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Car ownership for DACA and undocumented citizens

Portrait of afro woman preparing to drive

Key takeaways

  • Acquiring a driver’s license provides not only the legal ability to drive but also a valuable form of identification for undocumented citizens and DACA recipients.
  • Alternative financing options, like using an ITIN, offer pathways to buy a car and secure car insurance without a Social Security number.
  • Vigilance in understanding and navigating the car buying and insurance processes could help undocumented citizens avoid common financial pitfalls and sales pressures.

In the U.S., the privilege of holding a driver’s license is often overlooked. However, for DACA and those who do not have documented citizenship, acquiring one is not straightforward, especially if they lack a Social Security number for essential credit checks. Since June 15, 2012, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) has offered protections to specific non-citizens who entered the United States as children. DACA not only provides work authorization but also extends the opportunity for eligible individuals to obtain a driver’s license. Understanding how to navigate this process could help those who are not documented but want to obtain a driver’s license.

Getting a driver’s license as an undocumented citizen

Driving privileges for undocumented citizens, including those with DACA status, are determined at the state level by established legislation. While acquiring a driver’s license can be more challenging for undocumented immigrants, it is essential due to the benefits it brings. Not only does it allow you to drive legally, it also facilitates interactions with employers, banks, insurance providers and government agencies.

Though DACA offers federal protections, it doesn’t automatically grant driving privileges. However, some DACA recipients might receive a Social Security number (SSN), allowing them to apply for a regular driver’s license in most states. It’s essential to note that when awarded DACA status, not all recipients obtain a legal work authorization or Social Security number.

To achieve this, one must qualify through the Enumeration Beyond Entry (EBE) program, a collaborative effort between the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Social Security Administration (SSA). This program enables recipients to apply for both work authorization and an SSN simultaneously, either through a single application or in-person at a Social Security office.

Always check your state’s specific laws to understand the options available to you. We’ve provided links to resources by state to help you get started in your search.

  • State Effective Date DMV page
    California Jan. 1, 2015 https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/driver-licenses-identification-cards/assembly-bill-ab-60-driver-licenses/
    Colorado Aug. 1, 2014 https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/dmv/co-rcsa-sb251-driver-licenses-and-ids
    Connecticut Jan. 1, 2015 https://portal.ct.gov/DMV/Licenses/Licenses/Drive-Only-License-Program
    Delaware Dec. 27, 2015 https://www.dmv.de.gov/DriverServices/drivers_license/DPC/index.shtml
    District of Columbia May 1, 2014 https://dmv.dc.gov/service/limited-purpose-driver-license
    Hawaii Jan. 1, 2016 https://hidot.hawaii.gov/driverslicense/#intro
    Illinois Nov. 28, 2013 https://www.cyberdriveillinois.com/departments/drivers/TVDL/tvdl.html
    Maryland Jan. 1, 2014 https://mva.maryland.gov/drivers/Pages/non-compliant-drivers-licenses.aspx
    Massachusetts July 1, 2023 https://www.mass.gov/guides/work-and-family-mobility-act-wfma
    Minnesota Oct. 1, 2023 https://www.ilcm.org/latest-news/frequently-asked-questions-drivers-licenses-for-all/
    New Jersey June 1, 2020 https://www.state.nj.us/mvc/drivertopics/noncitizens.htm
    New Mexico 2003 https://www.mvd.newmexico.gov/nm-drivers-licenses-ids/
    New York (a) June 17, 2019 https://dmv.ny.gov/driver-license/driver-licenses-and-green-light-law
    Nevada Jan. 1, 2014 https://dmvnv.com/dac.htm
    Oregon Aug. 9, 2019 https://www.oregon.gov/odot/DMV/pages/driverid/licenseget.aspx
    Rhode Island July 1, 2023 https://www.ri.gov/press/view/43899
    Utah Mar. 8, 2005 https://dld.utah.gov/license-permit-idcard-cdl/driving-privilege-card-dpc/
    Vermont Jan. 1, 2014 https://dmv.vermont.gov/licenses/types-of-licenses-ids/driver-privilege-card
    Virginia Jan. 1, 2021 https://www.dmv.virginia.gov/drivers/#driver_privilege_card.asp
    Washington July 25, 1993 https://www.dol.wa.gov/driverslicense/idproof.html

License restrictions for undocumented citizens

Any license for undocumented citizens will not be valid for federal or REAL ID purposes, such as flying or voting, as of May 7, 2025. But some states have additional restrictions on driver’s licenses for those who cannot prove they are a U.S. citizen.

New Mexico and Washington are two states notable for their lack of license restrictions for undocumented citizens. Common requirements mandate that drivers prove residency, show proof of tax filing and provide supporting documentation, as applicable.

Some states have additional requirements. For example, Utah S 227 establishes that unauthorized immigrants may have a valid driving card for just one year. At the same time, Virginia law allows its drivers to retain privileges through their second birthday after issuance. Maryland’s restricted driver’s license prohibits recipients from purchasing a firearm.

Benefits of having a driver’s license

In addition to driving privileges, your driver’s license can have other benefits, too.

  • An official identification. Your license includes critical information, such as your name and address, that can be used to verify your identity. All states may not officially recognize it as a form of identification, but it still provides critical, life-saving information should you be involved in an accident.
  • Access to domestic flights. Most U.S. airlines require you to show identification before boarding a plane, so having a driver’s license can help you catch a flight. Keep in mind that many states’ restricted licenses for undocumented citizens are not compliant with the REAL ID act, which will take effect in May 2025, after which you won’t be able to use a restricted ID to board a commercial flight.
  • Cheaper car insurance. Having a driver’s license with a clean driving record could help you get cheaper car insurance rates from some of the best auto insurance companies in the country.

Buying a car as an undocumented citizen

Purchasing a new vehicle can be a significant financial undertaking, whether you’re opting for a brand-new model or a used one. An auto loan is often a valuable solution, but applicants must meet specific criteria to qualify.

For many transactions, including buying a car, lenders typically request an SSN to confirm your identity and conduct a credit evaluation. This can present a challenge for undocumented citizens who might not possess the necessary details. However, certain lenders or car companies might accept an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) as an alternative. An ITIN allows individuals to file taxes irrespective of their immigration status and might replace a Social Security number in various scenarios, depending on the institution’s policies.

Another scenario that could potentially pose some problems is that many DACA recipients, being relatively new to the credit system, might face challenges in securing loans due to limited credit history. Therefore, for better auto loan rates and financing opportunities, it could be helpful for both undocumented citizens and DACA recipients to focus on enhancing their credit scores, ensuring they present a solid credit standing when applying for loans. Always explore your options and consult with different companies, as requirements and offerings can differ.

Loan options for undocumented citizens

Once you have found the vehicle you want, it is time to sign on the dotted line. If you do not have the funds to pay in total upfront, there are still several options to finance your new car with an auto loan.

  • Dealership financing: The dealership is likely to push its in-house financing if you need an auto loan. This may be a convenient fit, but it’s a good idea to shop for financing rates to be sure that you are getting a better rate for your new car.
  • Direct online financing: An online lender may be a better fit for those seeking more approachable credit requirements.
  • Credit unions: A credit union is another option to pay for your new car. Credit unions can offer low-interest rates and excellent incentives for their members that can be hard to beat elsewhere.
  • Personal loans: A personal loan could also help you finance your vehicle. It enables you to bypass the down payment requirement with a flexible loan option. If you choose an unsecured personal loan, your lender won’t hold your new car as collateral. However since your car is not collateral the rates are likely to be higher than a secured loan.

Tips for finding cheap cars for undocumented citizens

Finding an affordable car is important for many, especially undocumented citizens who may have budget constraints or not have the adequate credit profile for a car loan. While searching for cost-effective vehicles, it’s crucial to stay informed and be wary of potential pitfalls in the buying process. Here are some general guidelines to help you find an economical car and ensure a smoother transaction:

  1. Research is key: Before heading to a dealership, do some online research. Websites that list used cars can give you an idea of the price range for the type of vehicle you’re interested in.
  2. Understand the total cost: Beyond the car’s price, there are additional fees to consider. These can include processing fees, licensing fees, title and registration fees. These added costs can accumulate, pushing your final bill beyond your budget. Be sure to ask about all associated charges before finalizing your purchase.
  3. Beware of sales tactics: Car salespeople have a range of tactics to persuade buyers. One common method is the rushed sell, where they’ll pressure you to make a decision before you leave the lot. It’s essential to stand your ground and not feel obligated to buy immediately. Take your time, think about the offer and perhaps consult with someone you trust.
  4. Consider bringing a friend: If you’re not fluent in English or are unfamiliar with car-buying norms, consider bringing a friend to help navigate the process, provide translation if necessary and offer a second opinion.
  5. Hidden fees and add-ons: Some dealers might introduce extra products like extended warranties or add-ons like rust-proofing. While some of these might be beneficial, always consider whether you genuinely need them and if they fit within your budget.
  6. Negotiate: Don’t hesitate to negotiate the price. If you’ve done your research, you’ll have a better idea of what’s a fair price for the car you’re interested in. It might feel uncomfortable, but it’s a standard part of the car-buying process.

Getting car insurance as an undocumented citizen

Obtaining auto insurance can present challenges for undocumented immigrants. Typically, insurance companies prefer to provide policies to those with valid driver’s licenses and a traceable driving record. However, a person with DACA status and a valid license generally has an easier time securing coverage.

When purchasing car insurance, many providers ask for a Social Security number to verify identity and assess creditworthiness. If you lack an SSN, there are still some insurance companies willing to accommodate, though they might request an upfront deposit.

Regardless of your citizenship status, it’s vital to be aware of your state’s insurance requirements. Always ensure you meet or exceed the minimum coverage mandates. And even though it’s not required, it’s prudent to consider full coverage car insurance for more comprehensive protection.

How to get cheap car insurance as an undocumented citizen

Undocumented citizens face unique hurdles when trying to buy affordable car insurance. Traditional avenues for obtaining insurance can sometimes be less accessible due to the absence of a Social Security number or other documentation. Regardless, having valid car insurance is vital, both legally and for personal protection against potential mishaps. Fortunately, there are some strategies tailored to help undocumented individuals navigate this process.

Tips for finding cheap car insurance for undocumented citizens

If you are an undocumented citizen there are some tips you can use to potentially help lower the cost of car insurance premiums each month.

  • Research insurance providers: Not all insurance companies might be familiar with or open to insuring undocumented citizens. Start by identifying companies that are known for working without requiring a Social Security number.
  • State-specific opportunities: Some states may have specific insurance programs or policies that are more lenient or considerate towards undocumented citizens. Investigate regional options.
  • Use an ITIN: While you might not have a Social Security number, many undocumented citizens can obtain an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). Some insurance providers accept this as an alternative.
  • Maintain a safe driving record: A clean driving record can significantly reduce your premiums. Drive cautiously and adhere to all traffic laws to avoid tickets or violations.
  • Inquire about payment plans: Some insurance providers might offer flexible payment plans tailored for individuals with limited documentation.
  • Bundle services if possible: Even if you’re undocumented, if you have other insurable interests like a rented apartment, try to bundle your insurance policies with the same carrier. Most insurers offer a decent discount for doing this.
  • Stay informed on legal changes: Legislation related to undocumented citizens can change. Stay updated on any new laws or provisions that might make the process of obtaining insurance easier.

Bottom line

Navigating the path to car ownership for DACA recipients and undocumented citizens in the U.S. can be intricate, but it’s not impossible. The absence of a Social Security number might pose challenges, especially when seeking financing or insurance. However, obtaining a valid driver’s license is a critical step. A license isn’t just a ticket to drive—it’s a recognized form of identification, invaluable for many aspects of life.

While the journey might be riddled with obstacles, it’s essential to remember that resources and avenues exist to facilitate the process. By staying informed, leveraging available options and persisting through challenges, the goal of owning a car and experiencing the freedom it offers could become increasingly reachable.

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