If you plan to drive a car while in the U.S., you must have a driver’s license. California law states that if you are visiting and have a valid driver’s license from your home country, you may drive in our state as long as your license remains valid. However, it is recommended that you apply for a CA driver’s license as soon as possible if you plan to drive in CA as a student.
The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is the agency that registers all vehicles in California and issues driving licenses. Visit their website at: https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv to view the California Driver Handbook, forms, and instructions on how to apply for a California driver’s license. An appointment is required.
Wait at least 10 days after you enter the United States to apply for the license. The 10 day wait allows time for all the government databases to update with your arrival information. If you apply too early, your application will be delayed or denied. If you are a continuing student, please remember to wait 10 days from your most recent entry to the U.S.
Check all of your immigration documents to make sure your information is correct. Data integrity is very important because if you have different information on different forms, it will cause delays. You will need to bring your Passport, SEVIS I-20 form, I-94 form, and proof of residency to your appointment. Learn more about the residency requirements here: https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/dl/residency_requirement
Exception to the SSN requirement. Usually individuals applying for a CA driver’s license are required to have a social security number (SSN). However, the Social Security Administration only issues SSN numbers to F-1 visa holders who have been authorized to work. If you have not been authorized to work, you are exempt from the SSN requirement.
CA Driver’s License Checklist
- Schedule an appointment to the written test
- Bring all the documents you need to take the written test
- Pass the written test and receive your driver’s permit
- Schedule an appointment to take the driving test
- Take the driving test
- Pass the driving test and receive your temporary license
- Wait for your official license to arrive in the mail
The California State Identity Card
If you are not planning to drive, the DMV also issues the California Identity Card with your photo and date of birth information on it. This is an easily recognizable form of identification used for cashing checks, proving your age, etc. Plan on making an appointment before going to the DMV. To do so, visit the DMV website at: https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv.