Driving License

Getting a driving license in the US is very simple compared to other countries, both because the test is easy and because the application process is cheap and fast.
I strongly advice to get a driving license or a state ID (it's the same card) if you're staying in the US for more than one quarter. It allows you to go out, drive and travel without having your passport with you. It's also generally more accepted when checking your age (clubs, supermarkets, …) while sometimes they require a second form of identification if you only have your passport (!).

Remember that you don't need a California Driving License to drive in the US! You can always drive with a foreign driving license (at least for most of the foreign driving licenses).

Apply for a driving licence

Driving licenses are issued by California Department of Motor Vehicles. The best thing to do is to go there with a passport and your foreign driving license (if you have one) and ask about getting a California driving license. You can schedule an appointment on the website, it may help to spend less time there.

You'll be required to fill in some paperwork, mainly with your personal data. They will take photo, fingerprints and signature. Then you have to pass a written test and a behind-the-wheel test. You can take the first one immediately when you apply, while you have to schedule an appointment for the second one.

Written test

The written test is a closed answer test about traffic rules. You can take the test three times, even in the same day, without having to pay additional fees. You can take the test in your own language (for most languages); in this case you will have to fill in an additional page in the test, mainly proving that you can read English (there are some signs to understand). Remember that in the US you are not required to know most of the signs, as they are usually written signs ("maximum speed 65", "bump", "yield", "no turn on red").

Read more about the Driving License Written Test

Behind-the-wheel test


Once you have scheduled the behind-the-wheel test you have to go to the DMV to have the test with your own car. Having a perfectly working and insured (with you as a driver) car is required. It is the first check they do in the test and you have to come back another day if the car is not ok. A rented car is ok for the test, as long as you are one of the allowed drivers in the rental contract (that you have to bring with you). As soon as you arrive to the DMV, go inside to check in and then go in line with the car for the test (at least, this is how it works in San Diego Clairemont).

The test is composed of

  • Pre-drive checklist
  • Parking lot driving
  • Driving test itself
  • Parking

Read more about the Driving License Behind-the-wheel Test

Driving in the US

If you pass the driving test, you should know most of the rules you need to know to drive safely in California. One of the strictest rules enforces by police regards DUI (driving under influence, that is alcohol and/or drugs).
You can find some material about that in the Law and Rules section, and of course in the CA Driver's Handbook.

Useful links

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