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It is sometimes stated that non-US citizens can drive up to one-year on their foreign country license (as long as that country is part of the Geneva Compact), the one-year date being computed from the entry date stamped on the I-94 form.

The particular case I'm interested in is J-1 Scholar in NY state, but perhaps this is more general.

Is the above statement correct? if so, is there an official reference?

Is it a correct interpretation that such date is computed from the most recent entry date stamped on I-94? If someone were to travel and leave/enter the US multiple times per year, then effectively could they drive on their foreign driver license as long as J1 status is unchanged?

Is the possession of an 'international driving permit' of any relevance to the above?

See related question, although it does not completely clarify my doubts.

  • In general, citizenship is irrelevant to driver licencing. A US citizen who holds an Ontario license or a Moroccan license is subject to the same rules concerning driving in the US as a Canadian or Finnish citizen who holds an Ontario license or a Moroccan license. – phoog Oct 10 at 14:35
  • I had several colegues in J-1s that were is the US for about 1 year a half. Very few of them got US licenses but all of them were still able to use their home country license to rent a vehicle and drive in different states. Also, only a few had an IDP. That said, while you'll be most likely fine, I'm no sure about the nuances of the law, just as they discussed in the related question, to give you advice on what to do if you get in trouble. – IanDan Oct 10 at 14:42
  • @IanDantas that a rental agency will rent a car to a driver does not necessarily imply that the police will regard the driver as duly licensed. – phoog Oct 10 at 14:44
  • @phoog Agreed. Actually I think that was the case in the related question. – IanDan Oct 10 at 19:03
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    When I moved to California on an L1 visa I wrote to the California DMV asking essentially this question. The rules may have changed since, but they told me I could drive on my UK license for one year, provided I was not being paid to drive. I kept the letter with me in case questions came up. – Patricia Shanahan Oct 10 at 23:37
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The Geneva Convention on Road Traffic has a 1-year limitation, so countries are not required to apply it to drivers or vehicles if they have been present for more than one year.

The convention generally applies to "international traffic." If someone becomes a resident of a new jurisdiction, however, that person may presumably be considered no longer to be "in international traffic." That is the only way I can think of to reconcile the tension between the provisions of the convention and the provision of New York law that new residents may not use an out-of-state or foreign license after 30 days of residence.

The New York page linked in the previous paragraph also says, however, that

Students from other states, countries or nations who attend school in New York State are normally not considered residents of New York State, so they don’t need to exchange their current driver license.

There's no mention of a 1-year limit. The Geneva convention does not require a 1-year limit, it merely provides that if contracting states impose a limit, it may not be shorter than one year. The actual text:

No Contracting State shall be required to extend the benefit of the provisions of this Convention to any motor vehicle or trailer, or to any driver having remained within its territory for a continuous period exceeding one year.

Another page from the New York DMV is Driving in New York State. It leads to a similar conclusion:

  • It mentions no time limit for nonresidents driving with out-of-state licenses.
  • The only thing mentioned as triggering a need for a New York driver's license is establishing residence in New York.
  • "...students from other states or from other nations who attend school in New York State are usually not considered residents of New York."

So, for New York at least, there's no need to worry about I-94 dates. The law and administrative practice in other jurisdictions is probably different.

  • You might add that the Convention allows (but does not require) states to enact law mandating the visiting driver to have obtained and possess an IDP. I don't know if New York state requires this. – David supports Monica Oct 10 at 15:57
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    @David that's a good point. New York (like, I believe, most US states) does not require an IDP but recommends it (see Driving in New York State, linked in the answer) as an aid to police officers who cannot read the language on the foreign license (many foreign licenses are in English, of course). I recall something from a few years ago in which a southern state (Georgia? Florida?) was requiring them and a federal court said that they could not, but my memory is vague, and I cannot find it now online, so I might be completely wrong about that. – phoog Oct 10 at 19:50
  • Thanks. The statement 'Students from other states, countries or nations who attend school in New York State are normally not considered residents of New York State, so they don’t need to exchange their current driver license.' seems key, and it makes me wonder (i) what 'normally' means and what the reference law/article is, and (ii) whether J1 Scholars are in this category (for example, you become resident for tax purposes after a while). – jj_p Oct 10 at 21:03
  • @jj_p "normally" is, I believe, essentially there as a standard disclaimer. That is, there might be circumstances in which a J-1 student might be found to have become a resident of New York. For example, suppose someone gets an H-1B visa for a job in New York and the person's spouse decides to move to NY with a J-1 visa in order to avoid having to exchange his or her license. A judge might find that improper, that the spouse had in fact established residence in NY, and that the spouse should therefore have a NY license. – phoog Oct 11 at 15:20
  • @jj_p such cases will be rare, though, because several things need to happen before a judge would be in a position to make such a determination, the first couple of which are very improbable: (1) the J-1 student is the subject of a traffic stop; (2) the officer somehow finds out that the student has been in New York for more than 90 days; (3) the officer decides to write a ticket for driving without a license despite the fact that the foreign-licensed driver is a student; (4) the student contests the ticket in court. – phoog Oct 11 at 15:24

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