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Getting A TN Driver's License

Tennessee driver's license requirements are different for international persons than they are for US residents.  OIS has worked, and continues to work, with the Tennessee Department of Safety to ensure our international employees, students and scholars provide all of the proper documents needed to obtain or renew a Tennessee driver's license.

In November 2010, Tennessee Driver Services began using the SAVE interagency federal database to check the immigration status of all international persons who apply for a driver's license. Due to this additional check, it will take up to 35 days for a driver's license to be issued. Please bear this in mind when you make arrangements to renew or obtain a Tennessee driver's license. It is best to begin the process as soon as you receive a license renewal notification letter from TN Dept. of Safety.  These letters arrive at least 60 days before your license is to expire.  If you don't receive a letter, make a note to renew your license at least 35 - 40 days before it expires.

In addition, it has been clarified that an SSN is not needed for Tennessee Driver's License . Persons without a SSN can now complete an SSN Affidavit in lieu of providing an SSN. Table 2, below, has a direct link to the SSN Affidavit.

Following is a list of documents that are required for international individuals to obtain a driver’s license in Tennessee.  Please note that only original documents will be accepted; no faxed or photocopies of documents are acceptable.

  • PROOF OF LEGAL PRESENCE IN THE U.S. (e.g. Conditional or Permanent Resident Alien Card (I-551); Employment Authorization Document (EAD); Valid foreign passport with US visa; valid I-94 card; and valid I-797 approval notice; and valid I-797 receipt notice for pending filings.   Only original documents are acceptable.)
  • PRIMARY PROOF OF IDENTIFICATION (see Table 1)
  • SECONDARY PROOF OF IDENTIFICATION (see Table 2)
  • PROOF OF ANY NAME CHANGES IF DIFFERENT THAN PRIMARY ID  (Certified marriage certificate, Divorce decree, Certified court order of name change)
  • TWO PROOFS OF TENNESSEE RESIDENCY WITH YOUR NAME AND RESIDENT ADDRESS – NO P.O. BOXES (see Table 3)
  • SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER (Social Security Card; Pay stub with SS# AND Name, IRS forms, etc.)
  • PROOF OF RESIDENCY IN TENNESSEE

Any original, new or returning residents who need to obtain a license in Tennessee must show at least two documents from List A or one document from List A and another from List B.

Below you will find the three tables that have been referenced above. Table 1 lists the Primary Identification Documents. The Department of Safety requires two items to prove identity when applying for a license. If it is your first time applying for a license in Tennessee you will need to bring with you at least one item from the Primary Identification list. New residents to Tennessee will also surrender their licenses from their former state. The second item may be from the Primary or Secondary identification list. If you are applying for a duplicate license or a renewal you just need to provide two items from either the primary list or the secondary list. If you wanted to change your name on your license you will need proof of the name change such as an original certified court order, marriage certificate, divorce decree, etc.

Any original, new or returning residents who need to obtain a license in Tennessee must show at least two documents from List A or one document from List A and another from List B.

Table 1:  Primary Identification Documents

Document Notes
U.S. photo driver license or photo ID card or license from another country. Photo document much be issued by state or federal agency
  • Also includes photo learner permits
  • Licenses not issued in English must be translated and accompanied by a Certificate of Accurate Translation or a valid International Driving Permit
Valid Passport
  • Expired passports will not be accepted
  • If passport was not issued in English, it must be translated and accompanied by a Certificate of Accurate Translation
USCIS Documentation
  • I-797 approval notice
  • I-94 card
  • Visa stamp in passport
  • I-797 receipt notice for visa status extension filings
  • I-551 (green card)
Marriage Certificate
  • The certificate must have the applicant’s full name and date of birth. It also must be the copy that is registered after marriage and not just the license authorizing the union.
Legal Change of Name
  • Document as recorded in court decree with judge’s original signature and/or official court seal

Table 2:  Secondary Identification Documents

Document Notes
Computerized Pay Stubs Pay stub must include applicant’s full name and it must have Social Security number on it
Work ID Prefer work ID with photo
Financial Institution Documents Includes computer printouts of bank statements, savings account statements, loan documents, etc.
Social Security Documents Social Security Number (SSN card) or sworn affidavit if no Social Security number has been issued
IRS/state tax form W-2 forms, property tax receipts, etc.

Table 3:  Proof of Tennessee Residency

Two documents from List A showing residence address used on application and applicant’s (your) name, or name of applicant’s parent, guardian or spouse OR One document from List A and One Document from List B
 LIST A    LIST B
 
  • Current bank statements
  • Current rental or mortgage contract fully signed and executed or receipt including deed of sale for property
  • Current automobile, life or health insurance policy (no wallet cards)
  • Current driver’s license or ID issued by the State of Tennessee to a parent, legal guardian or spouse of applicant (must also show proof of relationship)
  • Current TN motor vehicle registration
  • Current IRS tax reporting W-2 form
  • Receipt for personal property or real estate taxes paid within the last year
   
  • Individual Taxpayer Identification number (ITIN) issued by the IRS
  • Original I-94 card issued by USCIS or CBP
  • Employment Authorization Document (EAD) issued by USCIS
  • Original I-551 (permanent residence card) issued by USCIS

Do I Have to Have A Tennessee Driver's License?

If you live in Tennessee and want to drive a motor vehicle, you must have a valid Tennessee driver's license or Temporary Driver's License (TDL). A person who moves to Tennessee and has a valid driver's license from another state or country must apply for a Tennessee driver's license (or TDL) if they:

  • live in Tennessee longer than 30 days; OR
  • are working in Tennessee; OR
  • would otherwise qualify as a registered Tennessee voter.

International individuals who are not US residents will only be issued a Temporary Driver's License (TDL) 

How Soon Do I Have To Get A Tennessee Driver's License?

New residents and returning residents to Tennessee must obtain a Tennessee driver's license no later than thirty (3) days after establishing residency. You will also need to surrender any out-of-state licenses because Tennessee law does not allow a resident to hold more than one valid license or ID.  If you have only a foreign driver's license (i.e. issued by another country) you do not have to surrender it to obtain a Tennessee driver's license. 

What Type of License Will I Receive and What Tests Do I Have To Take?

 International individuals who are not US residents, will only be issued a Temporary Driver's License (TDL).  The TDL will expire when the visa status or visa program expires.  The date on the most recently issued I-94 document will be used to determine the visa status expiration date.  However, for individuals in F-1, F-2 or M-1 and M-2 visa status, the course completion date on the I-20 will be used to determine the visa status expiration date.  For individuals in J-1 or J-2 visa status, the program completion date on the DS-2019 will be used to determine the visa status expiration date.

Tennessee has a vision test, knowledge test (computer-generated, written test) and road skills test (actual driving test). 

Internationals With Out-Of-State Licenses:  If you are a international individual  with a valid (not expired) out-of-state driver license then you are only required to pass the  vision test. If, however, your out-of-state license expired more than six months ago from the Tennessee license application date, then you must complete all of three driver's license tests.  The out-of-state license will be retained by TN Driver Services and returned to the State where it was issued.

Internationals With Foreign Licenses:  International individuals with only a foreign driver's license must take all three tests in order to receive a Tennessee driver's license.  It does not matter if the foreign driver's license is expired or unexpired; all three Tennessee test must be taken.  New residents from other countries will be allowed to keep the license issued by that country; it will not be retained by TN Driver Services when the TN driver's license is issued. 

Can I Use My Foreign License or an International Driving Permit?

International individuals who will be in Tennessee for more than 30 days are considered Tennessee residents for driving purposes and must apply for a Tennessee driver's license within 30 days of arrival in the state.  Please review the Tennessee Driver's Manual for guidance on getting a state driver's license.  In addition, please review the topics above "Internationals With Foreign Licenses."

International individuals who will be in Tennessee for less than 30 days and will not become Tennessee residents do not need to apply for a Tennessee driver's license.  These international visitors are permitted to drive in Tennessee but it is strongly recommended that an International Driving Permit (IDP) be obtained before coming to the USA.   An IDP is not required but it is valuable for situations where traffic violations or auto accidents occur as the IDP will provide an official English translation of the foreign license.  In addition, it can be used along with the foreign driver's license to obtain a Tennessee driver's license. 

The IDP is not a driver's license and does not give official permission to drive in Tennessee under the same regulations and rules that a Tennessee driver's license does.  The IDP, by itself,  is not valid for driving in the USA; it is only an official translation of the foreign driver's license and must be accompanied by the actual valid, unexpired driver's license given to the foreign visitor by his or her home country.   All IDPs used in the USA (including Tennessee) must be translated into English. 

IDPs are issued only by the country or state that issued the driver's license connected with the IDP document.  In most countries the national automobile club or association is responsible for issuing the IDP.  A list of IDP issuers, by country, can be found at http://www.drivers.com/article/207/, however international individuals should also follow the guidance provided by the driver's licensing agency in their home country.   

The Tennessee Dept. of Safety does not issue IDPs to US residents or international individuals.  In the USA only two organizations have official permission to issue IDPs.  Those two organizations are the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the National Automobile Club (NAC).   If you are hold a driver's license issued by any State in the USA and wish to obtain an IDP for travel abroad, please contact either the AAA at www.aaa.com or the NAC at www.nationalautoclub.com for online information and the application.   

 A US resident cannot use an IDP for driving in the USA or its territories.  The US Federal Trade Commission has issued warnings about fraudulent IDP websites and online scams at  http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/alerts/alt108.shtm.

 

I Have More Questions

For any additional information and to find the closest Department of Safety office, please visit their official site at: http://www.state.tn.us/safety/dlmain.htm. Here you can find the Driver Services' locations,  office hours, fees, directions, and a link to the driver's manual.  You should also thoroughly read the Tennessee Driver's Manual for information about obtain a Tennessee temporary driver's license (or identification document) as it includes test preparation materials.  The handbook can be found by clicking here:  Tennessee Driver's Manual