What does it take to legally drive in California if you are a foreign national or non-resident? For starters, as long as you have a valid driver’s license from your country or territory, you’ll be able to drive on the state’s roads and highways. California will recognize that license.
Whether you are a temporary visitor, student or someone who plans to become a U.S. citizen, it’s a good idea to consider obtaining a driver’s license. Remember, driving without a license is illegal. Another detail to remember is that people who possess an International Driving Permit (IDP) are out of luck. California does not recognize IDPs as valid driver’s licenses.
People who possess a valid diplomatic driver’s licenses from the U.S. Department of State also do not need a California driver’s license. And tourists may drive rental cars in the state for up to a year if they have a valid driver’s license from their home country.
Tips for international students
International students especially may wish to consider obtaining a valid driver’s license to get from one destination to another as well as explore the state. With a number of colleges, universities and technical schools near Westminster, the community serves a number of students who hail from other countries.
If you are an international student with an F-1 or M-1 visa, you are eligible to drive in the United States, but you must apply for a license at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The same goes for an exchange visitor/scholar with a J visa and their dependents.
Here are some pointers for such visa holders who want to obtain a license:
- Be patient. It’s best to wait at least 10 days after you’ve entered the United States to apply. The 10-day wait provides time for government databases to get updated with your arrival information. Applying too early may result in your application being delayed or denied.
- Verify that your Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record is up-to-date and considered active. SEVIS is an internet-based system that the U.S. government relies on to maintain accurate and current information on non-immigrant students, exchange visitors and their dependents.
- Confirm that your immigration documents are correct.
- Provide all paperwork to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Don’t forget that in obtaining a California driver’s license, you will have to take the written and practice exams, so thoroughly read, study, practice your driving skills and review. Then you can safely and legally learn about the state from behind the wheel.