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One of the first things a new student typically wants to do after entering the United States is get a driver’s license or apply for a Social Security Number (SSN). Like many things, however, correct timing is everything. Following these six simple tips makes the process go much smoother and saves a lot of time in the end.

1. Wait 10 days after you are in the United States.

You may want to apply for a driver's license or SSN right away, but be patient. The 10-day wait allows time for all the government databases to update with your arrival information.

2. Know what you are applying for and if you are eligible.

While you are waiting, talk with your school's designated school official (DSO) to learn more about your state's driving rules and regulations. If you want a SSN, have your DSO confirm that you are eligible before you apply.

3. Make sure your record in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) is up-to-date and in Active status.

SEVIS is the database that contains information for all F non-immigrants in the United States. A DSO manages an F non-immigrant's SEVIS record. The DSO must place your record in Active status when you report to the school or program. Talk with your DSO before you apply for a license of SSN to make sure your record is Active in SEVIS. If your record is not Active when you apply, your application will be rejected.

4. Check your forms.

Check all your forms to make sure your information is correct. This is data integrity. Data integrity is very important because if you have different information on different forms, it will cause delays. Specifically, check your Form I-94, “Arrival/Departure Record,” for handwritten information. If the information on your Form I-94 is different than on your passport or Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Non-immigrant Student Status” please see the DMV Fact Sheet for more information.

5. Wait two days after your DSO activates your record in SEVIS.

After your DSO activates your record in SEVIS, you should wait at least two federal business days before you apply for a driver’s license or SSN. This gives all the databases time to update with your new information.

6. Bring all your paperwork.

When you go to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), the common name for a state government office that issues driver’s licenses, or to the Social Security office, remember to bring all your paperwork. For most states, the paperwork includes these documents: 

  • Form I-20 or Form DS-2019
  • Form I-94, “Arrival/Departure Record”
  • Passport (with visa, if applicable)
  • Proof of legal presence or residence (ask your DSO what your state requires)

For a SSN, you must also bring a letter of employment and an endorsed Form I-20. These six tips should help you get your driver’s license or SSN without having any major problems. If you are interested in specific details about F-2 dependents, please see page 8 of the DMV Fact Sheet.


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