Driving in the U.S.

If you plan to drive in the U.S., we generally advise that students and scholars get an Indiana driver's license as quickly as possible. Though the BMV provides information about applying for an Indiana driver's license and supports international driving permits, there is some risk in utilizing that international driving permit to drive in the U.S. as local municipalities are not required to honor them. 

If you do not plan to drive in the U.S. but want an Indiana state ID card, you will still apply through the BMV. More info can be found here.

Important Definitions

  • Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV): The Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) is the state agency in Indiana responsible for regulating vehicles and licensing drivers.
  • Learner's Permit: A learner’s permit is a document that permits individuals 18 and older, who are learning to drive, to practice driving only when a licensed driver is in the front seat of the car with him or her.
  • Driver's License: A driver’s license is a document that permits a person to drive a car in the United States.
  • International Driving Permit: An international driving permit is a document obtain in the driver’s home country that translates the license into ten languages.

Options to Drive in the U.S.

If you have a valid, unexpired driver’s license from your home country AND an official international driving permit:

  • You are permitted to drive in the U.S. for one year.
  • You must have both documents with you while driving.

*This is technically true, but each municipality can choose to honor this combination of documents or not. Based on recent experiences, this is a riskier driving situation, and we advise students to get a U.S. driver's license as soon as possible.

If you have a valid unexpired driver’s license from your home country WITHOUT an international driving permit:

  • You need an official translation of your driver’s license. ISSA does not provide translations.
  • Visit the BMV with ID to complete a driving skills exam, a written exam, and a vision screening.

If you do NOT have a driver’s license from your home country:

  • You will first need to obtain a learner’s permit at a BMV branch.
  • Follow the BMV instructions for the learner’s permit, passing the driving skills test, and obtaining a license.

Application Instructions for Obtaining an Indiana Driver’s Permit and License

  1. Wait to reach your program start date on your Form I-20 or DS-2019. The BMV cannot issue IDs or licenses until the program start date.
  2. Prepare for the written knowledge exam. Review the Driver’s Manual before attempting the exam.
  3. Collect the following documents:
    • Passport with student visa (citizens of Canada and Bermuda will NOT have a visa)
    • a copy of I-94 record
    • Current Form I-20 or DS-2019
    • Social Security Card or Letter of Social Security Number Ineligibility letter
    • Two documents with your name and address proving your Indiana residency, i.e. utility bill, bank statement, your student account statement, an official transcript, etc.
    • Driver’s license from your home country and an official translation, if applicable.
      • If you have an International Driver's Permit, this serves as an official translation.
      • If your license is in English, you do not need a translation.
    • Students on Optional Practical Training (OPT) will need the valid Employment Authorization Document (EAD)
  4. At the BMV, you must have all documents listed above to take the written knowledge exam. After you have passed the written exam, you will complete the vision screening and driving skills exam. You must arrive at least one hour before the branch closes in order to take the exam.

    Driving Skills Exam
    • If you have a valid license from your home country (with valid translation), you can schedule the driving skills exam immediately.
    • If you DO NOT have a valid license, you will receive a learner’s permit and can take the exam after 180 days.
  5. Once you’ve passed the exams, the BMV will give you a temporary 30-day license. When the BMV has determined that you are lawfully present in the U.S. and you have passed all the exams, they will mail your driver’s license or driver’s permit to you.

BMV Branch Options


1139 E. Ireland Rd.
South Bend, IN 46614


2544 Miracle Lane
Mishawaka, IN 46545

Obtaining a Translation of Your Non-U.S. Driver’s License

The Bureau of Motor Vehicles' policy states "Translations of documents that are in a language other than English without English subheadings must include a complete translation into English of pertinent information required to complete the application process. Translation must be typed on a separate page on the letterhead of a government entity, accredited educational institution, translation company or organization providing translation services to the public.”

To obtain a translation of your international driver’s license, you may choose one of the following options:

  1. Obtain an International Driver’s Permit (IDP) in your home country. An IDP serves as an official driver’s license translation.
  2. Use a U.S.-based translation agency.
    • Translations must be printed on the agency’s letterhead.
    • Translations should include a signed statement from the translator that indicates the translation is complete and accurate, attests to his or her competence as a translator and states that the document has not been translated for a family member, friend or business associate
    • The translation agency must be located in the United States.
    • Many translation agencies, such as Prime Language Services and Certified Translate will provide translations of small documents for less than $50. These agencies are examples and are not endorsed by or affiliated with the University of Notre Dame.

Assisting a Spouse with Identification Documents

For international student and scholar spouses who lack the documents required, the student or scholar should go to the BMV with your spouse. Along with whatever identification documents you do possess, your spouse may present his/her own documents which establish that the two of you are married (marriage license, translated into English, if necessary) and reside at the same address. You will be asked to sign an affidavit attesting to this.

Buying a Car

Begin by consulting a “guide for car buyers” (one student recommends the “… for Dummies” series) available through the library, city bookstores, or online. The following site is from the Consumer Protection section of the Federal Trade Commission’s website.

Before making a decision to purchase, especially in the instance that you choose a used car, it is a good idea to consult with those who have some experience in examining the working condition of a car. Notre Dame’s Transportation Services can assist you in locating a service station that will perform inspections prior to purchasing a vehicle. Contact them at 631-6467.

The most popular reference for establishing the value of a car is known as “The Kelley Blue Book.” Of course, the condition of the car and the accumulated mileage will ultimately determine the car’s value regardless of its make, model, and year. When considering financing your car purchase, consult with your bank or other financial institutions to arrange for the best rate of interest and schedule of repayment on the loan. A car dealership may offer to arrange financing for you, but you should be prepared with the other quotations in order to find the best terms.

Dealerships will offer a full warranty on new cars covering future repairs for a specific period. They will probably offer an extended warranty at additional cost.

There are websites where you can enter the VIN (vehicle identification number) on a car and see the history of the model, i.e. whether there have been complaints or legal actions on account of the car’s condition and performance. These services may charge a fee for full information, however, and it has been suggested that the best background check is the one performed by a mechanic just before you decide on whether to purchase!

Insurance & Title

You should plan to have car insurance before purchasing a car. If you are planning to purchase a car from a dealer, you will likely be asked to present proof of insurance before you are allowed to test drive a vehicle.

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IMPORTANT: Remember that you MUST carry auto insurance before you drive a car.

You must title your car immediately, and you can do so at the Bureau of Motor Vehicle locations.

  • If you bring a car here from another state, you must seek an Indiana title for it within 60 days.
  • If you purchase a car in Indiana, you must title it within 31 days of the purchase. Failure to do so may result in a fine, in addition to the title fee.

If you have purchased a new car, you must bring to the license bureau:

  • A properly assigned certificate of origin
  • An odometer statement (usually recorded on the certificate above)
  • Proof of Indiana State tax having been paid
  • Proof of Indiana Residency
  • Your Social Security number, or a Letter of Ineligibility from the Social Security Administration plus your I-94 record

If you have purchased a used car you must bring to the license bureau:

  • A properly assigned certificate of title (the dealer or previous owner must sign over to you the original state title)
  • An odometer statement (If you have purchased a car from a private owner, the bureau will collect a five-percent sales tax on the purchase price of the car)
  • Proof of Indiana Residency
  • Your Social Security number, or a Letter of Ineligibility from the Social Security Administration plus your I-94 record

In addition, if you are bringing a car from another state you must have it inspected by the police. An officer will verify the VIN number, which appears on a small metal plaque near the dashboard (This is a measure which prevents stolen cars from being titled).

For further information, visit the Indiana State BMV website.

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IMPORTANT: Titling your car and registering it for a state license plate are two separate transactions.

Registration and License Plates

In addition to gaining the title of a car, you must register it in order to get the license plates. This is a separate transaction from the title with additional taxes, fees and requirements. You must present, in addition to personal identification:

  • The certificate of title
  • Proof of auto insurance

You will be issued a license plate, which you must immediately affix to the rear end of the car.

Auto Insurance

There are several types of insurance sold in connection with an automobile. It is mandatory by state law to carry “liability” insurance, which should cover damage to vehicles and property and some of the medical costs that may result from an accident where you are cited as the primary cause of the collision.

In addition, you may enroll for:

Collision coverage—covers the cost of repairs to your own vehicle (usually after an out-of-pocket deduction).

Comprehensive coverage—will cover acts of vandalism, theft and damage as a result of natural causes, like a tree branch falling on the car or hail.

Some choose to purchase insurance over the internet. Be aware that if you choose this option, although you may save some money on premiums, you must process all claims through this site. Local agents, even though they may be affiliated with your company, are not obligated to assist you.

Selling your Car

There are many ways to advertise the sale of your car, including newspaper ads, online, and through flyers posted around campus.

When selling your car it is very important that you:

  • issue a dated receipt (keep a copy for yourself)
  • removing the license plates from the car (if you let someone else drive for a few days on the old plates, make sure you get them back)
  • transfer the title with a Notary Public as witness.
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IMPORTANT: If you fail to retrieve the license plates from the vehicle you have sold, a buyer may continue to drive on your plates without transferring the title into his/her name. Any parking fines or other charges made against the car then remain your responsibility!

Safety Belts and Car Seats

Under Indiana law, motor vehicle occupants must wear a seat belt, and children less than eight years old must be properly restrained in a federally approved child restraint system (car seat or booster seat, depending on age/weight of the child). The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all children younger than 13 years old sit in the back seat of a vehicle. A car seat can be purchased at many retail stores, such as Target, Walmart, etc.  


If you plan to drive to campus each day, it is important to check with the Parking Office, located on the first floor of Hammes Mowbray Hall. Always take care to park your car correctly.

Traffic Violations

If you accrue more than one citation for traffic violations on campus, you must pay all fines by year’s end or you will not be able to renew your parking permit, etc. If you feel that you have been cited in error, file immediately a petition with Notre DameSecurity. Forms are available online or at Hammes Mowbray Hall.

You should attend promptly to any citations issued by city or state authorities.

Driving while intoxicated is a particularly serious violation with grave consequences. You should not drink and drive. The “designated driver” approach to getting back home is safest so that you do not cause harm to yourself or others. Agree ahead of time who will refrain from alcoholic beverages and take responsibility for driving others home. If you lack a designated driver, call a cab, take the bus, walk or sleep over.