Obtaining a California Driver's License

If you are a visitor in California over 18 and have a valid driver’s license from your home state or country, you may drive in this state without getting a California drivers license as long as your home state license remains valid.

If you are an international student or scholar and intend to drive, you must get a California driver’s license.

How to apply for a California driver’s license or identification card:

  • Visit the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) website - http://www.dmv.ca.gov
  • Visit a DMV office (check the website for closest location and make an appointment for faster service)
  • Complete application form DL 44. An original DL 44 form must be submitted
  • Give a thumb print
  • Have your picture taken
  • Provide your social security number, if one is available
  • Verify your birth date and legal presence
  • Pay the $28 application fee (Reduced fee for identification card applications)
  • Pass a vision exam (not necessary for identification card application)
  • Pass a traffic laws and sign test. There are 36 questions on the test. Once you pass the written test you will get an interim driving license that you may use together with your home country driving license to start practicing for the driving test.

If you have a license from another country, you will be required to take a driving test. If you have a license from another state, the driving test can be waived. You have three chances to pass the driving test.

The California driver’s license and identification card have been declared as primary identification documents in this state by the California legislature. State law requires every applicant for an original California identification (ID) card and driver’s license to show verification of birth date and proof of legal presence within the United States to help safeguard the accuracy and integrity of departmental documents.

Only the original or a certified copy of one of the following documents is acceptable:

  • Resident Alien Card
  • Temporary Resident Identification Card
  • Canadian Passport or Birth Certificate
  • Nonresident Alien Canadian Border Crossing Card
  • Valid foreign passport with a valid Record of Arrival/Departure (form I-94 Arrival-Departure Record)

To take your driving test, you will need to:

  • Call a DMV office to set up an appointment. (Driving tests are not given without an appointment)
  • Provide proof of financial responsibility / Show evidence of liability insurance

After you pass your driving test you will be issued an interim license valid for 60 days until you receive your new photo license in the mail. If you did not present complete documentation to verify birth date and legal presence, you will be issued a temporary license valid for 60 days until you complete the documentation requirements. Make sure you provide the DMV with your correct mailing address.

If you wish to apply for a motorcycle license, the procedure is similar; however, you must complete a motorcycle riding training course given by the California Highway Patrol or the Department of Motor Vehicles. Obtain the Motorcycle Driver Handbook for more information.

Vision exam requirement: A 20/40 visual acuity with or without glasses is the department’s vision guideline. The department has authority for administering the vision exam per the California Vehicle Code.

Bring your eyeglasses if you wear them. Applicants who do not pass the eye exam may, depending on the circumstances, be referred to a vision specialist. The vision specialist may prescribe eyeglasses or a stronger prescription for the current eyeglasses worn.

When you are required to report an accident to the DMV

If you are involved in a vehicle accident that occurred in California, you must report it to the DMV if:

• There was property damage of more than $500 or
• Anyone was injured (no matter how minor) or killed.

Each driver must make a report to the DMV within 10 days, whether you caused the accident or not and even if the accident occurred on private property. If you have insurance, notify your insurance company and they will file the report on your behalf.

DMV Traffic Accident Report form SR 1/SR 1A
If you do not submit this report, your driving privilege will be suspended. DMV may ask your insurance company to verify that you had coverage in effect at the time of the accident. If you did not have insurance, your driving privilege will be suspended for 1 year. To get your license back, after the suspension, you will need to provide proof of financial responsibility and maintain it on record for 3 years. The accident may count as 1 point on your driving record.

Identification (ID) cards

DMV also issues ID cards to persons of any age. The ID card is similar to a driver’s license, but is used for identification purposes only – you may not drive with an ID card. A regular ID card is valid for 6 years.