Driving in California and the U.S.A.
A valid driver's license is required to operate a motor vehicle. If you plan to get around in your own vehicle instead of public transportation, you must get a California Driver’s License. A California Driver's License is a valuable document to have for identification purposes, for example, in writing checks or finding an apartment.
A written test on the California Vehicle Code, a driving test and examination of vision must be passed before qualifying for a California Driver's License. Tests are given BY APPOINTMENT at the office of the DMV. The local DMV office is located @ 3120 F Street, Bakersfield, 93301. Tel: (800) 777-0133. See also their web-site for further information: www.dmv.ca.gov
Steps to getting a driver's license:
Talk with your Designated School Official (DSO) or Responsible Officer (RO) about the driving rules and regulations for your state or territory.
Speak with your DSO or RO to make sure that you are Active in SEVIS
Wait ten days after arriving in the United States to apply for a driver's license so that your Form I-94, "Arrival/Departure Record," information can update in all the government systems.
If your state requires a Social Security number (SSN) to apply for a driver's license, go to your local Social Security Administration (SSA)office and apply for an SSN. If you are eligible to work, you may receive an SSN. If you are not, you may receive a Form SSA-L676, "Refusal to Process SSN Application." Either is acceptable.
When you go to your local DMV, bring originals of the following documents:
- All signed versions of your Form I-20, "Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status," or DS-2019, "Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status".
- Your current Form I-94
- A valid passport with visa (You do not need a visa if you are from a visa-exempt country, such as Canada or Bermuda).
- Proof of residence. This varies from state to state and might be a bill or a letter addressed to you.
- If your state requires it, an SSN card or a Form SSA-L676
- If you are on OPT, bring your Form I-766, "Employment Authorization Document." The DMV will use the A number on this card to verify your status.
- If you are an F-2, M-2, or J-2 dependent, go to the DMV with your primary F-1, M-1, or J-1. Please make sure you both have all your required documents.
You may have to take both a driving test and a written test. In many states, if you have a license from your home country or another state, the DMV may not require you to take the tests. Please note that not all states accept driver's licenses from other countries.
Once you pass the tests, if required, and submit all the necessary paperwork, an associate at the DMV will explain the next steps. It is normal for some nonimmigrants to only get temporary licenses. In addition, you may receive the license immediately or you may have to wait several weeks, depending on the state.
International students and scholars applying for a California Driver's License should be prepared to wait up to one year to receive it. For international students and scholars, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) goes through the extra step of verifying the student's/scholar’s immigration status before issuing a license.
First the local DMV office sends the scholar's documents to the DMV headquarters in Sacramento. DMV headquarters then communicates via computer with the USCIS in San Francisco. USCIS should respond to the Sacramento DMV, verifying the student or scholar's legal status. Unfortunately, the applications can get stuck at this stage for many months.
If you have not received a license for four months after filing an application, you may contact the Sacramento DMV Office for Legal Presence (916) 657-7445 and ask that they again solicit the verification from the USCIS.
You should send DMV headquarters another copy of passport and I-94 form, including your temporary driver's license and phone number. The DMV will renew your request for verification with the San Francisco USCIS. In the meantime, you should continue to update their temporary license until the permanent document arrives.
For more information: