Driving In the U.S.

The following is an overview. Detailed information, including a listing of fees, check-lists and a complete driver’s manual can be found on the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) website at www.massrmv.com.

Eligibility: To comply with the REAL ID Act, Massachusetts now requires lawful presence in the U.S. for at least 12 months. Common interpretation is that your Certificate of Eligibility (Form I-20 or Form Ds-2019) must have a program end date at least one year/12 months into the future at the time of application for a learner's permit, driver's license or Mass State ID.  This rule does not apply to MA Liquor IDs.

International Driving Permit

You may be able to use your valid home country driver’s license, depending on the country, to drive in Massachusetts temporarily. If your home country’s license is not issued in English, you also are required to have an International Driving Permit (you must obtain this in your home country before traveling to the U.S.). The International Driving Permit is valid only for one year from your date of entry into the U.S.

Driving in the U.S. with a Foreign License

Individuals with a valid foreign license may be able to drive in Massachusetts. For information about the requirements to drive in Massachusetts with a foreign license visit the RMV webpage https://www.mass.gov/service-details/driving-in-massachusetts-on-a-foreign-drivers-license.

Obtaining a Massachusetts State Driver’s Permit/License

Note: the following is standard guidance. If you currently possess an out-of-state permit or license from the U.S., Canada, or Mexico, the required documents and application process is different. Details can be found on the RMV website at www.massrmv.com.

1. Gather Required Identity/Signature/Residency Documents

All documents must be original. We suggest:

  • Social Security number (SSN) card or SSN Denial Letter issued within the past 30 days
  • Printed I-94 Arrival/Departure record
  • Valid passport Form I-20 (F status) or Form DS-2019 (J status)
  • Current driver’s license from your home country and/or International Driving Permit
  • Proof of Enrollment at Babson (Registrar's Office)
  • An additional document proving Massachusetts residency (issued within the past 30 days):
    • Living Off-Campus: This may be a rental lease agreement, a bank statement, a utility bill or cell phone bill with your name and address on it.
    • Living On-Campus: You may request a Proof of Residency Letter from http://www.babson.edu/isss​ if you live on campus. Recently, this letter has been rejected by the RMV; we encourage you to use a different document if at all possible.

Check your documents against their list of acceptable documentsA document can only count for one category. Use the RMV Online Service Center to make sure your documentation is in order before going in person.

2. Pass the Written and Vision Exam to Get a Driver’s Permit

  • Visit a full-service RMV branch. A list of branches can be found at http://www.massrmv.com/BranchMap.aspx.
    • We recommend the Watertown branch, inside the Watertown Mall, at 550 Arsenal St. Watertown, MA.
  • Check-in at the registration desk upon arrival.
  • Bring the required documentation (see step 1).

Note: a driver’s permit is NOT a driver’s license. If you have never had a license, you are advised to enroll in a driver’s education program.

3. Pass the Driving Exam to Get a Driver’s License

Once you’re issued a driver’s permit, call the RMV at 1-866-627-7768 to schedule a driving exam. The RMV will need information from your driver’s permit. You will be given the location of your driving exam and instructed on what documents to bring.

Other Types of I.D.

For those who do not drive, the Massachusetts RMV can issue one of two other official identification cards. The Massachusetts I.D. and Massachusetts Liquor I.D. look similar to a driver’s license, but they DO NOT extend any driving privileges. To obtain one of these I.D.s, follow steps 1-2 above. Some bars and restaurants only accept a Massachusetts Liquor I.D. (not the standard Massachusetts I.D.) as proof of age for purchasing alcohol. 

Buying a Car

Owning a car is expensive and maintaining a car (especially if pre-owned/used) may be a constant financial burden. Before buying a used car, you should have a qualified mechanic examine the car. Massachusetts has a Buyer’s Right to Return Law (“lemon law”) that allows the buyer of a used car to return it for a full refund under certain conditions.

There are two options when purchasing a car: through a licensed car dealership or privately (from the previous owner). A dealership may provide more security and assistance with financing and with registering the car. Note: a dealership will not provide financing if you do not have a Social Security number (SSN).

Suggested Steps When Purchasing a Car:

  1. Ensure you have a valid driver’s license.
  2. Choose the car (new or used, through a dealership vs. privately, with financing or not).
  3. Purchase car insurance (you may pay a higher fee if you don’t have a U.S. driver’s license).
  4. Register the car with the Massachusetts RMV; you will need a driver’s license or an SSN, as well as proof of car insurance.
    • Obtaining a Liquor I.D. may be helpful to register a leased/purchased vehicle for those not eligible to get a Massachusetts license.
  5. Complete all paperwork to purchase the car.

Insurance and Registration

Car insurance is REQUIRED. Rates vary based on the type of coverage, where you live, the type/age of the car, and the age of the driver. Car insurance rates also may be higher if you have received speeding tickets or have been involved in car accidents in the past. Most insurance companies will not insure you if you do not have a valid U.S. driver’s license. Some will do so but at a much higher rate.

If you buy a car, you are REQUIRED to register it with the State of Massachusetts. To do so, provide proof of car insurance, the bill of sale, and the certificate of ownership (the “title”) to the RMV.

Inspection and Taxes

You must have your car inspected within seven days of registering it. Certain gas stations can inspect your car for the required safety features. The insurance agent can give you a list of garages that will inspect your car. You also can find a list on the RMV website.

Remember, many car expenses will be annual expenses. Each year, you will have to insure your car, have your car inspected, and pay an “excise tax” on the value of your car. The town in which you keep your car will notify you of the amount of excise tax you owe each year.


Many Boston-area streets require a parking permit that can be obtained only if your car is registered in that town. Some towns do not allow overnight street parking and/or limit daytime street parking to two hours. Some towns prohibit parking on certain street-cleaning days.

During the winter months, snow emergencies may be declared and parking will be prohibited on many streets. Carefully read all signage before parking. If you violate parking rules or allow a parking meter to expire, you will receive a parking ticket and your car could be towed. Parking tickets must be paid or penalties will be assessed.

Rental Cars and Zipcar

In order to rent a car in the Boston area, you must have a valid driver’s license, a major credit card, and be at least 25 years old. Some companies will rent to drivers under the age of 25, but at a higher rate.

Zipcar provides another alternative for the occasional use of a car for fewer than 24 hours. It provides cars for rent at a much lower price than a regular rental. Two Zipcars are available on campus; details can be found at http://www.zipcar.com/Babson. To join, you pay a membership fee, make a security deposit, and choose a trial or permanent plan. It is then possible to use a car for several hours to shop, sightsee, etc. Requirements for renting a Zipcar with a foreign license can be found at http://members.zipcar.com/apply/foreign-drivers.