If you are a visitor in California over 18 years old and have a valid driver license from your home state or country (where you live permanently), you may drive in California without getting a California driver license as long as your home license remains valid. However, because local police may not be able to verify a foreign license as valid or current, you may still be cited for driving without a driver license. Therefore, UC San Diego recommends that you obtain a California driver license if you plan to drive while you are a student here. An international driver license is not the same thing as a license from your country and it is not recognized by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
If you would like a California driver license, follow these steps:
- Make an appointment through the DMV website.
- Go to the DMV on your appointment day with your passport, I-94 Arrival/Departure Record, and Address Verification. You may request an Address Verification from email@example.com. You must have these documents to prove your identity and legal status.
- You will be asked to complete an application, give a thumb print, have your picture taken, and pay the $38 application fee.
- You will also be asked for a Social Security Number (SSN). If you have an SSN, you must provide it. If you don’t have one, tell the DMV clerk that because you have a non-immigrant visa and you don’t have a job, you are not eligible for an SSN, and therefore you are exempt from this requirement.
- You must pass a vision exam and a test about traffic laws and signs. See an example of a test and download a study guide.
After you pass the written test, you must make an appointment to take a driving test. To take the driving test, you will need to:
- Call a DMV office and set up an appointment. Driving tests are not given without appointment. Call 1-800-777-0133 between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday-Friday.
- Provide proof of auto insurance. You must have liability car insurance to drive in California.
The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)
The DMV issues driver licenses and picture identification (ID) cards. If you purchase a car, it is also the place to go to have the ownership title put in your name and to register it. Visit the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) website for more information. The DMV has several offices in the San Diego area.