Driving In the U.S.

This page provides an overview of various aspects when driving a car in Massachusetts. Detailed information about obtaining a Massachusetts Driver's License can be found on the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) website at www.massrmv.com.

Eligibility Note: To comply with the Federal REAL ID Act, Massachusetts requires lawful presence in the U.S. for at least 12 months. The 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 Liquor IDs.

Driving in Massachusetts

Driving practices differ in different parts of the US. It is important to understand Boston driving patterns, so you can avoid an accident. Many Americans from other parts of the U.S. think Boston drivers are rude and aggressive. Of course you should not go native and drive this way yourself! But it is important to drive defensively—you should always assume that another car might turn right from the left-hand lane, or go through a red light, or cut in front of you. Many international newcomers choose to take a one– or two-hour driving lesson with a professional driver education company when they first arrive. This might be an excellent idea for you, especially if you come from a country with very different traffic rules and driving habits.

Seat Belt Law: In Massachusetts, everyone in a car must wear a safety restraint. Children must ride in a federally-approved infant, toddler, or booster seat until they are at least 5 years old and weigh over 40 pounds (18 kg). Then, they (and adults) must wear a seat belt, whether they are in front or back seat of the car.

Text Messaging Law: Massachusetts law prohibits operators of motor vehicles from using any electronic device, including mobile telephones, unless the device is used in hands-free mode.

Speed Limit: In Massachusetts, maximum speed limits vary from 55 to 65 miles per hour

Operating Out of State or Foreign Vehicles

All enrolled students who operate a motor vehicle registered in another state or country are required to complete a Nonresident Student Driver Statement (MA RMV form). This form can be completed along with the student permit application. Any student that completes this form will receive a free Nonresident Student permit.

You should print the nonresident student driver statement and bring it with you when you pick up your campus parking permit from Babson Public Safety.

Driving in the U.S. with a Foreign License

Individuals with a valid foreign license may be able to drive temporarily in Massachusetts. For information about the requirements to drive in Massachusetts with a foreign license, including English translation, visit the RMV webpage. Students interested in obtaining an International Driving Permit that translates their license into English need to research and obtain it in their home country. Pay close attention to information on the RMV page linked above about scams.

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

In order to complete a request with the RMV, you will need several documents that prove your identity, residency and signature. Check your documents against their list of acceptable documents as a document can only count for one category. Use the RMV's Online Service Center to make sure your documentation is in order before going in person. Most documents must be original. Some of the documents you may need include:

  • Social Security number (SSN) card or an SSN Denial Notice issued within the past 60 days
  • Printed I-94 Arrival/Departure record
  • Valid passport
  • F-1 or J-1 student visa (except Canadians & Bermudians)
  • Printed Form I-20 (F status) or Original Form DS-2019 (J status)
  • Current driver’s license from your home country and/or International Driving Permit
  • Proof of Enrollment or Official Transcript (Request from Registrar)
  • 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: International Students may request a Proof of Residency Letter from ISSS if living on campus - however, this letter has been rejected periodically by the RMV and we encourage you to use a different document to confirm your residence if at all possible following the guidelines from the RMV.
  • Find a full-service RMV Service Center and use the RMV Online Service Center to determine your eligibility, documentation requirements, and appointment options.
    • We recommend the Watertown branch, inside the Watertown Mall, at 550 Arsenal St. Watertown, MA.
  • Bring the required documentation.

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.

Once you have a driver’s permit you will have to pass a driving exam. The RMV will need information on your driver’s permit. You will be given the location of your driving exam and instructed on what documents to bring.

Other Types of Massachusetts I.D.

For those who do not drive, the Massachusetts RMV can issue one of two other official identification cards - the Massachusetts State I.D. and Massachusetts Liquor I.D. that look similar to a driver’s license, but they DO NOT extend any driving privileges. To obtain one of these I.D.s, complete the RMV Online Service Center process to get started. Note: some bars and restaurants may have strict policies and only accept a Massachusetts Liquor I.D. (not a Massachusetts State I.D.) as proof of age for purchasing alcohol.

Owning a Car in Massachusetts

If you own or lease a motor vehicle in Massachusetts, you must meet certain obligations to keep your vehicle legally registered and safe for the road:
  • Any vehicle to be driven on public roadways in MA must be insured.
  • Your car must be registered by the end of the month in which you purchase it.
  • The car must also be inspected within 7 days of its purchase.
  • All vehicles must have a Certificate of Title. If you are buying a used car, to legally transfer its ownership to you, the previous owner must sign the title and give it to you. Before buying a used car, be sure to have a mechanic examine it.
  • You must pay 5% sales tax on any vehicle purchased.


Buying a Car

Owning a car can be expensive. Outside the price of buying a car, there are annual fees and maintenance costs. 

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. A dealership will not provide financing if you do not have a Social Security number (SSN). Additional considerations should be made before buying a used car through a private sale, like having a qualified mechanic examine the car to ensure you are clear on the condition of the vehicle. 

  1. Ensure you have a valid driver’s license - whether it is from the U.S. or your home country.
  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.

Many car expenses will be annual.


Car insurance is REQUIRED in the state of Massachusetts. 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 and then renew the registration every two years. To register a vehicle you must provide proof of car insurance, the bill of sale, and the certificate of ownership (the “title”) to the RMV. 


You must have your car inspected within seven days of registering it and then each year. Certain gas stations can inspect your car for the required safety features. You also can find a list on the RMV website. Expired registration is something you may get ticketed for or pulled over by local police.


Each year, you will have to 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.
  • Street cleaning is common between April - November where parking is prohibited on certain days to accommodate a monthly street cleaning schedule. It is common for cars to be towed if not moved.
  • During the winter months, snow emergencies may be declared and parking will be prohibited on many streets.
  • Wherever you park, carefully read all signage. If you violate parking rules or allow a parking meter to expire, you could receive a parking ticket or your car could be towed.
  • Make sure to pay parking tickets on time or penalties will be assessed, which could be costly and impact your license status.

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 https://support.zipcar.com/hc/en-us/articles/220333808 .

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