Driving in California
California Driver's License
If you will be driving in California and or if you plan to purchase a motor vehicle (a car, scooter or motorcycle), you must get a California Driver's License. Most insurance companies will not provide coverage unless you have one, and having insurance is a legal requirement. Tourists may drive (rental cars) in California for one year as long as they have a valid driver's license from their home country or an International Driver's license.
How To Apply for the California Driver License
The DMV has the latest California Driver Handbook, forms, and instructions on how to apply for a California Driver License. Check out the helpful section in the handbook on frequently asked questions. It is highly recommended that you make an appointment to apply for the license beforehand so that your wait time at the DMV will be drastically reduced. Please note: AN F or J nonimmigrant is NOT required to have a Social Security Number to be eligible for a driver license.
Timing is Everything: Getting Your Driver's License
Following these five simple tips makes the process go much smoother and saves a lot of time in the end:
- Wait 10 days after you arrive in 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.
- Make sure your record in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) is up-to-date and in Active status. SEVIS is the database that contains information for all F and J nonimmigrants in the United States. Berkeley International Office manages the F and J SEVIS records for students or scholars with an 1-20 or DS-2019 issued by UC Berkeley. Berkeley International Office must place your record in Active status when you report to the campus. For students, this is done by attending a Check-In Meeting at the beginning of your semester. For J-1 scholars, this is done at a Scholar Information Meeting. If your record is not Active when you apply, your application will be rejected.
- Wait two days after your DSO or RO/ARO activates your record in SEVIS. After Berkeley International Office has activated your record in SEVIS, wait at least two federal business days before you apply for a driver’s license. This gives all the databases time to update with your new information.
- Check your forms. Check all your forms to make sure your information is correct. This is data integrity. Data integrity is very important because if you have different information on different forms, it will cause delays. Specifically, check your I-94 card or electronic “Arrival/Departure" record for handwritten information. If the information on your I-94 card or electronic admission record is different than on your passport or Form I-20 or DS-2019, please contact Berkeley International Office.
- Bring all your paperwork. When you go to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) – the common name for a state government office that issues driver’s licenses, remember to bring all your paperwork. For most states, the paperwork includes these documents:
- Form I-20 or Form DS-2019
- Form I-94, “Arrival/Departure Record” This may be either the white card stapled in your passport or an electronic record if you received a passport entry stamp rather than the card.
- Passport (with visa, if applicable)
The California State Identity Card
If you are not planning to drive, the DMV also issues the California Identity Card with your photo and 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.