Texas Driver License for F-1 Students

Getting a Texas driver license for an F-1 student turned out to be both much easier and more complicated than I had anticipated.

I prepared as well as possible by gathering all the required documents and completing all forms in advance. We went to the DPS, waited in line, and did everything else: had a picture taken, fingerprints taken, eye test, etc. We left the office thinking everything went smoothly.

A couple hours after leaving the office, we recieved a phone call saying that the application would be cancelled if we didn't return to the DPS with a translation of the Korean license that we had surrendered. I returned the next day to collect the license so I could have it translated.

Irritated that I would have to make a total of three trips to the DPS for this license and the fact that nowhere on the DPS website does it indicate that a translation is required, I ask the DPS clerk if the translation had any requirements. I asked if it needed to be certified or notarized. She responded no. So I went online and had the license translated. This was the most convenient translation for me because I could do it outside of normal business hours. I have a job so I can't spend all day traveling around the city.

We returned to the DPS and waited in line again. When we finally got to the front of the line, they told us we could have just skipped the line because we were continuing an application. Thanks for telling me that when it's useful information! I gave them the translation, and then things got really weird.

They told me they couldn't accept the translation, so I asked "Why?"

"Normally the translations we get are 3 to 4 pages long."

"So? There's less than 100 words on the license. How could a translation be that long?"

"We can't take this."

"Why not? What's wrong with it?"

"We need a translation"

"That is a translation. It's a line-by-line translation."

"Normally they are 3 to 4 pages long. We can't take this."

"Why not?"

"Because normally they are 3 to 4 pages long."

"Um, okay. Where can I get this translation?"

"At a school or a consulate, I think. I don't know."

"Can you be more specific? I don't have time to call ten different places."

"No, I don't know."

At around this point I got escalated to speaking to a supervisor. I asked, "Can you take this translation?"

"No, because normally the translations we get are 3 to 4 pages long."

"That's not a reason to reject this translation. I need something written telling me exactly what I need and where I can get it. This is the third time I've come to the DPS. What exactly do I need?"

"I don't know."

"You don't know? How can I give you something if you don't know. I need something written so I know exactly why you're denying this application."

"I don't know. I'd have to research it and it would take some time."

"Do you have email? Can you send the exact requirements to me?"


The next day she sent me an email with the reciprocity agreement between Texas and South Korea for driver licenses. There is one line that says Texas can require a translation of a driver license. That's it. It's not required. It also says that South Korea will provide samples of valid licenses so that Texas can compare them with what they get from applicants.

Considering Korean driver licenses have pictures that can be matched with the applicants and they have the words "Driver's License" printed on them in English, there's really no reason to require a translation. As long as you know on what day the license expires, which is a number that doesn't need to be translated, you're good.

I eventually did my own research, and we got the license translated at the Korean consulate. However, the day before we went back to the DPS, the license arrived in the mail. Okay then! I guess their incompetence is not limited to simply being unable to explain their requirements but also includes an inability to enforce those requirements as well.

I've listed below the documents you should bring with you to the Department of Public Safety (DPS) Driver License Office:

  • Identity
    • Passport
  • Social Security Number
    • "Individuals who do not have a SSN, have never been issued a SSN, or are not eligible for a SSN can visit any driver license office and complete an affidavit attesting to such."
  • Lawful presence
    • I-20 (The F-1 student should report to her school and receive an updated I-20 before attempting to get a driver license.)
    • F-1 Visa
  • Proof of residency in Texas
  • Foreign driver license
    • Translation of foreign driver license. (For Koreans, this can be obtained at a Korean consulate for $4. Bring your passport, F-1 Visa, I-20, and Korean driver license.)
    • Exempt from driver education course - "A driver education course is not required for individuals who already hold a valid driver license from another U.S. state or U.S. territory, or from Canada, France, South Korea, or Germany (countries with license reciprocity agreements with Texas)."
    • Exempt from knowledge and driving tests
  • Checkbook
  • Completed application

Photo by Marcelo Braga