form I-94 (arrival/departure record). 

Car Ownership

Insurance

According to Oregon law, a driver must buy car insurance before the car is driven any distance. It is most helpful to have talked to an insurance company before you actually buy a car so you know what the cost will be, and the insurance company will know ahead of time what kind of car you are thinking of buying. The insurance company will give a “proof of insurance” card, which you must keep in your car.

There are three options when purchasing insurance:

  • Liability Insurance 
    Liability insurance is minimum auto coverage that protects other people and their properties if the driver causes an accident.
  • Collision Insurance
    Collision insurance protects your car in case you hit other vehicles, people or non-moving objects like fences or poles. It will cover you, regardless of who was at fault in an accident.
  • Comprehensive Insurance
    Comprehensive covers everything that collision does not and is often referred to as “other than collision.” It protects you from theft, fire, vandalism and severe weather conditions.

Both comprehensive and collision policies are subject to a deductible, which is an amount you have to pay yourself when you file a claim, before the insurer provides the agreed difference. Typical deductibles are between $250 and $1,000.

Buying a Car

A car owner must be prepared to fix any problems with the car and take it to a mechanic for routine maintenance, which is usually an oil change every 3,000 to 5,000 miles.

Before buying a car, it is wise to have someone who knows about buying cars in the U.S. to go with you when you look at the vehicle. Also, it is very important to have a mechanic look at the car before you buy it (usually costs less than $100).

When buying a car, be sure you get a  title to the car, signed by the former owner (if you buy a used car from a private seller), or signed by the dealer whether used or new. Also, be sure the title does not read “Branded.” This means the car was involved in a serious car accident. The title is very important!

After purchasing a car, you will take the title to the DMV (Division of Motor Vehicles) to get a new title in your name. You will also register your car in your name. You will receive a registration card, for which there is a fee. Keep the registration information in your car.

Tips for Buying a Car from a Dealer

  1. Research in advance on the internet. Check websites like Edmunds and Kelley Blue Book to get an idea of pricing.
  2. Bring your Oregon Driver’s License (learn how to obtain one here) and Proof of Insurance to the dealership.
  3. Pick out a vehicle at the dealership and take a thorough test drive. With used cars especially, make sure everything works.
  4. If it is a “pre-owned” car (used), ask for a copy of the Carfax Vehicle Report. Many dealers will use Auto Check instead, as it is less expensive, but it isn’t as accurate as Carfax. Carfax will give you the accident history, number of owners and repair history on the car.
  5. With a used car, ask for a printout of any repair work done at the dealership.
  6. It is recommended to take a used car to a good mechanic (ask George Fox staff for local recommendations) to be thoroughly checked out before buying it. Places like Meinecke and Midas Muffler will often do it at a reasonable price. Don’t take the dealer’s word on the quality of the car; have it checked by somebody other than a car dealership.
  7. If the used car is listed as being a “ certified pre-owned” car from the manufacturer (Ford, BMW, Nissan, etc.), this can be beneficial. These warranties usually cover expensive things like the power train, etc. If it is just a dealership certification, it may only cover a discount price on repair parts.
  8. Ask for everything in writing! Dealerships will not usually honor promises made to you that are not in writing.
  9. If you are buying a new car, insist on seeing the invoice. The invoice is a number below the MSRP (or sticker price). Never pay sticker price. If you have a AAA or Costco membership, you might receive a discount on the price. Let the salesperson know if you have those memberships, and the invoice should reflect a discounted price.
  10. Ask to see a printout of all of the rebates and special programs. These should be given to you in addition to any discount such as Costco. Examples are first-time buyer programs, manufacturer’s rebates, etc.
  11. When you have decided on a car and go to see the finance person, he or she will try to sell you extra warranties on the car. Be cautious. For example, if you are only keeping the car while you are in school for three or four years, do not buy a six-year warranty. Read the contract closely and ask questions if you do not understand everything.
  12. Remember to insist on the best “deal” for yourself.
  13. If you do not understand everything that the dealership or car seller is telling you, leave the dealership and then go back with somebody who knows cars and the buying process a bit better. Good luck!
  14. Here is the link to the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles’ information on purchasing a car.

Obtaining a Permit or License

If you don’t know how to drive on U.S. roads, you will need to study a Oregon Driver’s Manual, which can be found online. Once you have read it, and remember the information, you will need to take a written (computer) test to prove you know the rules of the road. Then you will be issued a permit to drive.

However, that permit is only usable if you have a licensed driver in the passenger seat of the car whenever you are on the road. Never drive with a permit unless you have a licensed driver with you! You must have your permit with you whenever you drive, at all times!

After you have a permit, you should practice driving. When you are ready to apply for a driver’s license, you must schedule an appointment with the DMV for a driver’s test. Know that sometimes it is hard to get a date, so call them early - maybe six weeks ahead is good – depending on if you’ve driven before.

Your Driver's Test

Be sure to check your car ahead of time to make sure everything is in working order - brake lights, tail lights and front lights, low and high beams, and blinker signals. You will drive your car – with a licensed driver with you in the front seat  to the DMV office, arriving about 45 minutes before your appointment. There is paperwork, and you will need to pay fees.

If you pass your on-the-road test, you will have your picture taken and be given a piece of paper with all your information on it, along with your picture. This is your temporary driver’s license. Now you can drive on your own (no need for a licensed driver with you). In a few weeks, you will receive in the mail a laminated license that is about the size of a credit card. You must have it with you every time you drive!

If you do not pass your on-the-road test, do not be discouraged. You can take the test again. You will need to make another appointment.

Private Contractor Testers: There are some businesses that have contracted with the State of Oregon to do driver’s tests. Using these will usually get you a quicker test date, but the cost is significantly more than going through the DMV.

After Your Test

You will need to show both your car registration and proof of insurance, along with your license (or permit), if a policeman should stop you while you are driving.

The title to your car proves you own it, but this should not be kept in the car. Find a safe place for it in your apartment or room!