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Driving in Denver and Getting a Car

Most students use public transportation while they are here in Denver. It is often cheaper than getting a car. Review the many public transportation and taxi services available in Arrival and Transportation.

However, if you plan to get a car or drive while you are in Denver, you should get a Colorado Driver's License. Your international driver's license will work for up to 90 days (in most cases) when you first arrive in the U.S., but you should plan to get a Colorado driver's license as soon as possible if you expect to drive regularly here in the U.S. 

Colorado Driver's License and ID Card

If you plan to drive a car or motor vehicle while you are a student here in Colorado, you will need to have a valid driver’s license. You are allowed to drive with a valid driver’s license from your home country for the first 90 days that you are here in the U.S. However, you should plan to apply for a Colorado Driver’s License as soon as possible. Take some time to review the Department of Motor Vehicle’s (DMV) New to Colorado page for details about residency. Additionally, the DMV has a New to Colorado from another country page that can give you further details regarding the driver’s license process.

Before coming to the U.S., you may want to consider getting an International Driving Permit (IDP). This permit will translate your driver’s license from your home country into multiple languages, including English. You should have both the IDP and a valid driver’s license from your home country before driving here in the U.S.

A Colorado Identification Card (ID Card) is an option for students who do not plan to drive here in the U.S., but who wish to have an official form of identification that is often helpful for different types of administrative matters (writing checks, completing applications, etc.). Additionally, the Colorado ID card can be used for different social situations, such as entering certain businesses and establishments that have age requirements. It is safer for you to carry an ID card than to carry your passport. It is relatively simple to replace a lost ID, but losing a passport can have many negative consequences! The ID does not allow you to drive, but it is a good form of identification for certain situations, as mentioned above.

Please visit the DMV’s website for additional information about the driver’s license and ID card. Follow the instructions for temporary lawful presence.

Applying for the Colorado Driver's License or ID Card

Review the DMV’s New to Colorado from another country page first. Make sure you have the following documents with you before going to the DMV:

Testing for the Driver's License

Take some time to review the Colorado Driver Handbook to familiarize yourself with Colorado driving laws. You should do this before you apply for your driver's license. You do not need an appointment to simply apply for a driver's license, or do to the written exam. However, you should definitely make an appointment in advance to do the "road test" part of the application. Appointments can be made online or by phone.

If you complete a private driver's education course, the written and road test parts of the application may be waived. Additionally, your car insurance company may offer you a discount for completing a driver's education course. If you already have a U.S. driver's license from another state that is not Colorado, you may also be able to exchange your current license for a new Colorado license.

Below are a few of the different Department of Motor Vehicles locations here in Denver. You should call their department or schedule an appointment online before visiting their office. Be aware that the DMV can sometimes be very busy, which means you may have to wait a few hours to take care of your driver's license requirements.

  • Denver Central DMV - 1865 W. Mississippi Ave. #C
    • Open Monday - Friday, 8am - 5pm
    • +1-303-937-9507
  • Denver Northeast - 4685 Peoria St., Suite 115
    • Open Monday - Friday, 8am - 5pm
    • +1-303-373-0161

If you only need a car for a short period of time, such as a weekend trip or just for a day, renting a car is a popular option for many students. You should have a valid driver's license before planning to rent a car. Car rental agencies will have several forms for you to sign and will inform you of any policies or regulations before you rent the car. Read all of the information carefully to ensure that you understand what is expected, such as refilling the gas before returning the car, their insurance policy, and what to do in case of emergency. Some popular car rental companies are listed below:

A "car share" is a type of car rental program that allows you to rent a car for a short period of time, typically for just a few hours. These programs typically involve installing an app on your phone to access the vehicle. The following companies are popular car share options here in Denver:

DO NOT DRIVE WITHOUT CAR INSURANCE. If you rent a car, they should provide car insurance to you. If you purchase a car you MUST purchase automobile insurance for your vehicle. There are serious legal consequences to driving uninsured.  You should plan to get car insurance as soon as you purchase your car, if not before. 

Colorado state law requires car owners to maintain liability insurance for your car, which provides coverage in case of accident, death, or injury. You should have coverage for the minimum required amounts, or pay a little more for better insurance coverage. Collision insurance, for example, is a good option to purchase to cover any damages to your vehicle as well as comprehensive insurance which will cover damage from severe weather or vandalism. You should keep proof of insurance (which will be provided by your automobile insurance company) in your vehicle at all times. If you are ever pulled over by a police officer, they will immediately require you to show proof of your car insurance.

Purchasing Car Insurance

Most students get their car insurance online, but some students go in-person to an insurance agency. In either situation, you will be asked a series of questions to determine the type of coverage you will want to purchase for your car. Again, you should always purchase the minimum required amounts by Colorado state law, but you can also purchase insurance options that are better than those minimum requirements. Make sure you understand all of the terms and conditions of your car insurance before agreeing to an insurance plan and paying the bill. Getting or requesting a quote for the estimated price in advance from several different companies is also a good idea before deciding on the insurance plan for you. Below are some popular insurance providers:

Stay familiar with the Colorado Driver Handbook. This is your ultimate guide for what is expected of you as a driver here in Colorado. If you are a car owner, you will have many extra responsibilities. 

Always Wear Your Seat Belt

Whether you are the driver or a passenger, you are required to always wear your seat belt. Wearing a seat belt is one of the most effective ways to prevent or lessen injuries if you get in an accident. If you have children in the car with you, you should review the Colorado Department of Transportation's Car Seat Guidelines to ensure you are properly securing your children.

Pay Attention While You Drive - Don't Use Your Cell Phone!

It is against Colorado state law to text while driving. You will be ticketed if caught texting while driving. Additionally, talking on the phone should be done only with extreme caution. Ideally, you should have a hands-free way to answer your phone if it is necessary to use while driving.

Limit your distractions while driving. Avoid eating or listening to extremely loud music so that you can better focus on the road and other drivers around you. Be safe!

Driving in the Snow

Denver is known for getting snow in the winter time! If you are not experienced at driving in snow or ice, you should review the American Automobile Association's (AAA) Winter Driving Tips to be better prepared for driving in icy and snowy conditions. 

Taking Care of Your Car

If you are a car owner, you should maintain your car so that it is safe to operate and will not break as easily. Refer to page 12 of the Colorado Driver Handbook for information about maintaining your lights, exhaust system, tires, and brakes. Take your car to a mechanic such as Firestone or Goodyear for an oil change every 5000 miles, every three months, or when your "Change Oil" light comes on in the car. 

Most international students use public transportation, taxi services, or rent a car while they are in the U.S. However, if you believe that buying a car is the best choice for you, you should do some research before purchasing a vehicle. Typically, you will not be able to return the car if you change your mind after the sale, so you should be positive that you need the car first before making the purchase!

Before You Buy

Learn about the type of car you want before you make the purchase. There are many websites that will provide information about customer-satisfaction regarding all different types of cars. Checking with friends or other international students who have bought a car in the U.S. is also a good idea. Below are some websites that may make this process easier for you:

Additionally, the Colorado Department of Revenue has some useful tips and information about buying a car:

Purchasing a Car

If you choose to buy a New Car, be aware that different car dealerships will offer different prices for the same car. If there are certain special features you want after you have determined what type of car you want, you should expect to spend some time "customizing" these special features. It is best to compare prices before making any purchases, and see how much any of these customized features may increase your overall cost. Remember, salespeople at a dealership want you to spend money. Doing research in advance can help you determine what your car should cost before you make the purchase. Websites like CarTelligent can help you do thorough research before making the purchase. 

If you choose to buy a Used Car, you should still research what the typical cost of the car you are purchasing should be. Websites like Kelley Blue Book are helpful so that you know what to expect in terms of average prices for the year and model of your car. Before purchasing a used car, you may want to take the car to a mechanic first to inspect the vehicle and run a diagnostic check. This will help you determine whether the car is in good shape before you officially buy the car.

Some dealerships and individuals selling their car will give you a discount if you are able to pay the full amount of the car in "cash." DO NOT bring actual dollar bills (i.e. cash) with you to the purchase (this is very dangerous!). Bringing a cashier's check is a much safer way to make this type of purchase.

If you purchase your car through a dealership, many will offer loans and "financing" options for your car. This means that you are committing to a monthly car payment, much like paying rent. Loans may add to the overall cost of the car, but if you do not have all of the money available at the time of purchase, this may be a better option for you. Before you sign any kind of agreement, make sure you understand all of the details relating to your purchase. Keep copies of all of the documents!

Registering Your Car

After purchasing your car, you will need to register your vehicle with the DMV. Information about the registration process can be found online. You should expect to bring your driver's license, vehicle title, bill of sale or purchase receipt, an emissions test, the odometer reading, proof of car insurance, the vehicle identification number (VIN) vericiation, license plates, and a form of payment with you to the DMV. 

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