Driving

Driving as a Non-Resident in the U.S.

If you are not a resident of the United States (you are on visa and paying non-resident tuition), and have a valid license from your home country, you may drive in this state. However, it is strongly recommended that you obtain a California license if you expect to drive or purchase a car. Also, be prepared to obtain the required automobile insurance if you buy a car. A driver license or a California identification card, which is also available at the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), is also a useful form of identification for writing checks and for other instances in which you require a “government-issued ID”. A California Driver’s License is valid throughout the United States.

An Important Note on the “International Driver’s License”

An “international driver’s license” is a translation of information contained on your home country driver license. It only verifies that you hold a valid license in your home country. It is your foreign driver license that allows you to drive in the United States. If you drive in the U.S. before you obtain a California driver license (or one from another U.S. state) you must be prepared to show your home country driver license as well as the international driver license.

Obtaining a California Driver License

The California Department of Motor Vehicles

The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is the state agency responsible for driver licensing and vehicle registration. If you would like to obtain a California Driver License, and have never been licensed to drive anywhere else in the United States, you must take both the Written Test as well as the Behind-the-Wheel Driving Test. You may go directly to the DMV office for the written test, but must have an appointment to take the Behind-the-Wheel Driving Test. Making an appointment online at www.dmv.ca.gov to take the written test will always save you time.

Preparing Your Application

You will need the following:

  • Passport
  • I-20/DS-2019
  • Your current I-94 information
  • If you have been issued a Social Security card you must present it *

* However, a Social Security number is not required if you have not yet been issued one (most new students are not eligible for a social security card unless they get an on-campus job).

The Written Test

Before you take the written test, you should study the “California Driver’s Handbook,” which is available on the DMV website. It paraphrases the vehicle code and explains the rules of the road. If you study this handbook, you should be able to pass the written examination. Also available on the DMV website are sample tests are extremely helpful, as they familiarize you with the language of the written exam questions. You may also find the interactive Driving Knowledge Tutorial helpful. Once you pass the written exam, you will obtain a driver permit that is valid for one year, please be aware of the limitations of this permit.

The Behind-the-Wheel Driving Test

After you pass the written test and get the driver permit, you must take the behind-the-wheel driving test within one year. An examiner will accompany you on a driving test, so you should be familiar with the car you are driving when you go to be tested. You must show proof that the car is properly registered and insured at the time of the test. You may borrow a car from a friend or sign up with a local driving school for a fee. You may also rent a car for the test. After you pass the test, you will receive a temporary license valid until your license arrives by mail within one to three months.

Helpful Links

California Department of Motor Vehicles

I-94 Information

CA Driver Handbook, Sample Written Tests and Driving Knowledge Tutorial