You must have a valid driver's license to drive a car in the United States. According to Massachusetts state law, all residents who will drive must obtain a Massachusetts driver's license. The Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) website provides complete details. Below please find a brief overview.
International license conversions
Some countries have established arrangements allowing licensed residents to convert their driver's licenses. Upon becoming a Massachusetts resident, valid license holders from one of the following countries can do this without a written or road test. See information from the State of Massachusetts about how to transfer your driver's license.
- Canada, Mexico or the US territories
- South Korea
People from other countries applying for driver’s licenses must take a full examination - written and driving. For more detailed information, please consult the Driver's Manual.
Using a foreign driver’s license
Effective July 2018, under Massachusetts General Law, Chapter 90, Section 10, foreign licensed drivers from any country may operate a validly registered motor vehicle in Massachusetts, as long as specific requirements are met. These requirements include carrying your foreign driver's license AND one of these three documents when you drive: (1) an International Driving Permit (IDP), (2) a "Translation into English of a Foreign License Document," or (3) an alternative translation document issued by the government agency that issued the license or that country’s embassy/consulate. More information about Driving in Massachusetts on a Foreign Driver’s License.
However, please note that in practice, police do not always recognize a license from another country. Therefore, all drivers are urged to apply for a Massachusetts driver's license upon arrival, particularly those who anticipate a stay beyond one year (see the note below about required validity of immigration documents).
If you plan to purchase a car, insurance companies usually require a Massachusetts driver's license. If you have a Massachusetts driver's license and you move, you must notify the RMV within 30 days of the move. A Massachusetts driver's license or a Massachusetts ID is the most commonly requested form of identification for writing checks, entering bars, etc.
Please do not drink alcohol and drive. It is unsafe and against the law.
Applying for a Driver’s License
Initial Application Process
You may obtain a Massachusetts driver's license from the RMV by obtaining a learner's permit (after passing a written exam), and then passing the road test. To take the road test, you must bring a sponsor who is at least 21 years of age, has at least one year of driving experience, and possesses a valid license issued by his/her home state. Foreign driver's license holders are not eligible to be sponsors. Visitors in B-1/B-2 or WB/WT status are not eligible for the Massachusetts driver's license and/or Massachusetts ID.
PLEASE NOTE: As of March 26, 2018 a person applying for a Massachusetts (MA) Driver's License must have immigration document(s) showing a validity period of no less than 12 months (such as Form DS-2019, EAD card, H-1B approval notice, TN admission record). Individuals with documents that indicate a less than 12-month validity period will not be eligible for a MA Driver's License.
To obtain a learner’s permit or driver’s license, bring these documents:
- Proof of lawful presence: Your most recent immigration document (showing a validity period of no less than 12 months), a valid passport with visa stamp from a U.S. consulate, and an I-94 admission record (paper or printed from https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/#/home). If your immigration document does not have a red stamp showing your last date of entry to the US, show your previous I-20 or DS-2019 that contains the stamp.
- Proof of Social Security number: If you do not have a Social Security number, you must show a letter from the Social Security Administration indicating that you are ineligible for one. To do this, you apply for a number at the Social Security Administration office and they will issue the letter of ineligibility.
- Proof of MA residency
Examples of eligible documents are provided on the RMV website.
Those without a driver's license will find a Massachusetts State ID or Massachusetts Liquor ID extremely useful. Identification is required for many common transactions. It is also required to purchase wine, beer, or alcohol, or to enter bars or nightclubs serving alcohol (the minimum age is 21). While a passport can typically be used, it is not always accepted and can easily be lost or stolen. It is possible to obtain a Massachusetts State ID or Liquor ID (not valid for driving purposes) from the RMV. Although it is not a driver's license, the Massachusetts State ID/Liquor ID is recognized as a valid form of photo identification.You will need to present the same types of identification as for a driver's license (see above), complete an application, and pay a $25 fee. Consult the websites for more information. Visitors in B-1/B-2 or WB/WT status are not eligible for a Massachusetts ID.
550 Arsenal Street
9:00 am to 5:00 pm, Monday - Friday
136 Blackstone Street
Boston, MA (Located at the Haymarket "T" stop on the Green and Orange Lines)
9:00 am to 5:00 pm, Monday - Friday
*Other RMV locations can be found at the RMV website
Owning a car in Massachusetts is expensive. Car-related expenses over time may exceed the price you actually pay for the car. If you buy a car, you will have to purchase car insurance, register your car in Massachusetts, and have your car inspected. Before buying a used car, have a mechanic examine the car. Massachusetts does have a "Buyer's Right to Return Law" which allows the buyer of a used car to return it for a full refund under certain conditions. Be sure the car you want to buy has a "title" (certificate of ownership). To legally transfer ownership of the car over to you, the previous owner must sign the title and give it to you.
Massachusetts law requires that all cars have insurance. Therefore, you will need to purchase car insurance. Your insurance company will be able to tell you the current minimum requirements for car insurance in Massachusetts. The price of car insurance is influenced by many factors, including the age of your car, how many years you have been driving, your place of residence, and the type of coverage requested. The average annual cost of insuring a car in Massachusetts ranges from $800 to $1500 per year or higher. To purchase insurance, present the title of the car and your driver's license to any insurance agency. There are many companies to choose from listed in the Yellow Pages under "Insurance." Often, for a small additional fee, the insurance agent will register your car and get the license plates for you at the RMV.
Registering Your Vehicle
If you choose to register the car by yourself, you must do so by the end of the month in which you purchased car insurance. You must bring proof of car insurance, the bill of sale, proof of payment of sales tax, and the certificate of ownership (the "title") to the RMV. Registration will cost about $60. You may also have to pay $75 for a Massachusetts title. You must also pay Massachusetts sales tax if you have not already paid it (about 5%) on either the price you paid for the car or the "NADA" trade-in value of your vehicle (whichever is greater). More information can be found at the RMV website.
Finally, you must have your car inspected within 7 days of registering it. Certain gas stations can inspect your car for the required safety features. The insurance agent can give you a list of garages which will inspect your car. You can also find a list on the RMV website. Inspection costs $35.
Remember, many car expenses will be annual expenses. Each year you will have to insure your car, have your car inspected, and pay "excise tax" on the value of your car. The town in which you keep your car will notify you of the amount of excise tax you owe each year.
For occasional weekend excursions and trips outside the Boston area you may want to consider renting a car. Car rental agencies are listed in the Yellow Pages under "Automobile Renting and Leasing." You will need a driver's license and a major credit card. In addition, some companies require the driver to be over 25 years of age. Prices vary between companies. Some companies charge only a daily fee while others charge per day and for each mile driven.
MIT has become a corporate affiliate of Zipcar, allowing discounts for MIT employees and graduate students who become members of the Zipcar service.
Page updated May 2023