Drivers licenses and documentation
First off – having a driver’s license is essential in Alabama. You will be seriously, and I mean seriously handicapped without one. Transit is piss-poor and infrequent in this region, which makes it very difficult to get groceries and get out to events without a car.
While there are several county offices in Jefferson and Shelby counties that will handle driver’s license transfers for American citizens, there is only one that foreigners need to know about – the Bankhead Highway Alabama Department of Public Safety Office.
This is the only regional office that will handle driver license transfers from outside the US.
All foreign nationals who will be residing in the state are required to switch their drivers license registration within 30 days of arrival. (Edit: Feb 2015) Base cost is now 36.25 + an additional handling fee (was $5 when I last renewed in spring 2014, not sure what current rate is). You must pay with a US debit or credit account or cash. No foreign credit cards accepted.
Check the required documentation list carefully – you cannot switch your foreign license to an Alabama one without appropriate documentation. If enrolled at one of the region’s post-secondary institutions, bring a letter from your campus foreign student’s office stating your enrolment status.
This is a busy office. There is no web page for the office, nor is there an easy online method for checking the queue length. Arrive as early as possible, as lines get long from 10 am forward. Bring a book or other reading material. Electronic devices aren’t welcome in the last waiting room. There are three queues:
- The front desk. Staff there will ensure that you have all the necessary documentation required to change over your license. Check with them about how much the license will cost and to ensure that you have the correct method of payment. You will be given a randomized ticket (that actually has a specific queue order, but I digress).
- The first waiting room. On a good day, you’ll be here about twenty minutes. On a bad day, up to two hours.
- The second waiting room. On a good day, you’ll be here about twenty minutes. On a bad day, up to an hour. You will sit down with a customer service agent after this.
From personal experience, it can take up to three visits to make the change. If you use these tips, it should be one.
Alabama Department of Public Safety – Driver’s License Testing Center
908 Bankhead Highway West, Birmingham, AL 35204
Phone: (205) 252-7445
Hours: Monday – Friday 7:00 am – 3:00 pm