One of the challenges when one moves to a new country, is to get on the grid in regards to your various legal papers, tax registration and of course the drivers license. And, let me tell you, the latter has not been an easy task.
Getting a license in the US as a non-national, in particularly New Jersey, requires a long list of documents. They have something they refer to as the 6-point documents, which is basically a method of validating that you are who you say you are. Personally, I think this is a great idea, as long as you have the necessary documents – which most people would have.
Thankfully the process is a little less complicated if you already have a license, as a non-national, as you “only” have to request to change your country license with a US license. They don’t actually take the license away from you, but provide you with a US license instead.
Please note, you are only allowed to drive on your non-US license for up to 60 days, or until you are a registered resident in New Jersey … whichever comes first. There are ways around this, if you can obtain a valid International Drivers Permit (IDP).
Anyway, the process starts with you gathering your documents and visiting the local DMV office (department of motor vehicle), in order to get your examination permit. Apparently this permit doesn’t allow you to drive a vehicle, unless it has no engine, and unless you have the IDP.
Now, I always get the jitters when visiting official agencies and having to provide evidence of who I am. Not sure why, as I have nothing to hide, but the fact that I have to do this, AND sit a knowledge test to qualify for a license, is nerve wrecking.
Anyway, the lady behind the counter checked my documents, stamped the request slip and provided me with a number. This little number, handmade by the way, moved me to step two in the process.
After waiting in a large overcrowded room for almost 45 minutes, my number was called. I walked towards the voice, and another lady checked my documents again – then I could take my place in the next line.
The next check point was much faster.
This was were I get to pay money to get my examination permit. They check the documents again, enter a few details on the Windows 95 machine and then issued me with a A4 paper. This was my examination permit.
What happens next CANNOT be recommended, but I did it anyway!
I had passed the first few tests of becoming a US licensed driver, all I had to do now was to pass the knowledge test. Pfff, how difficult could it be? It was only 50 questions about road safety and other rules. I had been driving for many years and according to the movies, passing this test is easy … it’s multiple choice.
50 questions. 80% correct answers. That gives me about 10 questions I can answer incorrect. After the first 10 questions, it was clear that I was not going to make it.
Score 5-5, with still 40 questions remaining. However, confidence was high, so I proceeded. Soon after, the 20″ screen flashed “FAILED” in front of me, much to the amusement of the people around me I’m sure.
It was clear. I had to read the bloody manual and study for this test.
A few weeks later I returned, full of confidence (again) and registered for another knowledge test. The difference this time was that I had actually studied and knew the answers.
I flew through the questions, and by the time I reached question 43 the screen flashed “PASSED”. This had been achieved in less than 15 minutes, which I believe impressed the attending officer … or maybe not. Inside my head, I was jumping up and down, screaming like an excited little boy in a Lego shop. On the exterior, I was a cool ‘n calm dude 🙂
Proudly I walked towards the counter to collect my prize, a freshly printed US license, only to be stopped in my tracks. I had to produce my Danish license, which I did, only to discover that a VERY small minority in the US actually speaks Danish. And, the license is written in Danish!
The Danes are great, but don’t necessarily consider that items such as a drivers license might be viewed/inspected by non-Danish speaking individuals. I’m sure the newer issued licenses come in dual language. The positive note is that Danish licenses don’t expire annually or every 4 years, but stay with you until you retire! That’s a loooong time to be stuck with a picture from when you were a cool long-haired Danish viking, but not as a almost 40 year old non-virgin. So, I’m stuck with my Danish license until 2042, or until it breaks / disappears, or whichever comes first.
The look on the guy’s face was priceless. Somewhat clueless, but still polite. He frantically checked his procedures, his Windows 3.1 computer and with his colleagues. The verdict “Sir, you need to get your license translated into English and/or bring along your IDP. I can’t give you the license until I verify it”. I kindly offered to translate any of the fields for him, but he kindly refused.
My proudness had been eaten away by a procedural obstacle. But, I was not going to let them get to me. As soon as my friend drop me back to the office (yes, I wasn’t driving) I contacted everybody I knew to see if they knew of a translation agency.
Then id dawned on me. I’ll contact my embassy. They were super friendly and offered to certify / translate my license, for a small fee obviously.
I ran to my friends car, pushed him over and drove home. Finally, I was legal!