Moving to the USA – Driving Guide

Road in the USA - Driving in the US - Moving to the USA

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At 6.58 million kilometres, the US has the world’s longest and biggest road network, even more than the whole European Union combined. If you are moving to the USA, everywhere would seem to be a long walk, so let 1st Move International tell you everything you need to know about driving in the States.

Do I Need a US Driving Licence?

The law in the US is the same as in the UK, you need a valid driving licence to be able to drive a car. For the first 3 months of your visit, this could be a licence issued from a foreign country, such as the UK, as long as it is English and the name, digits, symbols etc are easily readable.

If you have an older, paper, version of a UK licence, you will also need to carry another form of photo ID such as a passport.

After 3 months you will be required to have an International Driving Permit, or IDP, or a state-issued US driving licence. Whichever one you need depends on your own circumstances, whether you are visiting for a short period or staying in the US as a resident.

International Driving Permits

If you are visiting the USA for more than 3 months, but not planning on staying more than 12 months, you will need an IDP. This is issued in the UK before you travel, and there are different types of IDP depending on the country that you are visiting. For the USA you will need a “1949” permit and they are valid for 12 months. You can get an IDP at the Post Office, they cost £5.50, and you’ll need to be a UK resident, have a valid UK driving licence and be 18 years old or older.

Please note that if you are planning to rent a car in the USA you may need both your UK driving licence and IDP, so take your UK driving licence with you when you travel.

US Driving Licence

If you are planning on staying longer, or to have permanent residency in the USA, then you should look at getting yourself a US state-issued driving licence. You will need to get a licence issued in the US state where you will live and, as usual, there are different requirements for each state.

For details on the particular US state that you are planning to move to, please take a look at the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicle) website.

Generally, you will need to submit proof of ID, proof of residency, pay the costs (yes, this seems to be the case with most things that you need to live in the USA!) and take a dreaded driving test. The test varies depending on the US state that you are taking it in, but the general consensus from internet forums is that it is easier than the UK driving test, so don’t panic.

Once you’ve passed, and paid your way, then you’ll be issued with a temporary licence, with your permanent one sent in the post before this expires.

Simple, eh?

The Rules of the Road

Again, with the laws on driving licences and how you apply for them, there are variations on the driving rules depending on which state you are driving in. But there are some general ones to remember, which include;

  • You must always drive on the RIGHT SIDE OF THE ROAD.
  • Solid white lines tell you that have to stay in your lane.
  • The yellow lines in the road separate the cars going in different directions.
  • You can only cross a broken yellow line, never a solid or double yellow line.
  • Never overtake or pass a school bus if it has flashing red lights.
  • It is compulsory to pull over to allow an emergency vehicle to pass you if they have their lights flashing or siren sounding.

Something else to remember, although films and television programs would suggest differently, is that hitchhiking is generally illegal throughout the USA. So, no pulling over to pick up a stranger on the side of the road thinking it might be Tom Cruise!

The USA doesn’t have the same preference as the UK when it comes to a good old roundabout. So always take special care when approaching an intersection. Right of way is determined by whoever has got to the intersection first, and you must always come to a stop when you see a red “Stop” sign.

A “yield” sign tells you that oncoming traffic has right of way, so you need to check that no vehicles are approaching and stop if they are.

Traffic lights are the same is in the UK, with red as stop, yellow as prepare to stop and green to go. However, you can legally turn right at a red light, as long as you give way to oncoming traffic and there is no “No Turn on Red” sign. This is for right turns only, you’ll be in trouble if you try to turn left at a red light.

The Police and Traffic Laws

The US has some similar safety laws to the UK, such as the wearing of seat belts and the use of child car seats (although again there are variations from state to state). It is illegal to drink and drive in all 50 US states, the limit being at 0.08% blood alcohol concentration, which is the same as in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (it is 0.05% in Scotland).

If you have a police car behind you with flashing lights, or asking you to pull over, you need to do so immediately where it is safe. Don’t get out of your car until you are asked and keep your hands where they can see you. It’s good to keep your licence and registration documents somewhere you can easily get to them, such as the glove box.

As in the UK, some traffic violations such as parking and speeding tickets are issued with cameras so potentially you won’t know you’ve been caught until you get a ticket. Most will result in a fine, which you should pay immediately.

Whilst driving in the USA it isn’t only the police that you will need to be aware of in relation to traffic laws. You also have the potential of having a civil suit filed against you if you are in an accident, which can be very costly, dragging you through the courts even for a small bump. This is very common in the USA, so you need to be very careful of the laws and other road users when driving throughout the country.

Costs

Generally, the costs associated with driving in the USA are cheaper than in the UK. For example, petrol prices (Gasoline in the US) for June 2021 on average in the USA was $0.90 per litre, compared with $1.82 per litre for the UK. In fact, the USA is the 3rd most cost-effective country to buy petrol, per capita income, in the world. Just so you know, the UK is in 30th place.

Looking at the average cost of a new car, with the UK being approximately £19,000, buying a new car in the USA will set you back on average £15,500. The cost of insurance is also slightly cheaper, but only by 3-4 per cent.

What you will need to look out for, however, is that in the USA that are many toll roads, roughly 5,000 miles of them. To travel on these toll roads, you will need to pay charges, often collected using an automated system, some taking cash at booths. They aren’t in all 50 states, so always check your routes thoroughly to make sure you know where and how you need to pay.

Car Insurance

As with the UK, with the majority of US states, it is mandatory to have car insurance. Each state has its own laws on the minimum level of liability insurance that you must have, so again you need to be checking this out with the DMV department that governs the state that you are driving in.  

If you don’t have car insurance, there are fines and licence suspensions if you are caught. More importantly though, if you are in an accident, you could be held fully responsible for medical and property damage costs, along with the potential of being sued for any costs that the other driver incurs. As mentioned above, there is a very high chance that you will be sued, and for cases that involve personal injury, the costs could run to thousands of dollars.

Can I Take my Own Vehicle?

Opel GT on arrival in the US (shipped by Autoshippers)

The short answer is “maybe”.

As discussed above, the cost of buying a new car in the USA could be cheaper than in the UK. But if you have your comfortable family car, beloved classic or your pride and joy on two wheels, you may want to take it with you to the USA.

The thing to bear in mind is the “25-year rule”.

Due to the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, there are certain safety standards that vehicles need to adhere with to be registered for use on US roads. This means that if you import your vehicle, you will most certainly need to have modifications carried out by a certified Registered Importer, potentially at a high cost. Even then the vehicle may not be allowed to be registered for the US roads.

The exception is for vehicles that are more than 25-years old. The “25-year rule” was initially brought in to allow car collectors and enthusiasts who wanted to import classic vehicles without the need to make expensive modifications.

The good news is that Autoshippers, who are the sister company of 1st Move International, have been handling exports to the USA (and everywhere else around the world) for over 20 years. For more information on the 25-year old rule and anything else you need on exporting vehicles just visit their USA Car Import Guide.

Moving to The USA

So, there you have it, driving in the USA shouldn’t be a costly and daunting experience. It is much the same as the UK in regards to a number of things, you just need to be aware that they drive on the “wrong side of the road” and the fact that you are likely to be sued in the event of an accident!

For more information on living in the USA and other countries across the world, take a look at some more of our blogs or you could contact us on 0800 289 0784 / +44 117 982 8123 or via our website and we will be happy to help.

If you’re ready to start your move and want to know more about safely shipping furniture and household goods from the UK to the USA, discover our international removals services to the USA or simply get a free quote on our website to get started.