Students and scholars are encouraged to obtain a California Driver’s License if they plan to drive a car in the United States. A California Driver’s License is required to purchase a car and obtain auto insurance. The State of California does not recognize an International Driving Permit (IDP)/International Driver’s License/International License as a valid form of driver’s license.
The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) website outlines the process of obtaining a California Driver’s License. The steps include a written and driving skills test administered by the DMV. The California Driver’s Handbook is the best resource to help you prepare for these tests. Samples of written tests are also available online.
DMV Application Process
Take the following documents to the DMV when applying:
- Valid passport
- I-94 Arrival/ Departure record
- I-20/ DS-2019
- For J-1 Scholars Only (Research Scholar, Professor & Short-term Scholar Categories Only): Social Security Card
- Two residency documents (lease, utility bill, etc.)
Note: J-1 Scholars in the Research Scholar, Professor and Short-term Scholar categories are automatically eligible for a Social Security Number for USC appointments that are paid or unpaid.
Note: If in the J-1 Student category, you may request a “Social Security Denial Letter” for DMV purposes.
Additional Guidance For Current Students and Scholars:
- Students must be enrolled full-time and pay the SEVIS fee to apply for a driver’s license. If not, there will be significant problems and delays with your application.
- Students must wait patiently to ensure that their SEVIS record has been registered in SEVIS. SEVIS class registration takes place approximately one week AFTER the add/drop period occurs to allow OIS to confirm your final class registration for the semester.
- Students and Scholars who have a driver’s license from their home country may be exempt from the driving skills test. The DMV requires that you present the originals of all immigration documents: passport, printout of your I-94 Arrival/Departure record and I-20 or DS-2019. Your passport or I-20/DS-2019 CANNOT expire less than 60 days from the date of application. If these documents expire in less than 60 days, you cannot apply. Be sure to bring your driver’s license from your home country to present to the officer at the DMV as it may exempt you from the driving test.
- Fill-out an application form at the DMV.
- If you do not have a Social Security Number (SSN) and are not in the process of applying for one, mark on the DMV application that you are not eligible for a SSN. You are only eligible for a SSN if you have a job offer for authorized paid on-campus or off-campus employment.
- OIS strongly advises that you visit the Hope Street DMV office on Thursdays and Fridays after 1pm.
- If you have problems with your application, record the name of the DMV employee(s) you spoke with and make an appointment to meet with OIS for further assistance.
- You must wait at least 30 days before calling the DMV office to inquire about your application. Most licenses will be issued within two weeks of the appointment. They cannot assist you before the 30-day window ends.
Additional Guidance For Students on OPT
Students on OPT who wish to renew their driver’s license are required to obtain a Social Security Number (SSN). Without a SSN, the DMV will not approve of the driver’s license extension. First, take your OPT EAD card and F-1 documents to the Social Security Office to get a SSN. Then take your SSN, EAD card and F-1 documents to the DMV to obtain a license. You must also wait until the start date on your EAD card to submit your driver’s license application for it to be accepted.
Obtaining a California Identification Card
A California driver’s license is the primary form of identification. International students and scholars who do not drive can obtain a California Identification (ID) card instead. The DMV website offers detailed guidelines on obtaining an ID card.
Visiting the DMV
DMV office located closest to the USC main campus:
3615 S. Hope St.
Los Angeles, CA 90007
USC students and scholars are encouraged to visit this office because of its proximity to campus. The staff at this location is familiar with assisting the USC international community.
DMV office located closest to the Health Sciences campus:
3529 N. Mission Road
Los Angeles, CA 90031
To reduce wait time at the DMV office, make an appointment online.