A driver's license is an extremely important document. Not only does it grant you the ability to legally drive, but it is also one of the documents most often used to verify your identity in the United States.
So what happens if you have a foreign driver's license in a different language? In this article, we’ll walk you through the process of translating your driver’s license for the DMV. We’ll also go over the requirements and costs.
- Why translate a driver’s license?
- What is the DMV?
- What are the requirements to translate your driver’s license for the DMV?
- What is a certified translation?
- States with specific requirements
- International Driving Permit
- How to translate your driver’s license for the DMV
- Can I translate my own driver’s license?
- How much does it cost to translate a driver’s license?
- Final thoughts
Why translate a driver’s license?
There are three situations in which you would need to translate your driver’s license:
- You have an American license and are planning to drive in a foreign country.
- You are applying for a job abroad that requires you to have a driver’s license.
- You have a foreign license you need to submit to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
In all of these cases, you are translating your license so you can drive a car (or prove you can) in a country other than the one that issued your license.
When it comes to the United States there are many places where driving is pretty much the only way to get from point A to point B. This makes having a valid driver’s license imperative. Moreover, local laws often establish that already having a license will make the process of obtaining an American one faster and/or easier. This is why, in this article, we’ll focus particularly on option three: translating your driver’s license for the DMV.
What is the DMV?
The DMV or Department of Motor Vehicles is the US agency that handles everything related to vehicles. From car registration and title transfers to issuing driver’s licenses.
Each state has its one DMV office, sometimes under a different name. For example, it’s the Office of Motor Vehicles in Louisiana and the Department of Public Safety in Minnesota.
What are the requirements to translate your driver’s license for the DMV?
The main problem when it comes to translating your driver’s license for the DMV is that, as licenses are state-issued, requirements vary greatly. Some states won’t even require you to submit a translation while others will be very picky about how you submit your foreign documentation. To make sure everything goes smoothly, you should visit the official website of your local DMV beforehand.
It can also happen that the information on your state’s DMV website may be unclear. Maybe it says something along the lines of “all documents must be in English” with no extra clarifications about translation requirements. In this case, you can turn to the United Nations Convention on Road Traffic (that the US has adhered to) for help. The Convention establishes that domestic driving permits that are not in the country’s official language should be accompanied by a certified translation. This leads us to…
What is a certified translation?
A certified translation is a literal (word-for-word) translation of all visible text in a document used for official purposes. The receiver (in this case, the DMV) requires certification to verify that the translation is complete and accurate.
The certification consists of a signed statement that says the translation is a complete and accurate rendition of the original document. This is known as a “Certificate of Translation Accuracy.” You can learn more about certified translations and what a Certificate of Translation Accuracy entails in this article.
It is worth noting that, in the United States, a translator does not need to be certified at a federal or state level to provide a certified translation service. Anyone with sufficient skills in the relevant languages can issue the translation.
Finally, you will be happy to know that a certified translation does not expire. It is valid forever unless the requesting agency says otherwise, which is rare.
States with specific requirements
Some states are thankfully quite clear when it comes to translation requirements. Below, we’ll take a look at a few examples. However, you should always check on the updated version of the corresponding DMV site to be safe.
The Alaska DMV requires a certified translation for all foreign documents. It even has its very own Certificate of Accuracy of Translation for translators to fill in. You can find it here.
South Carolina has a special form for document translation. You can take a look at it here.
In Connecticut, you have to ensure whoever translates your driver’s license is on their DMV-approved translators' list. You can check if they are on this page.
The DMV in New York asks you to bring an “International Driving Permit or a certified translation of your driver's license to the road test.” Certification must be issued by the US Department of State, a consulate, or a different official agency. It also has to contain specific details. You can read more about it here.
International Driving Permit
As New York requires an International Driving Permit (IDP), we thought it’d be best to touch upon what this is. Also referred to as an “international driving license”, an IDP is a translation of a national or domestic driver’s license that gives the holder the right to drive in any country that recognizes this document.
An International Driving Permit is valid in 140 countries, including the US, the UK, Australia and Japan. You can find the full list here.
Although not every country requires you to have an IDP, it is recommended you have one when traveling outside of your home country. In the US, you can apply for it at any AAA branch.
You can find more information about IDPs on this website.
How to translate your driver’s license for the DMV
We’ve discussed why you would need to translate your driver’s license and what the DMV requirements are. In this section, we’ll discuss the translation process in the United States.
1. Find an appropriate translation provider
The translator or translation company you choose should be able to issue a translation that meets the requirements of your local DMV office.
2. Ask for a quote and delivery time
Both the quote and the delivery time may vary depending on a variety of factors. We’ll delve into pricing later in this article, but when it comes to delivery time, driver’s license translations usually have a 24-72h turnaround.
3. Submit an electronic copy of your license
When submitting a copy of your driver’s license to your translation provider, you should make sure to include both the front and the back. You should also state your name, phone number, and email address. Finally, it’s important to mention the language of the original document (source language).
4. Receive your translation
Once the translation is complete, the translator or translation company will make sure it is reviewed for accuracy. You will then receive an electronic copy and hard copies by post if you need them.
Can I translate my own driver’s license?
No, you cannot. Driver’s licenses are legal documents and you should not translate them yourself. Most DMV offices clearly specify that the applicant and the translator cannot be the same person.
We suggest you don’t ask for help from friends or family either, even if they are professional translators, as this is seen as a conflict of interest and the translation will most likely not be accepted.
How much does it cost to translate a driver’s license?
The price for translation services varies depending on different factors. These include the length of the document, the format, the specific language combination, if you require certification and/or notarization and if you need the translation urgently.
For this article, we’ll consider certified translation as that’s what you are most likely to need for your driver’s license. Translators or translation companies usually charge per word or page (one "page" is roughly 250 words). When it comes to cost per word, prices range from $0.08 to $0.50/word. The cost per page can vary from $20 to $130.
RushTranslate provides certified driver’s license translation services for 65 languages, at $24.95 per page.
Although a driver’s license is a fairly common document, translation requirements vary greatly from state to state. It is important to check them before finding the right translation provider as this can save you a lot of time and money in the long run.
We hope this article has given you a clear overview of the process as well as all the information you need to translate your driver’s license for the DMV.
Updated November 4, 2022 in Translation