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.
- 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
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.
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 eligible for SSN. This is not true for California.