Can I Drive?
You can drive in California with your valid foreign driver’s license if you:
- Are a nonresident of California. (explained below);
- Are over the age of 18; and,
- Have in your possession a valid driver’s license issued by your home country (an “international” driver’s license does not qualify). Law – CA Vehicle Code Section 12502
- You can obtain a California drivers license at the cost of $31.00 with a valid license from your country. This will save you hundreds of dollars on your car insurance. There are sample test at WWW.DMV.CA.GOV that can help you prepare for the simple exam. It is best to make an appointment to take this exam and you can make an appointment at that website.
Am I Insured?
It is against the law to drive a car in CA unless the car is insured and you are covered as the driver. If you are borrowing someone’s car, ensure the owner’s insurance covers you as a driver. No one, other than the named lessees specifically listed on the lease and insurance policy, should drive the vehicle. Ensure the current registration and insurance cards are in the car – you must show them to a police officer if you are stopped. More information about insurance and accidents is available at Click Here.
Am I a CA "Resident" or "Nonresident"?
Being in CA for nine months for school does NOT make you a CA “resident”. The general rule is that if you intend to ultimately return to your home country, you are a “nonresident” of CA.
Specifically, “residency” is “where a person has his or her true, fixed, and permanent home and principal residence and to which he or she has manifested the intention of returning whenever he or she is absent…. Prima facie evidence (which can be rebutted) of residency for driver’s licensing purposes includes, but is not limited to, the following:
- (A) Address where registered to vote.
- (B) Payment of resident tuition at a public institution of higher education. [BSSM is NOT a “public” institution].
- (C) Filing a homeowner’s property tax exemption. [If you purchased and occupy a home in CA].
- (D) Other acts, occurrences, or events that indicate presence in the state is more than temporary or transient.” CA Vehicle Code Section 12505
Even if you meet one or more of the factors above that suggest “residency”, you may rebut / refute it with evidence that you are a “resident” in another state or country.
What Do I Do If Stopped By a Police Officer?
Respectfully show (1) your valid foreign driver’s license; (2) current registration for the car you are driving; and (3) current insurance for the car you are driving.
You may state, “I am a nonresident of CA and can drive with my foreign license under CA Vehicle Code Sections 12502 and 12505, as confirmed by the California Highway Patrol, Office of Legal Affairs.”
If the police officer writes you a ticket for not having a license anyway, do not argue. You will be able to do that in court.
California Highway Patrol, Office of Legal Affairs Advice
The California Highway Patrol, Office of Legal Affairs, Senior Supervising Counsel, kindly provided BSSM the following legal advice on February 23, 2011:
You have asked if students attending learning institutions in the United States and possessing valid drivers’ licenses from their country of domicile [residency] are required to get California drivers’ licenses to legally drive in the state. California Vehicle Code section 12502(a)(1) states that a person may operate a vehicle within the state without obtaining a driver’s license under the Calif. vehicle code if, they are, ‘[a] nonresident over the age of 18 years of age having in his or her immediate possession a valid driver’s license issued by a foreign jurisdiction of which he or she is a resident, except as provided in Section 12505.’
Section 12505 deals with residency requirements, and does, in subsection (c) require a person to get a valid Calif. driver’s license within 10 days from establishing residency in Calif. If your students do not plan on establishing residency in California, they need not be concerned with this section, so long as they have a valid, in force driver’s license from their country or state of residency.
Will I Ever Need a CA Driver’s License as a Nonresident?
You do need a CA driver’s license in the following circumstances:
- To be employed for compensation by another for the purpose of driving a motor vehicle on the highways.
- To drive commercial big rigs or Recreational Vehicle (RV) trailers over 10,000 pounds (Class A license required), or to drive a housecar over 40 feet (Class B license required). This does not apply to (1) drivers of schoolbuses operated in CA on a trip for educational purposes or (2) drivers of vehicles used to provide the services of a local public agency.
- An insurance company could require you to get a CA driver’s license before providing you insurance.