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How To: Get a Californian driver’s license

How can you get a Californian driver's license? If you are in the US as a tourist, are older than 18 years and have a valid driver's license, you do not need a separate Californian driver's license. This changes as soon as you obtain a work permit for the US, meaning in case you are working in the US or, of course, if you are an immigrant in the US. Then you do need a driver's license - within 10 days of arrival.

What do you have to do? - red tape

In order to apply for a driver's license, you have to do the following: visit one of the service centers of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Find an alphabetical list of offices under www.dmv.ca.gov/fo/offices/newsat.htm.

For the application you need form DL-44 as an original, have them take one fingerprint, one passport photo, show them your Social Security Card (or other suitable documents, see below), suitable documentation about your date of birth and your legal status in the US. Furthermore, you need to take a test with 36 questions, 31 of which you have to answer correctly. In case you fail, you can repeat the test twice. Find a good example of such a test on http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/interactive/tdrive/exam.htm. Last but not least you will have to have your eyesight tested, you can wear your glasses for that.

- Driving lessons

You will immediately receive a preliminary license. In case you don't have any kind of driver's license yet, you can use this to attend a driving school or practice on your own. In this case, however, you need someone with you in the car who is 25 years or older and already has a Californian driver's license. You should know this person well enough to trust them with control over your car at any time. Please be careful and do not drive alone, there are severe punishments for that.

- Driving test

If you don't have a driver's license from your home country, you will have to pass a driving test. In case you already have a driver's license from another US state, you may be able to avid that test. To schedule a driving test, best contact your local DMV office. You cannot show up without an appointment, even if you usually won't have long waiting times. Same as with the theoretical test, you have three chances. After you fail for the first time, you will have to pay an additional fee of $5 for the next one. Following your test, you will get a preliminary license valid for 60 days until you find your real driver's license with your photo in the mail. Before leaving the DMV office, better check twice whether the address on your license is the correct one. Remember, the US do not have a registration system.

- Issuing of the driver's license

In case your driver's license does not arrive within the set deadline, you can inquire under 1-800-700-0133 what happened to your file. In case your name is different from the one on your birth certificate, by the way, e.g. because you have taken on the name of your spouse, you might want to present an international marriage certificate or other documentation about your name change.

Motorcycle license - classes

There two classes of motorcycle licenses - class M1 and M2. With the M1 category, you can drive every two-wheeled motorcycle and all other motorized vehicles in the M2 category. With the M2 category, you can drive every powered two-wheeler, moped or any other bicycle with an attached motor.

- Application

For this application you also need form DL-44 as an original (fee: $15), the theoretical test is the same as for the normal driver's license. You should first study the California Driver and Motorcycle Handbook. You find the handbook under http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/pubs.htm.

- Practical test

After you pass the theoretical test, you will get permission to practice driving. Please note that you are not allowed to drive at night or on the freeway, and you are not allowed to take other people with you on your motorbike. In order to pass the practical test, you either have to do a training with the California Highway Patrol and hand the certificate in to the DMV. Or you schedule an appointment with the DMV to take a practical test. Get more information about the test with California Highway Patrol on 1-800-227-4337.

Proving your legal residence The following documents will be accepted as evidence for your legal residence, depending on your respective status: Resident Alien Card (green card), also Conditional Resident Alien Card (if you are married to a US citizen), your valid passport with a stamped I-94, your Employment Authorization Card (e.g. for spouses of E or J-1 visa holders), a valid passport with I-551 stamp (after having been successfully admitted with an immigrant visa but without green card so far), your Notice of Action, I-797, with an approved work permit in case of an adjustment of status (e.g. from F-1 to H-1B) or another temporary visa with a valid I-94 arrival record.

International driver's license California does not accept international driver's licenses as a substitute for a Californian driver's license.

When do you have to report accidents? In case you are involved in an accident, you will have to report it in case a person was injured or killed or there is a physical damage of more than $750. You have to report the accident to the Motor Vehicle Department within 10 days in written form, whether you have caused the accident or not and whether it happened on private property or not.

To do this, you have to fill out the "DMV Traffic Accident Report Form SR 1/SR 1A" that can be downloaded here: http://www.dmv.ca.gov/forms/sr/sr1.pdf. Please send the report to: Department of Motor Vehicles, Financial Responsibility (Mail Station J-237), P.O. Box 942884, Sacramento, California 94284-0884. Otherwise your driver's license may be revoked. The department itself can provide you with more information, under (916) 657-6677.

Find more information on http://www.dmv.ca.gov/dl/dl.htm.

Drive safely!

In our next newsletter: driver's licenses in Florida.

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