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Get a SC Driver's License

1)-If you have a Chinese driver's license, bring it with you to the US. That would allow you to skip the 6-month "beginner permit" time here, and go directly for a SC Driver's License. You will still have to take the full exam (written and road test) though.

With a "beginner permit", you have a lot of limitations: you can only drive with someone else, who alredy has a full driving license; you cannot drive late in the night; you pay a lot on car insurance.

You can get the driver's handbook at the SC DMV (for a small fee) or online, as PDF (free):

1a)-If you have a Chinese driving license (available with you here), you will need to get an "authorized" or "official" translation.

You will need to fill in the SC DMV 4030 Form (Translation Document), available at:

Detailed information about it can be obtained at:

USC International Student Services (ISS) - Information:
Close-Hipp Building, Suite 650
1705 College Street
Columbia, SC 29208
Tel: (803) 777-7461
Fax: (803) 777-0462
Email: ude.cs|ssi#ude.cs|ssi

If you visit the ISS office, you will be informed that the University does NOT provide translation services, however they will recommend the following translation companies:

1)-Carolina Association of Interpreters and Translators:
Click on "Looking for a T/I Professional? - Search our Member Directory"

2)-Certified Translation Services:
One Harbison Way, Suite 105,
Columbia, SC 29212
(803) 781-7017
Specialize in 65 different languages
They have ATA certified translators (American Translators Association)
Charged per word, fees differ on the language.

3)-Agape Translation Services:
610 Pickens Street
Columbia, SC 29201
(803) 318-0800
They DO NOT translate driver's licenses. Will translate other documents. Charged per word, fees differ on the language.

2)-At the driving exam at the DMV, you will have to take a vision test (eye exam). If you have contact lenses, and not only framed eyeglasses, then wear your contact lenses that day.
The text you will have to read contains only numbers, for example:

2573 9304 1722

Three sets of 4 digits each. They will ask you to look with your left eye only - you should see the left and middle group. Then, with right eye only - you see the middle and right group. Then with both eyes, you should see all three.

3)-Contrary to the general opinion, it is better to pass the driving exam first, and THEN buy your own car. This would save you a lot of money on car insurance (a "full driving license" is considered much better than a "beginner permit"). So, you can ask a friend with a car, to help you to learn driving and pass the exam, then you can look to buy your own car.

4)-at the driving exam, make sure you bring all the documents you need (proof of your legal status, letter from USC etc - if you call the DMV, they will tell you what papers you need), or otherwise they will send you back to bring them - major waste of time.
Check "Accepted Forms of Identification" at:

-Proof of Identity (SC Code Section 56-1-80 and 56-1-90(2))
= passport with visa
-Proof of Date and Place of birth (SC Code Section 56-1-80 and 56-1-90(2))
= passport with visa
-Current authorization to live, work or study in the U.S. (SC Code Section 56-1-40(7) and 56-1-80)
= form I-20, 2019, IAS-66 etc (depending on your visa status), AND ALSO a letter from USC Grad School, stating you are an active student or worker at USC
-Social Security Card or Letter from the Social Security Administration (no more than 90 days old) stating that the applicant is not allowed to work in the United States (SC Code Section 56-1-90)
-Proof of SC residency (SC Code Section 56-1-40(7) and Section 56-1-80(3))
= proof of your home address: electricity bill, landline (fixed phone bill), rent contract, or letter from main tenant, if you are a roommate without your own contract
-Automobile liability insurance information (if applying for a driver’s license) (SC Code Section 56-1-80(C))
= valid insurance for the car used for your road exam (does not need to be your own car)

5)-Not all DMV offices in Columbia can handle exams for foreigners. The main two that can, are Shop Road and Ballentine. For the road exam, if you are not confident in your driving skills, then you can go to the Ballantine office. It is a longer drive there - about 15-18 miles or so - but the road configuration is easier over there, and it may be easier for you to pass the test.

Renew Your SC Drivers License

You need to go to a DMV office that processes documents for internationals. That is:

a)-Shop Road office:
896-8623; (800) 442-1368; 896-5000
1630 Shop Road, Columbia SC


b)-Irmo/Ballentine office:
Irmo Ballentine's
749-9041; 749-9036
1016 Broad Stone Road, Irmo SC

You need to bring the following documents:
a)-Current SC Drivers License
b)-Proof of address, also called proof of residence (current electricity bill, current cable bill, land line phone bill etc - ~fixed~ items, not like cell phone bill or so).
c)-proof of current legal status in the US (passport with currently valid visa, I-20, I-94, letter from school stating you are still a student now - or from your company, stating that you curently work for them -, SSN card). You may not be asked to show all these, but it's good practice to have them with you.

If you don't have any ~proof of address~ or ~proof of residence~ documents, such as you are a roommate and all items are on your main tenant's name, you can ask your main tenant to write an informal paper, kind of copying the rent agreeement with his / her landlord, and stating that you stay in the same place etc.

Call first, before you go, and ask for detailed requirements, to avoid frustrations and wasted time…

Most likely you will get your renewed driving license printed right away, shown to you to verify the accuracy of the information on it, but not given to you that day. Instead, you will receive it in the mail, about 30-45 days later. When you get there, you will get some yellow paper, which serves as a temporary drivers license.

Learn to drive

Most people learn to drive from friends, and some learn from a driving school or driving course. Some combine those two methods.
Note: driving schools can charge about $50-$60 per hour, with a certified or specialized driving instructor.

Driving course or school recommendation and experience

Buying a car

Should I buy new or used?

Used car

6)-for buying a car:
from personal experience (others may disagree): do not look to buy an expensive car, unless you really have the money for it. A $2000-$3000 one, would do well enough, specially if you don't travel a lot, to other cities.
Do not look to get a bank (or dealer) loan for a car - it is too much trouble compared to the benefits, specially if you are a foreign student, newcomer, with no credit history etc. Also, if you bought your car on a loan, you will be required to buy full (comprehensive) insurance - much more expensive than a regular one, liability-only.

Check, enter the car's VIN number, before you buy the car. Try to avoid cars with "salvage title", accidents (specially with "rebuilt" after that) etc. Check Kelley Blue Book - - and compare the Private Party value, of your desired car, with what the seller is asking you for.

New car

Selling a car

Fix cars

Mechanic recommendation and experience

Here are some good car repair shops that are not too expensive. NOTE: Please verify phone numbers and addresses online, as information might have changed:

Pope Davis Tire and Service
1227 Rosewood Dr (& Assembly)
Fax: 765-1208

1531 Taylor Street (& Pickens)

A personal opinion: do not use "backyard car shops", specially if you need some significant car work.
They are sometimes cheap, but they often do shoddy work. Sometimes you end up having to go back several times, or to go to a "real" service anyway.

Do It Yourself (DIY)

1)-Make sure your car has the spare tire in the trunk, and it is full (has air).

2)-Make sure your jack (lifting device) and wrench are in place, so you can replace a flat tire yourself (if you know how). Or, even if you don't know how, others can help. You might want to buy a cross-shaped wrench, with 4 nut shapes at the ends (about $10-12 at Walmart), it is much stronger than the original one your car came with.

3)-it is useful to have jump-start cables, to recharge your battery from another car, in case your battery dies (such as when you forgot your lights on). $10 or so, at Walmart or at many other stores.
However, if your battery dies often, you need to buy another battery. Very simple to replace, and much cheaper to just buy it and replace it yourself (about $75-$100), than to have a car shop replace it for you (about $60 extra, for labor).

Be familiar with how to jump-start your car, from another car:
a)-connect the cables, from the other battery to yours: "+" to "+" and "-" to "-" (or, "+" to "+" and the other car's "-" to your "ground" or hood);
b)-the other car turns engine on;
c)-wait about 30 sec or 1 min;
d)-try to turn your engine on;
e)-if your engine started, disconnect jump-start cable quickly;
f)-do not stop your engine, for at least 10-15 mins after you jump-started, to give your engine the time to recharge your battery.

4)-if you have an older car which may burn engine oil (notice some grey smoke coming from the exhaust), or leak water or coolant from the radiator, then make sure you have some extra oil and water with you. Easy to refill, you just need to know which cap to open.

5)-Useful to buy a AAA subscription - "basic" for about $50/year - provides up to 4 towing services a year, for 3 miles free, then $2 / mile, in case your car broke down, or you had an accident. Otherwise, towing is quite expensive, easily above $50-$70 for one-time service. Besides, with AAA you can get some free maps, hotel/motel discounts etc.

6)-in case of a flat tire, if there is only a small puncture, and not a deep cut or shred, you can use a special glue-spray, called "Fix-a-flat" or similar, to temporarily fix your tire. One tube costs about $5, and it is available at most gas stations or convenience stores. However, once you got home safe, you should still fix your tire, and not keep driving with the one you "glued" this way.

7)-if you are somewhat familiar with electrical installations, you should find your car fuse box, identify which type of fuses your model needs, and buy some extra. Probably less than 50c/piece, your car should have about 10 pieces total. Most of the cases when your car electric things suddenly stopped working, are due to burned fuses. In such cases, you may be able to fix it yourself, the fuse is very easy to plug / unplug, similar to a regular power plug, in a wall socket, at home.

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