Practical Help for New Houston Immigrants

Driver license

Getting a Texas Driver License

You need a driver license in order to drive an automobile or motorcycle in Texas. A driver license is also used for identification purposes at many businesses or government offices. You may be asked to show your driver license when you write a check at a store, or when you do business with a bank. If you do not have a driver license, you will need to obtain a Texas ID card for these purposes.

If I have a driver license from another country, can I use it in Texas?

If you have a driver license from another country, you can use it in Texas for up to one year after you enter the United States. But when the license expires, you cannot use it any longer.

What must I do before I get a license?

Before getting a driver license, you will need to study the traffic laws and driving skills required by the state of Texas. The state government publishes the “Texas Drivers Handbook” containing all the information you need in order to pass the driving tests. You can
download the Handbook from the Internet, or you may pick up a free copy from any Driver License office. You should study this handbook and memorize all the information in it. When you apply for a license, you will be given a written test to see how well you know the information in this book.

Where can I learn how to drive?

If you do not know how to drive well, you need to develop your driving skills before you obtain a driver license. You can take classes from a driving school, or you can get a friend to teach you.

Before driving on a public street, you need to obtain an Instruction Permit. An Instruction Permit allows you to drive if another licensed driver at least 21 years old is sitting beside you in the front seat.

To get an Instruction Permit, you must have all the identification documents listed in the next section, and then go to a Driver License office. You will show these documents to an officer, fill out some forms, take a vision test, and take a written test about the Texas Drivers Handbook. You will pay $10 for the exam, and $5 for your Permit. The Instruction Permit is good for one year.

What do I do when I'm ready to get my license?

You may apply for a license at any Driver License office in Texas. There are seven Driver License offices in Houston, and most other cities also have offices.

Someone who already has a driver license should take you to the Driver License office; or if you have an Instruction Permit, you may drive if the licensed driver is sitting by you. Come in a car that you are comfortable driving, because you will be asked to drive this car as part of your examination.

If you were not born in the U.S., you will need to bring these documents with you to the Driver License office:

  • Your Social Security card or proof of your Social Security number. (If you do not have a Social Security card, you will need to sign a Social Security Affidavit at the Driver License Office.)
  • U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service certificate with a photo; or a U.S. Passport; or a US. Citizenship (naturalization) certificate.
  • If you own an automobile, you must bring the vehicle registration form and a document from your insurance company proving that you have liability insurance.

If you were born in the U.S., instead of a passport you may bring your birth certificate and two other supporting documents such as marriage license, school records, automobile title, or voter registration card.  In addition you must bring proof of your social security number, and proof of insurance.

At the Driver License office there are usually long lines, so you should plan to be there for at least two or three hours. You will need to fill out some forms and show your identity documents to the officials. The office staff will take your photo and will obtain your fingerprints.

Then you will be given three tests:
  • A vision test to make sure you can see well enough to drive
  • A written driving examination
  • A practical driving examination, where an officer will ride with you in your car for about 15 minutes to observe your driving skills.
If you already have an Instruction Permit, you will not have to take the vision test or written test this time, because you already completed these tests when you applied for your Permit.

You will pay $10 for the driving exam. If you successfully complete the driving exam, you will also pay $24 for your license. The office staff will give you a temporary driver license to use until your permanent driver license is mailed to you a few weeks later.

When you receive your driver license, you will see that it has a special number assigned to you. This is called your Texas Driver License number, or TDL. The license also has your photo, and shows your name, address, date of birth, sex, height, eye color, and any driving restrictions (such as eyeglasses required). You should have your license with you any time you drive.

An important note about alcoholic beverages

You should never have an open can or bottle of an alcoholic drink in your car. If a police officer sees you with an open container, they will write you a ticket. You will have to go to court and pay a large fine, and your insurance costs will also go up. Even if someone else in the car was drinking the beverage, you may receive a ticket and have to pay a big fine.

You should never drive after you have drunk alcohol. If you are stopped by a police officer after drinking, you will be taken to jail, and you may have your driver license taken away for several months. You will have pay very expensive fines and your insurance costs will go up, maybe two or three times the original cost. If you have been drinking alcohol, you should take a taxi or bus, or have a friend take you home.