It’s easy to take a driver’s license for granted in the U.S., where driving and traffic take up so much of our daily routine. However, obtaining a driver’s license isn’t so simple for everyone, especially for DACA and undocumented citizens who may not have the social security number for the required credit checks.

As of June 15, 2012, Homeland Security has extended protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) for non-citizens who came to the United States as children and fall within a specific set of requirements that qualifies them for deferred action.

Joshua Despain, Managing Attorney for Boise immigration law firm Wilner & O’Reilly, explains further. “This means that the Department of Homeland Security will not take action against certain people who might otherwise be at risk for removal from the country. Anyone who came to the U.S. without permission, or came with permission but that permission expired, faces that risk of removal,” he says. “However, if any of those people entered the U.S. before turning 16 years old and entered before 2007, and has a clean criminal history and graduates from high school, then they can apply for this deferred action.”

DACA status can provide legal work authorization, in addition to other benefits. One of these benefits is a driver’s license, which is available to eligible DACA and undocumented citizens.

“Having a work permit opens a lot of opportunities,” adds Despain. “It means they can get a Social Security number, they can freely work or go to college, and they can get a driver’s license.”

Obtaining a driver’s license does not have to be complicated. These expert tips can help simplify the process and save you money when applying for your driver’s license and buying a new car.

In this article:

Getting a driver’s license

Some states have specific legislation in place regarding driving privileges for undocumented citizens.

“Undocumented immigrants face more difficulty in obtaining a driver’s license,” says Max Pepper, a traffic lawyer with Missouri Ticket Fixers. The former assistant prosecuting attorney for the State of Missouri has worked on thousands of traffic cases throughout his career.

“For anyone who can get a license, whether undocumented or documented, they should take advantage of that opportunity,” urges Despain of Wilner & O’Reilly. “Having a license and ID is a huge benefit. Not only does it mean a person can drive without fear of being cited for driving without a license, but having that ID makes it easier to deal with other institutions, like employers, banks, insurance providers and other government agencies, including immigration agencies.”

These are the current state laws regarding driver’s licenses for undocumented citizens.

Eligible states

States with Driver’s Licenses for Undocumented Citizens

State Effective Date DMV page
California Jan. 1, 2015
Colorado Aug. 1, 2014
Connecticut Jan. 1, 2015
Delaware Dec. 27, 2015
District of Columbia May 1, 2014
Hawaii Jan. 1, 2016
Illinois Nov. 28, 2013
Maryland Jan. 1, 2014
New Jersey June 1, 2020
New Mexico 2003
New York (a) June 17, 2019
Nevada Jan. 1, 2014
Oregon Aug. 9, 2019
Utah Mar. 8, 2005
Vermont Jan. 1, 2014
Virginia Jan. 1, 2021
Washington July 25, 1993

License restrictions

Any license for undocumented citizens will not be valid for federal or REAL ID purposes, such as flying or voting, as of October 1, 2021. But some states have additional restrictions on their driver’s licenses for those who cannot prove they are a U.S. citizen.

New Mexico and Washington are two states notable for their lack of license restrictions for undocumented citizens. Common requirements mandate that drivers prove residency, show proof of tax filing and provide supporting documentation, as applicable.

Some states have additional requirements. For example, Utah S 227 establishes that unauthorized immigrants may have a valid driving card for just one year. At the same time, Virginia law allows its drivers to retain privileges through their second birthday after issuance. Maryland’s restricted driver’s license prohibits recipients from purchasing a firearm.

Options through DACA

Driver’s licenses are regulated at the state level, which means that even though you may be awarded DACA status, its federal protections do not automatically grant driving privileges to the recipient. To obtain a driver’s license, you will need to check your state’s laws to see what options are available where you live.

It is possible for some DACA recipients to receive a social security number, however, in which case they would be able to apply for a regular driver’s license in most cases. When awarded DACA status, not all recipients receive a legal work authorization or social security number. You must first qualify through Enumeration Beyond Entry (EBE), a program from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Social Security Administration (SSA). This enables you to apply for both your work authorization and SSN via the same application. You also have the option to apply in-person at a social security office.

Additional benefits of having a license

In addition to driving privileges, your driver’s license can have other benefits, too.

  1. An official identification. Your license includes critical information, such as your name and address, that can be used to verify your identity. All states may not officially recognize it as a form of identification, but it still provides critical, life-saving information should you be involved in an accident.
  2. Access to domestic flights. Most U.S. airlines require you to show identification before boarding a plane, so having a driver’s license can help you catch a flight. Keep in mind that many states’ restricted licenses for undocumented citizens are not compliant with the REAL ID act, which will take effect in October 2021, which means you won’t be able to use a restricted ID to board a commercial flight.
  3. Cheaper car insurance. Having a driver’s license with a clean driving record can help you get cheaper car insurance rates from some of the best auto insurance companies in the country.

Buying a Car

Few people have the thousands of dollars it takes to purchase a new vehicle, even if you buy a used car. That’s where an auto loan can help, but there are certain requirements that each person will need to be approved for the loan.

When you buy a car, lenders will ask for your social security number so they can verify your identity and run a credit check. However, this can be an issue if you are an undocumented citizen who cannot furnish the requested details. Some car companies or lenders may accept an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) in place of a social security number.

“For someone who cannot get a Social Security number, he or she could still get a taxpayer ID number or ITIN,” suggests Despain helpfully. “This number will allow someone to file taxes regardless of immigration status and could take the place of a Social Security number in other areas. It depends on the institution (bank, insurance provider, creditor, etc.) whether an ITIN is acceptable.”

Be sure to inquire about your options, as requirements may vary from company to company.

Many DACA recipients also have relatively new credit, another factor that can make lenders balk at loan approval. For the best auto loan rates and financing, it is usually a good idea for undocumented citizens and DACA recipients to spend some time working to improve credit so you can show good credit for your loan.

Loan options

Once you have found the vehicle you want, it is time to sign on the dotted line. If you do not have the funds to pay in total upfront, there are still several options to finance your new car with an auto loan.

  • Dealership financing. The dealership is likely to push its in-house financing if you need an auto loan. This may be a convenient fit, but it’s a good idea to shop financing rates to be sure that you are getting a better rate for your new car.
  • Credit unions. A credit union is another option to pay for your new car. Credit unions can offer low-interest rates and excellent incentives for their members that can be hard to beat elsewhere.
  • Personal loans. A personal loan can also help finance your vehicle. It enables you to bypass the down payment requirement with a flexible loan option. If you choose an unsecured personal loan, your lender won’t hold your new car as collateral.

Best cars for teens

Some cars are better than others when it comes to gas efficiency and cost. The cost of car insurance for teens and young adults can be higher than the average cost of auto insurance simply because newer drivers are less experienced and, thus, more likely to be involved in an incident on the road.

To help, some cost-effective cars may be a better fit for your teen, including these popular models.

  • Toyota Prius: The Toyota Prius is a compact model that is cost-efficient, earning an average of 50 miles per gallon.
  • Toyota Corolla: The Corolla is a little larger but still manages an average of 27 city mpg.
  • Kia Soul: The Kia Soul offers an affordable price tag, excellent gas mileage, and tons of crucial safety features.
  • Hyundai Elantra: The Elantra is another compact car that’s cost-efficient and reliable, sticking with you well over the 100,000mile mark with proper care and maintenance.
  • Honda Civic: Honda is a manufacturer known for reliability, and you will still receive excellent gas mileage, too.

Beware of sales tactics

It may be helpful to bring along a friend who can assist you with navigating the car-buying process and translate if needed. Car salespeople are well-known for sales tactics, such as the rushed sell, which is where they will try to get you to buy the car before you walk off the lot. That’s because once you are gone, they know that you are unlikely to return. Instead, they are likely to keep up the pressure, going for the hard sell by following you non-stop to prevent you from having a free moment to think or discuss.

Hidden fees can be another issue. Be sure to fully explore all fees associated with your desired vehicle. There’s the processing fee, licensing fee, and the title and registration fee that will all likely be added and can cost several hundred dollars or more. If you don’t plan for those fees, you may find that your chosen vehicle is out of your budget by the time the total bill is calculated.

Getting car insurance

“Auto insurance, unfortunately, is another hurdle for undocumented immigrants,” comments Pepper. “Insurance companies typically only issue policies to individuals who have valid licenses and whose driving records can be used to determine their risk rating. A DACA recipient should be able to obtain insurance as long as he or she has obtained a valid license. It will be much more difficult for an undocumented immigrant to obtain insurance, particularly without living in a state that issues licenses to undocumented immigrants.”

Typically, you need to provide a social security number when you buy car insurance. Lenders use this to confirm your identity and check your credit score to ensure that you are financially responsible and able to make your monthly payments. When you do not have an SSN, some companies may still offer car insurance, but you may have to pay a deposit first.

Regardless of what you choose for auto insurance, it’s critical to ensure that you have the required amount of coverage for your state. Even if insurance is not legally required, it is usually a good idea that drivers have at least minimum liability insurance or, ideally, full coverage for their vehicle.

Non-standard insurance

When you do not have a social security number, you may be eligible to buy non-standard insurance instead. Non-standard auto insurance is a kind of insurance coverage designated for high-risk drivers. Because auto insurance providers cannot run a credit check without an SSN, they may charge higher rates in response.

Some insurance companies specialize in non-standard insurance for DACA and undocumented citizens.

Ways to lower premiums

Given that non-standard car insurance is generally more expensive than the average cost of car insurance, there are some tips you can use to lower the cost of car insurance premiums each month.

  • Student discounts: Many insurance providers offer teens and college students special student discounts for good grades in school. At State Farm, you could earn as much as 25% off your policy from its good student discount.
  • California Low Cost Program: All drivers in California are required to maintain minimum auto insurance under state law. Drivers have the option to participate in California’s Low Cost Automobile Program (CLCA) so that they can still find quality affordable auto insurance as a DACA or undocumented driver. Your income must be less than $29,425 for one person, or $60,625 for a family of four, to qualify.
  • Pay-as-you-go: Usage-based insurance charges you based on how much drive. If you don’t drive much, you could save money with cheaper insurance premiums that better reflect your usage. Milewise by Allstate is one example of pay-as-you-go auto insurance.
  • Shop around: Every car insurance company weighs rate factors differently, so be sure to collect and compare multiple quotes from different providers. Ask what kinds of discounts are available and if there are any special options for payment.

Bottom Line

It can be a challenge living in the U.S. without a driver’s license, but it can be even more challenging for DACA recipients and undocumented citizens. Without a social security number, it can be tough to obtain the kind of financing necessary for most drivers to purchase a new car. However, it’s not impossible.

“Anyone can purchase a car. If you have cash and can negotiate a sale price, you can purchase a car,” says Pepper. “The two issues that DACA recipients and undocumented immigrants face are coming up with the financing to purchase a car and complying with requirements to drive legally after purchasing a car. To be legal, a driver needs to maintain a valid license, maintain an auto insurance policy, and keep the car titled.”

To drive in the U.S., you don’t necessarily need a social security number, but you need a driver’s license. Serving as a form of identification, a driver’s license can help you beyond just driving privileges. You can also use it to travel or attend school. It’s also a helpful tool for DACA and undocumented citizens when buying a car and obtaining an auto loan. As an undocumented immigrant or DACA recipient, your driver’s license can help you take one step closer to car ownership and the freedom of the open road.