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Massachusetts Driver's Licenses, Identification Cards and Cars

International Scholars > Driving In Massachusetts

Massachusetts Driver's License - General Information

You must have a valid driver's license to drive a car in the United States. According to Massachusetts state law, all residents who will drive must obtain a Massachusetts driver's license. The Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) website provides complete details. Below please find a brief overview.

Individuals on nonimmigrant visas, whose home countries are listed in Appendix "C" of the current Massachusetts Driver's Manual, have certain benefits. Such individuals may drive for up to one year from their date of entry to the United States with a driver's license issued by their home country. If the driver's license is not in English, an International Driving Permit or a suitable translation of the license is recommended. However, in practice, police do not always recognize a license from another country. Therefore, all drivers are urged to apply for a Massachusetts driver's license upon arrival, particularly those who anticipate a stay beyond one year.

If you plan to purchase a car, insurance companies usually require a Massachusetts driver's license. If you have a Massachusetts driver's license and you move, you must notify the RMV within 30 days of the move. A Massachusetts driver's license or a Massachusetts ID is the most commonly requested form of identification for writing checks, entering bars, etc. Please do not drink alcohol and drive. It is unsafe and against the law.

Initial Application Process
You may obtain a Massachusetts driver's license from the RMV by passing a written examination, obtaining a learner's permit, and then passing the road test. The written test consists of 20 questions and is available in 25 languages. A Driver's Manual, used to study for the written exam, is available at the RMV. If you are unable to take a written examination, you have the right to request an oral exam. In addition, you must have your eyes screened for field vision and basic colors. Both tests are given on a walk-in basis at all full service RMV offices. Once you have passed both the written and eye exams, you will be issued a learner's permit. After you receive a learner's permit, you will be able to schedule the road test, which is a requirement for the Massachusetts driver's license. Learner's permits expire one year from the date of issue. You are not allowed to renew your permit. If you need another permit, a new exam is required. Learner's permits cost $30. Visitors in B-1/B-2 or WB/WT status are not eligible for the Massachusetts driver's license and/or Massachusetts ID.

Scheduling Your Road Test
You can schedule your road test online or by calling the RMV Telephone Center at (857) 368-8000 or 1-800-858-3926. At the time of the road test, you need to bring:

  • Your completed application (can be obtained from the RMV)
  • Your learner's permit
  • A $20 payment for each scheduled road test
  • A registered, insured, and inspected vehicle
  • A sponsor (see below)
  • To take the road test, you must supply a car that has a valid Massachusetts inspection sticker. The vehicle's registration must be presented as well. Please note that the examiner must be able to reach the vehicle's emergency brake or foot brake and a seat must be provided for the sponsor, if a sponsor is required.

Sponsor Requirements: To take the road test, you must be accompanied by a sponsor who is at least 21 years of age, has at least one year of driving experience, and possesses a valid license issued by his/her home state. Foreign driver's license holders are not eligible to be sponsors.

Upon passing the road test, you may exchange your learner's permit for a driver's license. Bring the stamped and signed learner's permit to any RMV full service office to obtain your driver's license. The cost of the actual driver's license is $50.

International License Conversions
People converting licenses from other countries must take a full examination - written and driving (see above). For more detailed information, please consult the Driver's Manual.

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Massachusetts State Identification Cards (IDs)

Those without a driver's license will find a Massachusetts State ID or Massachusetts Liquor ID extremely useful. Identification is required for many common transactions. It is also required to purchase wine, beer, or alcohol, or to enter bars or nightclubs serving alcohol (the minimum age is 21). While a passport can typically be used, it is not always accepted and can easily be lost or stolen. It is possible to obtain a Massachusetts State ID or Liquor ID (not valid for driving purposes) from the RMV. Although it is not a driver's license, the Massachusetts State ID/Liquor ID is recognized as a valid form of photo identification.You will need to present the same types of identification as for a driver's license (see above), complete an application, and pay a $25 fee. Consult the websites for more information. Visitors in B-1/B-2 or WB/WT status are not eligible for a Massachusetts ID.

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What to Bring When Applying for a Massachusetts Driver's License, Learner's Permit, or State/Liquor ID

You must complete an application for a Massachusetts driver's license, learner's permit, or state identification card in person at the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV). You must bring proof of the following (see details below): identity, valid immigration status, signature, date of birth, and Massachusetts residency.

*Important: You may only use a document for one purpose. For example: you may not use the same document (such as a Social Security card) to prove both your Social Security number and your signature.

Required Documents

1. Proof of identity:

  • MIT ID card; or
  • Passport

2. Social Security number (SSN) or proof that you are not eligible for a Social Security number:

  • Social Security card; or
  • Paycheck stub showing your Social Security number; or
  • If you do not have a Social Security number, you must show a letter from the Social Security Administration indicating that you are ineligible for one. To do this, you apply for a number at the Social Security Administration office and they will issue the letter of ineligibility.

3. A document that proves your signature:

  • Passport (if you are not using it for proof of date of birth); or
  • Employment Authorization Card; or
  • Social Security card (if not used as proof of Social Security number); or
  • A canceled personal check; or
  • Official current or expired ID (expired not more than 12 months ago) issued by a U.S., Canadian, or Mexican government agency with photograph and signature

4. A document that proves your date of birth:

  • Passport (if you are not using it for proof of signature); or
  • Employment Authorization Card; or
  • Original or certified copy of a non-U.S. birth certificate (if not in English must be accompanied by acceptable translation)

5. Proof of Massachusetts residency:

  • Utility bill (gas, electric, wired telephone, wired cable, or heating oil) no more than 60 days old; or
  • Original school transcript with your name and address, dated within the past 12 months (only if you completed your degree in Massachusetts); or
  • Checkbook with your pre-printed name and address; or
  • Bank statement or other bank document (not more than 60 days old) on a form from the bank, displaying the bank's name and address, and your name and mailing address. (Be sure to black out your account number.)

6. Proof of valid immigration status, including all of these:

  • Your most current immigration document* (DS-2019, I-797, I-20, whichever applies to you). You may wish to carry previous/expired documents separately, in case you are asked for them; AND
  • A valid passport with visa stamp from a U.S. Consulate; AND
  • I-94 admission record printed from CBP.gov/i94 OR paper I-94 card (small white card in passport) from most recent entry into the U.S.

    *If the RMV tells you that your immigration document does not have a red stamp showing your last date of entry to the U.S., be sure to show your previous I-20 or DS-2019 that contains the stamp. The red stamp is placed on your documents when you come through immigration and customs at the border or airport.

Remember, you cannot use the same document (except the passport) for more than one purpose.

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Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) Addresses

Watertown RMV
550 Arsenal Street
Watertown, MA

business hours:

9:00 am to 5:00 pm, Mon., Tues., Wed., and Friday
10:00 am to 6:00 pm, Thursday
Boston RMV
630 Washington Street
Boston, MA (Located at the Chinatown "T" stop on the Orange Line)
business hours:
9:00 am to 5:00 pm, Mon., Tues., Wed., and Friday
10:00 am to 6:00 pm, Thursday

*Other RMV locations can be found at the RMV website

Information how to contact the RMV

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Buying a Car

Owning a car in Massachusetts is expensive. Car-related expenses over time may exceed the price you actually pay for the car. If you buy a car, you will have to purchase car insurance, register your car in Massachusetts, and have your car inspected. Before buying a used car, have a mechanic examine the car. Massachusetts does have a "Buyer's Right to Return Law" which allows the buyer of a used car to return it for a full refund under certain conditions. Be sure the car you want to buy has a "title" (certificate of ownership). To legally transfer ownership of the car over to you, the previous owner must sign the title and give it to you.

Insurance
Massachusetts law requires that all cars have insurance. Therefore, you will need to purchase car insurance. Your insurance company will be able to tell you the current minimum requirements for car insurance in Massachusetts. The price of car insurance is influenced by many factors, including the age of your car, how many years you have been driving, your place of residence, and the type of coverage requested. The average annual cost of insuring a car in Massachusetts ranges from $800 to $1500 per year or higher. To purchase insurance, present the title of the car and your driver's license to any insurance agency. There are many companies to choose from listed in the Yellow Pages under "Insurance." Often, for a small additional fee, the insurance agent will register your car and get the license plates for you at the RMV.

Registering Your Vehicle
If you choose to register the car by yourself, you must do so by the end of the month in which you purchased car insurance. You must bring proof of car insurance, the bill of sale, proof of payment of sales tax, and the certificate of ownership (the "title") to the RMV. Registration will cost about $50. You may also have to pay $75 for a Massachusetts title. You must also pay Massachusetts sales tax if you have not already paid it (about 5%) on either the price you paid for the car or the "NADA" trade-in value of your vehicle (whichever is greater). More information can be found at the RMV website.

Inspection
Finally, you must have your car inspected within 7 days of registering it. Certain gas stations can inspect your car for the required safety features. The insurance agent can give you a list of garages which will inspect your car. You can also find a list on the RMV website. Inspection costs $29.

Remember, many car expenses will be annual expenses. Each year you will have to insure your car, have your car inspected, and pay "excise tax" on the value of your car. The town in which you keep your car will notify you of the amount of excise tax you owe each year.

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Renting a Car

For occasional weekend excursions and trips outside the Boston area you may want to consider renting a car. Car rental agencies are listed in the Yellow Pages under "Automobile Renting and Leasing." You will need a driver's license and a major credit card. In addition, some companies require the driver to be over 25 years of age. Prices vary between companies. Some companies charge only a daily fee while others charge per day and for each mile driven.

MIT has become a corporate affiliate of Zipcar, allowing discounts for MIT employees and graduate students who become members of the Zipcar service.

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Last Updated: June 2014

77 Massachusetts Ave, Room E38-219, Cambridge, MA 02139-4307 | Telephone: (617) 253-2851 | Fax: (617) 253-6624 | E-mail: iso@mit.edu