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Driving in Michigan As a Non-Citizen

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    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 Find a Lawyer 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”:

    • Belize

    • Canada

    • Colombia

    • Costa Rica

    • Ecuador

    • El Salvador

    • Guatemala

    • Honduras

    • Mexico

    • Nicaragua

    • Panama

    • Peru

    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.

    Registration

    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. However, you must register your car in Michigan if you operate the car in Michigan more than 90 consecutive days.

    Insurance

    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. If you get a ticket, the ticket should list the reason why you got it. If you are not a resident of Michigan and you are given a ticket for a violation of the traffic laws, the officer can confiscate your driver's license, unless you pay the officer a bond of up to $100 in cash, or unless you have an appearance certificate from a company such as AAA.

    If you pay a bond to the officer, you must still either pay the ticket or show up in court within 10 days. Paying the bond only prevents the officer from taking your driver's license. The bond is not a bribe. The officer has to give you a receipt when you pay him or her the money, and you must still either pay the ticket later or show up in court. If you do not do one of these two things, a warrant will be issued for your arrest, and your license may be suspended.

    If you go to the traffic court within 10 days, the court will use the bond to pay the fine and court costs, and any amount left over will be returned to you. If you pay the fine by mail, your bond money will be returned to you by mail.

    If the officer takes your driver's license, it will be returned to you when you pay the ticket or you show up in court. In the meantime, the officer will mark your ticket to show that your license was taken. While some police departments allow you to drive using the marked ticket, others do not, so you should pay the ticket or go to court as soon as possible.

    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.