If you want to drive on public roads in Michigan, you must have a valid driver’s license. If you are a Michigan resident legally present in the U.S., you can get a Michigan driver’s license. If not, it is possible to use a valid license from another U.S. state or territory, or to use a valid foreign license.
Getting a Michigan Driver’s License
You Must Be “Legally Present”
You do not have to be a U.S. citizen to get a Michigan driver’s license. However, you must be “legally present” in the U.S. Some examples of being legally present include having Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status, a valid visa, or employment authorization. For a list of documents you can show to prove your legal presence, read Getting a Standard Michigan Driver’s License.
You Must Be a Michigan Resident
You also have to be a Michigan resident to apply for a Michigan driver’s license. In general, you are a resident of Michigan if you live in this state. You must show that you live in Michigan. To do this, you need at least two documents with your name and address. Such documents may include a utility bill, bank statement, mortgage or lease agreement, or pay statement with your name and address.
If you think you were improperly denied a driver’s license, use the Guide to Legal Help to search for a lawyer or legal services near you.
Using a Foreign or Out-of-State Driver’s License
If you are not a Michigan resident and you have a valid license from another U.S. state or territory, you may drive in Michigan.
Otherwise, if you do not qualify for a Michigan driver’s license, you may be able to drive in Michigan with a foreign driver’s license. You can drive in Michigan with a foreign license if:
Your license is from a “treaty country” (read more below), and it is in English or you have a translation, OR
Your license is from a “non-treaty country” and you possess a valid passport, a valid visa, or other valid documents to verify your legal presence, and you have a translation if your license is not in English.
The following is a partial list of “treaty countries”:
To see a full list of treaty countries and non-treaty countries, read Foreign Driver’s Licenses in Michigan from the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center website.
If you plan to leave the U.S. to get or renew your foreign driver’s license and you are not yet an LPR, you should check with an immigration lawyer to see how leaving the country will affect your immigration status.
Not all police officers are trained to recognize or accept valid foreign licenses. If an officer does not accept your foreign license, it is important to cooperate with the officer and then contact a lawyer as soon as possible.
WARNING: “International driver’s licenses” do not exist. However, an “international driver’s permit” is basically a translation of a valid license from your home country, and it cannot be used by itself.
If you are not a resident of Michigan, you do not have to register your car in Michigan, but it must be registered in your home state or country of residency. You must register your car in Michigan if you operate the car in Michigan more than 90 consecutive days.
Michigan has strict car insurance requirements. If you operate a car, truck or van in Michigan for more than 30 days total in any one calendar year, you are required to buy Michigan no-fault insurance for that vehicle, even if it is registered in another state or country. However, if you are a “non-resident” and drive in Michigan for fewer than 30 days, these requirements do not apply.
Being Stopped and Ticketed by the Police in Your Car
If you are pulled over, the officer has the right to ask to see your driver's license, proof of car insurance, and proof of car registration. They generally do not have the right to ask to see proof of your immigration status. If you get a ticket, the ticket should list the reason why you got it. Police officers that issue civil traffic tickets cannot take away a driver's license or ask you to pay a bond to keep your license. If you get a misdemeanor ticket you could be arrested.
The police may give you the option of paying a bond of up to $100 instead of being arrested. If you have a guaranteed appearance certificate from a bond company you can give this to the police in place of the money. The bond is not a bribe. The officer has to give you a receipt when you pay them the money. The purpose of the bond is to make sure that you will show up in court at your court date.
Whether you have a civil traffic ticket or misdemeanor ticket, is very important to follow the instructions on the ticket. If you miss a court date the judge could issue an arrest warrant or have your license suspended.
The majority of the information in this article was provided by Farmworker Legal Services (FLS). FLS is a legal aid office with lawyers and other legal staff who provide free legal assistance and referrals to migrant and seasonal farmworkers throughout Michigan.