DWLS and Foreign Driver’s Licenses

In Michigan, individuals must have proof of legal citizenship or legal presence in the United States in order to obtain a valid driver’s license.   Undocumented and illegal aliens at the present time are not eligible to obtain a Michigan driver’s license.  Most aliens (including undocumented aliens) and most other non-residents of Michigan can protect themselves from accusations of Driving Without a License by taking the steps outlined by Michigan Compiled Law 257.302a.

This law states that non-residents are not required to obtain a Michigan driver’s license to drive in Michigan.  In order to drive legally the non-resident must do the following:

  1. Make sure that your home country is part of an international treaty or other agreement that is recognized by Michigan.  The following countries are treaty countries:
    1. African Countries: Algeria; Benin; Botswana; Burkina Faso; Central African Republic; Congo; Congo Democratic Republic; Cote d’Ivoire; Egypt; Gambia; Ghana; Lesotho; Madagascar; Malawi; Mali; Niger; Nigeria; Rwanda;  Senegal; Sierra Leone; South Africa; Suriname; Swaziland; Tanzania; Tunisia; Uganda; Zambia; Zimbabwe.
    2. Asian/Euro-Asian/South Pacific Countries: Bangladesh; Cambodia; China (Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan only); Fiji; Georgia; India; Israel; Japan; Jordan; Korea; Kyrgyz Republic; Laos; Lebanon;  Malaysia; Papua New Guinea; Philippines; Seychelles; Singapore; Sri Lanka; Syrian Arab Republic; Thailand; Togo; Turkey; United Arab Emirates; Western Samoa; Vietnam.
    3. Australia.
    4. Central America/Caribbean Countries: Bahamas; Barbados; Belize; Costa Rica; Cuba; Dominican Republic; El Salvador; Grenada; Guatemala; Haiti; Honduras; Jamaica; Panama; St. Lucia; St. Vincent and the Grenadines; Trinadad and Tobago.
    5. European  Countries: Albania; Austria; Belgium; Bulgaria; Cyprus; Czech Republic; Denmark; Finland; France; Germany; Greece; Hungary; Iceland; Italy; Ireland; Luxembourg; Malta;  Norway; Poland; Portugal; Romania; Russian Federation; San Marino; Serbia and Montenegro; Slovak Republic;  United Kingdom; Spain; Sweden; Turkey; Vatican City.
    6. North America: Canada; Mexico.
    7. South American Countries: Argentina; Chile; Columbia; Ecuador; Guyana;  Paraguay; Peru; Uruguay.
  2. If your home country is not one of the treaty countries, there are a number of non-treaty countries that Michigan still recognizes.  However, the driver of the following countries must still have a valid legal United States immigration status (cannot be undocumented or illegally in the United States):
    1. African Countries: Angola; Burundi; Cameroon; Cape Verde; Chad; Comoros; Djibouti; Equatorial Guinea; Eritrea; Ethiopia; Gabon; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Kenya; Liberia; Libya; Mozambique; Sao Tome Principe; Somalia; South Sudan; Sudan.
    2. Asian/Euro-Asian/South Pacific Countries: Afghanistan; Armenia;  East Timor; Azerbaijan; Bahrain; Belarus; Bhutan; Brunei; Burma; China; Indonesia; Iran; Iraq; Kazakhstan; Kiribati; Kuwait; Maldives; Marshall Islands; Mauritania; Micronesia Moldova; Mongolia; Nauru; Nepal; Oman; Pakistan; Palau; Palestinian Territories; Qatar; Samoa; Saudi Arabia;   Solomon Islands; Tajikistan; Timor Leste; Tonga; Turkmenistan; Tuvalu; Ukraine; Uzbekistan; Vanuatu; Yemen.
    3. Central America/Caribbean Countries:  Antigua and Barbuda; Aruba; Curacao; Dominica; St. Kitts and Nevis; Saint Maarten.
    4. European  Countries: Andorra; Bosnia and Herzegovina; Croatia; Estonia; Kosovo; Latvia; Lichtenstein; Lithuania; Macedonia; Slovenia; Switzerland;
    5. South American Countries: Bolivia.
  3. You must have a valid, non-expired license from your home country.
  4. You must have a valid international driving permit.  If the country where you are from does not issue international driver’s permits the alien can use a document with a photograph that substantially corresponds to and international driver’s permit, along with an English language translation.  If the foreign driver’s license is already in English a translation is not necessary.

What Should I Do If I Get Stopped By a Police Officer While Driving?

Cooperate with the police officer and provide the officer with the required documentation.  Remember, if you are a non-resident of Michigan that is from a treaty country with a valid foreign license, and international driver’s permit (or other valid document that substantially corresponds to an international driver’s permit), and an English translation of that document if it isn’t in English already, you are lawfully allowed to drive in Michigan.  It is recommended that you have your passport with a visa or other documentation to establish to the officer your legal status in the United States if you have such documentation.  You may also want to carry a copy of Michigan Compiled Law 257.302a with you as well to provide to the police officer, especially if you do not have a valid status in the United States.  Many police officers are not educated in this legal provision, and sometimes issue tickets for not having a license anyways.

A resident is defined by Michigan Compiled Law 257.51a  as a person who resides in Michigan and establishes that he or she is legally present in the United States.  Therefore, an undocumented alien or illegal alien cannot be considered to be a resident of Michigan. A non-resident cannot be required to obtain a Michigan driver’s license to drive because it is impossible to do so.

What Should I Do If I Get a Ticket for Driving Without a License or Driving While License Suspended?

Contact an experienced lawyer immediately, such as attorney Daniel Hilf of the law firm Hilf & Hilf, PLC.  Driving without a Valid License or Driving while your License is Revoked, Denied, or never obtained is a misdemeanor in Michigan.  A misdemeanor is a crime which means that you will have to appear in front of a Judge (you cannot simply pay a fine at the courthouse to dispose of the matter).  If you do not appear, a bench warrant will be issued for your arrest.  However, appearing in front of a Judge may bring you to the attention of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).  Having an experienced lawyer gives you the best chance of trying to avoid jail and/or immigration related issues.