Do you need a California Driver’s License?
Getting a California Driver’s License with an Immigration Visa: If you are here on a tourism visa of any kind, then as a tourist, you may drive a rental car in California for one year as long as you have a valid driver’s license from their home country. See the California Department of Motor Vehicles for complete details.
If you will be driving in California and/or you plan to purchase a motor vehicle (a car, scooter or motorcycle), we recommend that you get a California Driver’s License. Many insurance companies will provide coverage, or offer you better rates only if you have one, and having automobile insurance is a legal requirement in California.
How To Apply for the California Driver License
The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has the latest California Driver Handbook, forms, and instructions on how to apply for a California Driver License(link is external). Check out the helpful section in the handbook (link is external)on frequently asked questions and residency requirements.
If this if your first CA Driver’s License, you are required to schedule an appointment at any branch office of the DMV.
An F-1 student, F-2 dependent or J-1 student is NOT required to have a Social Security Number to be eligible for a driver license.
A J-1 scholar must present a Social Security Number to be eligible for a driver license. J-2 dependents are only required to show a Social Security Number if they have an Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
Requirements for Your Driver’s License
Following these five simple tips makes the process go smoother and save of time in the end:
1. Wait 10 days after you enter the United States.
You may want to apply for a driver’s license right away, but be patient. 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 or scholar, please remember to wait 10 days from your most recent entry to the U.S.
2. Make sure your record in SEVIS is up-to-date and in Active status.
Getting a California Driver’s License with an Immigration Visa requires that your record in SEVIS is accurate and active. SEVIS is the database that contains information for all F and J nonimmigrants in the United States. If your record is not active when you apply for a Driver’s License, the application may be delayed or denied.
Note: This step is only required when you first arrive the the U.S. on your new I-20 or DS-2019. Wait 10 days from the time you complete the Online Arrival Confirmation or SIM before going to the DMV.
3. Check your immigration documents.
Check all your immigration documents to make sure your information is correct. Getting a California Driver’s License with an Immigration Visa requires what the DMV calls data integrity. Data integrity is very important because if you have any different information on different forms, it will cause delays. Specifically, check your electronic I-94 “Arrival/Departure” record for information. If the information on your electronic I-94 admission record is different than on your passport, visa or Form I-20 or DS-2019, please contact the issuer or sponsor of your visa.
4. Read. Practice. Review.
The DMV has the latest California Driver Handbook, forms and instructions on how to apply for a Driver’s License. You will also find five sample exams. The practice exams will help you prepare. Please note after you pass the written exam, you may need to take a Driving Test.
5. Bring all your paperwork. When you go to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) remember to bring all your paperwork. For California, the paperwork may include these documents:
- Form I-20 or Form DS-2019
- The electronic I-94 record you received with the passport admission stamp. Please access your electronic I-94 record and print it.
- Passport (with visa, if applicable). Please ensure your passport is on the Approved Foreign Passport list with the DMV.
- Two documents showing your proof of residency in California.
The California State Identity Card
Getting a California Driver’s License with an Immigration Visa is easy if you take the above steps. But if you are not planning to drive, the DMV also issues a 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 or any DMV branch office.
Contact our law firm for any questions about immigration and the DMV. We are happy to help.