March 20, 2011

Driver’s License

Getting a North Carolina driver’s licence is recommended but not essential. If you have a Singaporean licence, you should have no problems using it to drive around. Getting an NC driver’s licence, however, has its own benefits. You will not have to carry around your passport as an ID for certain essential activities (e.g. identifying yourself at the bank, buying alcohol, taking domestic flights), and you can also start building up a driving history so that you can get cheaper car insurance quotes in the future (should you so desire), or earn eligibility to hold a Zipcar account. There are two DMVs (Department of Motor Vehicles) in the vicinity of Duke (excluding the one at Northgate which does not handle driver’s licences). International House organises trips to the DMV once in a while (or talk to an upperclassman).

The procedure for obtaining a licence is roughly as such:

  1. Head down to the DMV. Try to go during non-peak hours such as in the morning because the lines can get quite long. Make sure you bring your passport and your I-20. Bring your SSN card if you have one, if not, it doesn’t matter. You will also need proof of residence. One way to do this is to go to the Registrar in Smith Warehouse and ask the guy at the counter to print out something on official Duke paper certifying that you stay in whatever dorm you stay in.
  2. You will need to take a theory test. The test is generally easy compared to the BTT in Singapore. Study for it here:
  3. Once you pass the theory test, you will be eligible to get a Learner’s Permit. Unlike the PDL in Singapore, the Learner’s Permit will allow you to drive a car, as long as someone else with a full licence is sitting next to you in the passenger seat.
  4. For the full licence, you will need to take a driving test. You will need to provide a your own car with insurance in your name in order to take the driving test. Again, the test is also easy by Singapore standards (general driving, reversing in a straight line, 3 point turn, e-brake, no parking), although one mistake will cause you to fail. Once you pass the driving test, you can obtain the full licence. You can take the test immediately but they will not let you take it multiple times in the same day (or possibly week) if you fail.
  5. Alternatively, if you do not have a car with insurance in your name, you can rent a car (with insurance) from a regular rental agency to take the test. However, you will receive a special restricted licence that only allows you to drive rental cars (as opposed to personal cars). This restriction can be easily removed in the future when you have car insurance in your name.
  6. Another alternative if you do not want to bother with all the driving but want an American ID is to simply get a state ID. All you need to do is to go down to the DMV with the required documents (as per step 1) and pay a small fee to get the ID.

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