International Student Driver License

If you are an international student who are currently in United States, you must formally apply to get a driver license. But things may be complicated if you don’t know the procedures. Different states may have different rules. Keeping in mind this possibility, we’ll outline the general process to get an international student driver license quickly and with ease.

International Student Driver License

In California, to get an international student driver license is somewhat easy. First of all, you have to get an appointment from your DMV office. There are two ways of getting an appointment. By phone or by applying on DMV website or simply by going to nearest DMV office. Each year, millions of people apply to get a new driver license or to renew their driver license. This means chances are; if you go to a local DMV office, you’ll at least wait 4-5 hours to start your process because there are always long lines in front of DMV offices.

Tip: Check less populated areas nearby and try your chance by visiting the office early in the morning. Here is a list of all DMV offices in California.

If you apply on the internet, you’ll not get your appointment in 2-3 weeks time. Don’t forget that DMV works very slowly in California. You have to prepared for your appointment.

international student driver license

Required Documents

international student driver license

  • A valid passport
  • I-94 document (this shows your arrival to USA on it, check this website to get it)
  • Your I-20 document
  • Social Security Card only for J-1 Scholars (Note: Regular F-1 students are not required an SSN or work permit to get driver license in CA)
  • At least two residency verification form (This may be any two utility bills like electric, gas, internet or cable tv)

So with this document, you’ll fill an application form in DMV office. If you have your international driver license, bring it with you too. DMV officer will examine your eye-sight first. After this, they will take your photo. Don’t forget that this photo will be the same photo on your driver license. If you are someone who cares his/her personal look, better get prepared before taking a photo.

Practice for Written and Driving Tests

You have to take the written test. Written tests are available in most languages online but not all of them. You can choose to take the written test in your native tongue. If you are lucky, you’ll take a computer test, if not you’ll get a paper based test. Never trust your driving abilities. Because some rules may be different than your home country. So better work hard before taking the written test.

After the written test, you need to take another appointment for actual driving test aka behind the wheel test.

Whether you are a fantastic driver or a formula-1 racer in your home country, you have to get prepared for driving test if you want to take the test in your first attempt. Most people do not pass the test in the first attempt. DMV officers in California take it very seriously and if they sense that you are new in the country, chances are you’ll fail in the first attempt. So practicing the test route might be a good starting point.

Temporary Driver License

International Student Driver License

After you pass the test, they give you a “temporary driver license”. This is basically half A-4 size printed document with no photo on it. You have to wait a couple of months to get your actual driver license. Because you are an F-1 or J-1 student who wants to get an “international student driver license”, your information goes to DMV Center in Sacramento and to Homeland Security of course.

If you have a very common name or a name that may resemble to some people who are involved in suspicious federal activity, the duration of getting your driver license will be much more than you expect. In fact, it may take several months, even 6 to 9 months at best.

Meanwhile, your temporary license only has 3 months valid period. This means if you didn’t get your real driver license, your temporary license will expire and you have to go to DMV to renew temporary license. You can call DMV to track your application status. But as I said earlier, DMV works at the same speed of a turtle. You have to be very patient because wait time for most calls is around 30-40 minutes.

DMV Office

In some instances, even if you are lucky to enough to talk to a DMV officer, they may forward to another phone number which deals with international student issues. So be patient again. Because wait time is still not less than 30 minutes.

When you get your driver license, you can be disappointed because the expiration date of international student driver license is very limited. If you take a certificate program, your license will not be valid more than 1 year. If you are on OPT after your program, you may want to renew your driver license.

Note for OPT Students

OPT Students have different procedures for renewal. Because you are on OPT, you need to show your SSN and EAD Card (Work Permit Card) to DMV in order to renew your license. Otherwise, DMV will not approve your renewal.

As I said at the beginning, different states have different rules. What I have told so far is basically for students who are in California. For instance if you live in Pennsylvania, DMV will ask Social Security Number. If you are not eligible for a SSN yet, then you have to get a letter from the Social Security Office that says you are not eligibile for SSN. This is not true for California.

DUI California Limits

DUI which stands for Driving Under Influence is one of the common reason that may lead to lose your Driving License, more importantly the consequences might be harsher. If you get caught while Driving Under Influence, you can involve a car crash that may cause death or fatal injuries. Also you can be jailed up to 1 year at least. So it is important to know DUI California Limits.

DUI California Limits

It is completely illegal to drive with a Blood Alcohol Content of 0.08% or more in California. This limits vary for commercial drivers and drivers under 21 years old. If you are a commercial driver, limit is 0.04% and for drivers under 21, it is 0.01% only. If you live in California and you are not sure about the DUI limits, here is a table.

DUI California Limits

DUI California LimitsThe table shows how alcohol effects drivers, based on gender and weight. Other than gender and weight, number and strength of drinks, the time period that you take the drink or certain medical conditions may affect the body. To be on the safe side, it is better not to drive a car even if you think that you drink in safe limits.

DUI California Penalties

In California, the penalties for DUI may vary due to your prior convictions. But most importantly, if you get a penalty because of DUI conviction, this record will count for ten years. If you wonder, what type of penalty that you may face check out the table below:

DUI California Limits

If you get caught by police officers, because of California’s implied consent law, you have to take a Blood Alcohol test. This may be either a blood or a breath test. You have discretion to choose any of them. If you refuse testing, you may face a license suspension but also you have to pay $125 fine.

Driver License



You are excited to ride your car but you don’t have your California driver license yet. Here are the easy steps that leads to obtain a driver license in California:

Eligibility to obtain California Driver License

You must at least be 15½ years old to be eligible. If you are under 18, you need your parents or guardians approval.

You can then get an appointment from DMV website or you can visit the nearest local DMV office. If you want to get the driver license a.s.a.p., visiting local DMV office is a much better choice hence if you try to get online appointment, DMV will arrange an appointment 2-3 weeks later at earliest if you are lucky enough.

California Driver License

DMV Office

You need some papers that proof your identity, residence, etc. Here is a list of items you need:



You need to fill out “Driver License or Identification Card Application”  aka DL 44″. There is no option to fill this card online but you can call DMV and order it by mail or you can fill it out when you visit local DVM office. Too see a sample of DL-44 card, click here.

California Driver License fee

You have to  pay application fee which is  $ 33 for non-commercial class c California Driver License. Click here for all other Driver License/Identification Card Application Fees.

If you are under 18, you’ll take 46 questions, if you are over 18, then you’ll take 36 questions. You need to to score 85 over 100 points in order to pass the test. If your native language is not English, you can take the test in your mother tongue.

Here is the list of other languages:

Amharic, Arabic, Armenian, Cambodian, Chinese, Croatian, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hmong, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Persian/Farsi, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Romanian, Russian, Samoan, Spanish, Tagalog/Filipino, Thai, Tongan, Turkish, and Vietnamese.

Proof residency for Driver License

You must provide at least 2 documents to proof your residency in California. Your lease contract, your home utility bill, your school or employment documents may proof your residency.

Vision Exam



DMV officials check your vision and if you are qualify, you are ready for the test. If not, you can be guided to use eye-glasses.

Driver Test Sample

Go to the local DVM office as early as possible. After you fill out the application form and pay the fee, you’ll take the written Driving Test. To test yourself click here.

If you pass the test at your first try, DMV officials will take a photo of you. If there is nothing suspicious related to your documents (Such as F1 visa requirement etc.), you’ll get your license in 2-3 weeks by mail. It may take up to 3-4 months because of other security checks.

DMV will give you a temporary permit till you get your original driver license. You also have to take on wheel driving test. After you complete test, you need to take another appointment for behind the wheel driving test. You can set the appointment online. Click here for online appointment.

There are some tips and trick not to fail behind the wheel driving test. Click here for the tips.

California driver’s license issue date

California driver’s license issue date might be difficult to find on your driver license. If you look at the driver’s license card carefully, you can see that your California driver’s license issue date is written on the right bottom corner of your card, marked as ISS.

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California Driver's License Issue Date

In the sample California driver’s license card, you can see ISS is September 30, 2010. So this is your official issue date. It is the abbreviation of Issue Date, shortened as ISS. And here how the reverse side of Driver License looks:

California Driver's License Issue Date

What is DD on California Driver’s License?

There is also other abbreviations on the card. On the left of ISS, you can see “DD”. If you wonder what is DD on California driver’s license?
California Driver's License Issue Date




DD stands for “Document Discriminator” which shows your drivers license number and also these numbers indicates which DMV you got your license from.

What does RSTR stand for?

RSTR stands for “Restrictions”. There are various restrictions which can be placed on a driver’s license. Most common example is, some drivers must have prescription glasses when driving.  If you have any restriction codes listed, you probably should already know what they mean. If not, log onto the DMV website, and there should be some easy explanation. It is not worth making a trip to the DMV. You can try internet and find your RSTR.

Register to DMV for a better service

Click this link for easy registration

There are some online services and applications in DMV that requires registration. In order to get a better service you can register. DMV will allow registered users personalized access to additional services.





If you want to check information regarding below, you have to register:

  • Driver Record
  • Vehicle Record
  • Change of Address
  • Driver License/Identification Card Renewal
  • Traffic Accident Report – SR1 Eform
  • Vehicle Registration Email Reminder Program

In order to become a registered user, what you need is:

  • Valid email address
  • Driver license or identification card number
  • Last four digits of your social security number