While studying in the United States, it is crucial that you have some form of photo identification. Not having a valid ID can prevent you from being able to do all kinds of things, many of which are necessary to make it through school. Your ID can be a driver’s license, a passport, or a photo ID from your host or home country. Here we will dive into a few of the identification options you will want to explore during your time as an international student.
Drivers License & State ID
In the United States, having some form of identification is important. If you’re an international student, it’s highly likely that you already have a passport, since you need one to travel overseas. While this passport can function as a form of identification across the United States, you should consider getting a state ID card, since passports are unwieldy and extremely difficult to replace if they get lost or stolen. The process is fairly straightforward, and these IDs only cost $25.00, however, it can sometimes be complicated and frustrating to obtain one.
All F or M nonimmigrant visa holders are eligible to obtain a US State ID. The first step is to contact the DSO or the RO. They will give you the guidance you need and make you familiar with the expectations of the local DMV, along with more general information about the process. You’ll have to wait at least ten days from your arrival in the US to apply for a State ID. You will need to be able to present a valid passport with a visa, Form I-94, Form I-20, your EAD card, Form I-797, and social security number at the DMV. As a student with nonimmigrant status, you won’t need a social security number, but, in most states, you’ll need to at least be able to prove that you’ve applied for one. Instructions on how to do this can be found on the SSA website. If you aren’t eligible for a social security number, you will receive a Form SSA-L676 proving that you are ineligible and therefore exempt, and you’ll have to present this at the DMV when and if you are asked to show social security documentation.
A driver’s license is of course going to allow you to legally drive, but since it is a government issued form of identification, it also functions as a state ID. For this reason, the application process and eligibility requirements for obtaining a driver’s license are identical to the processes and requirements of obtaining a State ID, but with the addition of various aptitude tests to make sure that you are able to safely drive a car. The cost of obtaining a driver’s license does vary depending on which state you live in, but they typically cost anywhere from $20.00- $80.00. Unlike most other countries, in the United States, you are allowed to drive a car at 16 years old! However, if you are applying for a license and you are younger than 18, you’ll need to have a driving permit, which allows you to drive legally, but only with a licensed adult driver, for at least a year before you go in for your driver’s license exam and are allowed to drive on your own. As an international student, if you are comfortable with the thought of driving and you live in an area where driving comes in handy, getting a US driver’s license is a great idea. Even if you don’t have a car, it’s good to have if you ever want to rent a car (and are of age- usually 25), or drive one of your friends’ cars.
College or University Student ID
Another helpful resource for international students is a college or university ID. Once you arrive on campus, you will be issued an ID card by your institution. These cards allow you to access things on campus such as dining halls, fitness centers and computer lab machines. However, your student ID can also serve as a discount card around town and on campus. Many college towns have a ton of stores and restaurants that offer a discount to students with a valid student ID. When exploring and buying goods, make sure you always ask about these discounts before you make a purchase, and take advantage of them as much as you can. In college towns and big cities, there are always local businesses that have tons of discount options available for students- you will be surprised at how much money you can save if you have your student ID in hand. However, this is only scratching the surface of the discounts available for students. There are many discount cards that you can buy from 3rd party organizations, and these cards often give students access to an unbelievable amount of discounts around the world. The companies offer hundreds of discounts in every continent, including discounts on public transit, activities and resources, hotel and hostel bookings, art galleries and learning centers, food discounts, and much more. These companies have tons of partners, and their featured discounts can range from “city passes” that can apply in cities all over the world, discounts on online hostel booking, and 50% off discounts for all major Egyptian sites to much more specific discounts with certain restaurants, hotels, and attractions across the globe.