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Obtaining a CA Drivers License

Commonly Asked Questions

How do I apply for a California driver's license (DL) ?

Follow instructions found on the California DMV website.

Do I need to provide a Social Security Number (SSN)?

No. The California DMV website states:

Exception to the SSN requirement:
If you are legally present in the US, but ineligible for an SSN, you are exempt from SSN requirements. However, you must still provide an acceptable birth date/ legal presence (LP) document.

Some students, however, have been instructed by the DMV to obtain a letter of ineligibility from the Social Security Administration (SSA) or wait until they become eligible for a SSN. You must have employment authorization documents prior to applying for a SSN.

For how long will my driver's license be valid?

Results may vary. Your driver's license may expire on the same date as your legal presence document (generally considered to be your Form I-20 or OPT card). Some students have been issued a driver's license valid until their date of birth, 5 years from issuance. Consult the OISS early to avoid gaps in driver's license validity.

When should I apply for a new or renewal driver's license?

Wait at least 10 calendar days from the date of entry into the U.S.

Apply more than 60 days before your legal presence document expires. If your legal presence document has an expiration date less than 30 days in the future, you will not be able to start an driver's license application.

If your legal presence document has an expiration date of less than 60 days in the future, you may complete your licensing requirements — written, vision, driving tests — but you will need to submit another legal presence document, such as an Optional Practical Training (OPT) employment authorization card, with an expiration date of 60 days or more in the future before your driver's license is mailed to you. Before your driver's license expires, the DMV will mail out an "extension" letter with instructions on how to complete your application for a driver's license.

Can I use my international driver's license?

No. The State of California does not recognize an International Driving Permit (IDP) as a valid driver's license. California does recognize a valid driver's license that is issued by a foreign jurisdiction (country, state, territory) of which the license holder is a resident.

The IDP is only a translation of information contained on a person's foreign driver's license and is not required to operate a motor vehicle in California. Citations issued to a person in California who has an IDP, but does not have a California driver's license will be placed on the Department of Motor Vehicle database.

The IDP is also called and International Driver's License or International License.

Can I use my valid foreign driver's license?

Yes. According to the Policy Analyst, LOD (Licensing Operations Division, Driver Licensing Policy, DMV, Sacramento, California), the following California Vehicle Codes support a non-immigrant student's claim to nonresident status, allowing the student the use of a driver's license issued by a "foreign jurisdiction".

Section 516. "Resident" means any person who manifests an intent to live or be located in this state on more than a temporary or transient basis.

Section 12502. (a) The following persons may operate a motor vehicle in this state
without obtaining a driver license under this code:
(1) A nonresident over the age of 18 years having in his or her immediate
possession a valid driver's license issued by a foreign jurisdiction of which he or
she is a resident, except as provided in Section 12505.

Section 12505. (a) (1) For purposes of this division only and notwithstanding Section
516, residency shall be determined as a person's state of domicile. "State of domicile"
means the state where a person has his or her true, fixed, and permanent home and
principal residence and to which he or she has manifested the intention of returning
whenever he or she is absent.