Legal Discussion: Foreign Driver’s Licenses in Massachusetts & International College Students

Issue:

Do validly licensed foreign college students in the Commonwealth temporarily for school have an obligation to obtain Massachusetts Drivers Licenses? If so, what are the time frames that govern these requirements? If they remain in Massachusetts for over a year without leaving the U.S., does that change things?

Example A: Alfred, who is a citizen of Spain, has a valid driver’s license from Spain. He is admitted to Boston College and purchases a car upon arrival. Alfred registers the car in the Commonwealth. Must he obtain a Massachusetts driver’s license immediately? Can he drive here on his Spanish license temporarily? If so, how long does he have before the Spanish license becomes invalid here?

Example B: Assume same facts as above, except that Alfred returns home each summer for vacation and then returns in the fall. How does leaving and re-entering the country affect this situation?

Example C: Upon graduation, Alfred remains in Spain through the summer, then comes back to Massachusetts for a job. He does not obtain a Massachusetts driver’s license. Does the Commonwealth honor his Spanish driver’s license indefinitely? At what point must he obtain a Massachusetts driver’s license?

Answer:

It depends.

First, it is necessary to determine whether the foreign driver’s license in question is honored in the United States at all.  That depends on whether the license was issued by a country which is one of the Parties to the 1949 Road Traffic Convention and the 1943 Inter-American Automotive Traffic Convention.

Explanation of the 1949 Road Traffic Convention and its application:

  • According the 1949 Road Traffic Convention, a non-resident foreign student from one of the countries listed therein who is at least 18 years of age and is validly licensed in his/her home country can drive a passenger type of vehicle authorized by the license for up to one (1) year in the U.S. on the valid foreign license.
  • If he/she is still here at the end of the 12-month year, they lose the right to operate a motor vehicle on their foreign license in the U.S.
  • If the student goes home at the end of the academic year and returns the following academic year (leaves in May-June and returns in September) then, a new one (1) calendar year period is established on return in September.
Driver's license from Brazil, as issued in the...

Brazilian Driver’s License
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

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