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Applying for a Driver’s License or State Identification Card

It is recommended that international students obtain a California Driver’s License if they plan to drive in the United States. A California Driver's License is also required when purchasing a car and obtaining car insurance.

The State of California does not recognize an International Driving Permit (IDP) as a valid driver license. The IDP is also referred to as an International Driver's License or International License.

If you plan to purchase a new or used motor vehicle (a car, scooter or motorcycle), you must insure it—and most insurance companies will not provide coverage unless you have a valid California Driver's License.

If you have any questions about driver’s licenses not addressed here, you can contact SEVP at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Who is eligible for a driver’s license or ID?

Any F, M or J nonimmigrant in lawful status may apply for a driver’s license or ID card.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) website outlines the process of obtaining a California Driver’s License.  The application process includes a written test and driving skills test administered by the DMV.

Documentation

You must present necessary supporting documents required to verify legal presence in the United States.

In general, you should present the following:
• Valid passport with visa (if applicable)
• Form I-94, “Arrival/Departure Record”
• Form I-20 (for an F or M student)
• Form I-797, “Notice of Action,” in cases of a change of status(e.g., from F-1 to H-1B)

 

Timing

Please be aware of the following timing requirements before applying for a driver’s license or
ID:
• The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record must be in Active
status.
• Wait at least ten calendar days from the date of entry into the United States before
applying for a driver’s license or ID to allow time for arrival data processing.
• Wait at least two federal business days from the activation date in SEVIS to apply for a
driver’s license or ID to ensure that the nonimmigrant’s Active status updates in all
relevant databases.
• Your passport or I-20/DS-2019 CANNOT expire less than 60 days from the date of application.  If these documents expire in less than 60 days, you cannot apply. After applying, you must wait at least 30 days before calling the DMV office to inquire about your application. However, most cards are issued within two weeks if there are no issues with your application.  They cannot assist you before the 30 day window ends.

 

To learn more about applying for a Driver's License or State ID, please click here.

 
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