Driving Licences in India

Information on how to apply for a learner’s, temporary or permanent licence in India…

The central government’s Motor Vehicles Act (1988) states that any individual who operates a motor vehicle in a public place must have a valid driving licence issued by the state government’s regional transport office or authority (RTO/RTA). Each state’s RTO/RTA has offices in major cities and towns, where licences can be obtained and renewed.

Two types of driving licence are issued in India: a learner’s licence and a permanent licence. A learner’s licence is required before a permanent licence can be issued, unless the applicant already has a valid driving licence from another country or an international driving permit (IDP). Holders of a foreign driving licence or an IDP can obtain a permanent licence by passing a written test.

There are three types of permanent licence issued in India:

  • Motorcycle licence – for operating motorbikes, scooters and mopeds
  • Light motor vehicle licence – for operating cars, sedans, auto rickshaws, taxis and sport utility vehicles
  • Heavy motor vehicle licence – for operating trucks, lorries, buses, tourist coaches and cranes

Policies for Foreign Driving Licence Holders

Policies on driving in India with a foreign driving licence vary from state to state. It is therefore advisable for holders of foreign driving licences to either obtain an international driving permit (IDP) from their home country or to apply for a permanent driving licence.

An IDP is the best option for those who plan to stay in India for a short duration because it is valid for one year. It also allows the holder to drive a vehicle between states. After the IDP expires, a permanent licence is required.

Those who plan to stay for longer than a year should immediately apply for a permanent driving licence. Holders of a foreign driving licence or an IDP can obtain a permanent licence at a regional RTO/RTA after passing a written test. A driving test is not required for holders of an IDP or foreign driving licence. Aside from this policy, the RTO/RTA does not distinguish between foreign passport holders and Indian nationals who apply for a permanent licence.

Driving lessons are not required to obtain a permanent licence for operating motorcycles and light motor vehicles. It is still a good idea to enrol in a driving school in order to get accustomed to India’s chaotic traffic. The RTO/RTA can provide a list of reputable driving schools. More information can be found on the Permanent Licence page.

Other Rules and Regulations

India has a system of directly issuing tickets (called “challan”), fines and other punishments for traffic and vehicle violations, rather than a points system. For example, driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs can result in a fine of Rs2,000 and/or imprisonment for up to six months. Driving without a valid licence can lead to a Rs500 fine or imprisonment for three months.

Despite this penalty system, people still blatantly violate traffic rules. Police officers rarely enforce these laws or levy fines against reckless drivers.

  • For the Indian Driving Schools’ summary of traffic rules and regulations: Click here