I am an expat US national in Sweden and am trying to find out if I can drive a car/rent a car legally when I come back to visit in Ohio without using an Ohio or other US state driving license. My Ohio license is about to expire and I cannot renew it since I do not have a permanent Ohio address. I do have a legal Swedish driving license and understand I can also get an international one based upon this. Somewhere long ago I came across that this generally was a 'catch 22' type of situation – US citizens must drive on valid US licenses when in the US AND US citizens not permanently residing in a given state cannot get a drivers license. Not sure this is actually the law, hence hoping for some up-to-date info on this from the experienced here. So (a) can I as a US citizen drive legally in the US (Ohio) on my Swedish driving license? (b) Can I use, do I need or is it better to use an international driving license instead? Sweden is listed as a signatory to the 1949 Multilateral Road Traffic Convention. And I cannot find an answer to my specific question on the Ohio BMV site. Thanks in advance for any help you can offer.

  • Everytime I've gone back to visit family, the rental car companies accepted my full UK drivers license without question. I've never heard of any requirement that U.S. citizens must drive on a U.S. license. That is typically a state-by-state decision and all state make accomodations for foreign licenses (especially for tourist purposes).
    – ouflak
    Jul 11, 2017 at 14:52
  • There is no requirement for a US citizen to use a US license in the US. Licensing is done in the jurisdiction of residence. You reside in Sweden. You have a Swedish license. It's that simple. (Do you have a source for the claim that a US citizen needs a US license to drive in the US?)
    – phoog
    Jul 11, 2017 at 15:34
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    People often confuse "citizen" and "resident" when discussing things like this; it's possible that your question results from an imprecise discussion of the problem. Here's an example of a law firm getting it wrong; it contrasts foreign residents driving in the US with US citizens driving abroad (it should say "when US residents visit..."): riddelllaw.com/ohio-international-foreign-drivers-license
    – phoog
    Jul 11, 2017 at 17:02
  • @phoog that is a direct quite taken from the source I used in my answer. I believe it is clearly wrong as a Us citizen who is a resident and licensed to drive in a country that has not signed onto the Geneva treaty, they will not be covered.
    – StrongBad
    Jul 11, 2017 at 18:54
  • First, thank you all for taking time & effort to respond. @Phoog, I'm sorry but no I don't have a source for my statement. I just remember it from some article and/or related expat discussion from a number of years ago. Now that it becomes more real I'd like to know for sure. And I also agree that the biggest problems are imprecise descriptions and more or less unconscious assumptions that become built into such descriptions. For example, mention 'resident of a foreign country'' to most any American in the US and it will likely be assumed to mean a foreign person – non-American.
    – rbsweden
    Jul 14, 2017 at 8:15

1 Answer 1


The Ohio motor vehicle law says:

Motorists who are residents of other nations and who are bona fide tourists visiting the United States may drive up to one year with their own national license plates (registration tags) on their vehicle and with their own driver license. (United States motorists may drive in foreign countries under the same conditions.)

It goes on to say:

Every visiting motorist from a ratifying country should also carry an International Driving Permit, but this is not obligatory. This permit, printed in the official languages of the United Nations, is helpful when local police speak only one language and may be essential in case of emergency. Even with an International Driving Permit, visiting motorists must have a valid license issued in their country of residence.

As a side note, I also could not find this info on the Ohio BMV but I got an answer from their online chat service in under a minute. I was pretty impressed.

  • Did you also ask whether this applies to US citizens? I imagine an argument that "bona fide tourist" excludes US citizens.
    – phoog
    Jul 11, 2017 at 15:36
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    @phoog I asked as a US citizen living in Sweden. The guidance says nothing about citizenship and I don't see why a US citizen expat who is bona fide resident of another country couldn't be a bona fide tourist in the US.
    – StrongBad
    Jul 11, 2017 at 15:54
  • I agree that a US citizen can be a bona fide tourist, but i imagine that some people might come to the conclusion that a bona fide tourist can only be someone in B-2 status. I would disagree with them, but I wouldn't be surprised if someone were to make that argument.
    – phoog
    Jul 11, 2017 at 16:53
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    @brhans it doesn't say you can take the tags off your car. It says you can drive your car with your/its tags in a foreign country. In other words if you ship your Ohio registered car to the UK for your holiday you can drive it with the Ohio tags.
    – StrongBad
    Jul 11, 2017 at 21:50
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    More realistically, Canadians can drive their cars with Ontario (or other province) plates into the States and don't need to get US plates when they cross the border. They use their Ontario drivers license too. This happens on the scale of thousands of drivers a day. Jul 13, 2017 at 13:27

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