Driving in California

California Driver's License

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 insurance is a legal requirement.

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 at the El Cerrito DMV to apply for the license beforehand so that your wait time at the DMV will be reduced. Please note:  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).

Timing is Everything: Getting 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 and your SEVIS I-20 or DS-2019 has been registered by BIO. 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.
  2. Make sure your record in 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 and scholars with an I-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 Document Check Session at the beginning of your semester and being officially registered with the University.  For J-1 scholars, this is done at a Scholar Information Meeting (SIM).   If your record is not Active when you apply for a Driver's License, the application may be rejected.
  3. Check your immigration documents. Check all your immigration documetns 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 information. If the information on your I-94 card or electronic admission record is different than on your passport, visa or Form I-20 or DS-2019, please contact Berkeley International Office.
  4. 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 the white, paper I-94 card stapled in your passport or an electronic I-94 record if you received a passport admission stamp.  If you received the passport admission stamp, please go to www.cbp.gov/i94 to access your electronic I-94 record.
  • 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 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.

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