California Driver's License

If you will be driving in California or you plan to purchase a motor vehicle (a car, scooter or motorcycle), we recommend that you get a California driver's license. Many insurance companies will provide coverage or offer you better rates only if you have one, and having automobile insurance is a legal requirement. 

Tourists may drive rental cars in California for one year as long as they have a valid driver’s license from their home country.  See the Department of Motor Vehicles for complete details.


How To Apply for the California Driver License

The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has the latest California Driver Handbook, forms, and instructions on how to apply for a California driver license. Check out the helpful section in the handbook for frequently asked questions and residency requirements.

If this if your first CA driver’s license, you are required to schedule an appointment.  Cuesta's International Student Office (ISO) recommends you make an appointment at the San Luis Obispo DMV.  

Please NOTE:  An F-1 student or F-2 dependent is NOT required to have a social security number to be eligible for a driver license.


Preparations and Helpful Tips:

  1. Wait 10 days after you enter the United States. You may want to apply for a driver's license right away, but be patient. The 10 day wait allows time for all the government databases to update with your arrival information. If you apply too early, your application may be delayed or denied.  If you are a continuing student or scholar, please remember to wait 10 days from your most recent entry to the U.S.
  2. Make sure your record in SEVIS is up-to-date and in "Active" status. SEVIS is the database that contains information for all F and J nonimmigrants in the United States. Cuesta's International Student Office (ISO) manages the SEVIS records for students attending with an I-20.  The Cuesta ISO must place your SEVIS record in "Active" status when you first report to the campus. For new students, this is done by attending our mandatory in-person orientation at the beginning of each semester, or arranging another time to meet with the International Student Program Coordinator, Erin Parsons, or another Designated School Official (DSO).
  3. Check your immigration documents to make sure your information is correct and consistent.  If you have different information on different forms, it will cause delays.  Specifically, check that the information on your electronic I-94 arrival record matches your passport and entry stamp.  If any information differs, please contact Cuesta's ISO.
  4. Read. Practice. Review.  The DMV has the latest California Driver Handbook, forms and instructions on how to apply for a Driver’s License.  You will also find five sample exams.  These practice exams will help you with the first step of receiving your driver’s license. Please note after you pass the written exam, you may need to take a driving test.
  5.  Bring all your paperwork when you go to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

For California, the paperwork may include these documents:

  •  Form I-20 or Form DS-2019
  • The electronic I-94 record you received with the passport admission stamp.  
  • Passport (with visa, if applicable).  Please ensure your passport is on the Approved Foreign Passport list with the DMV
  • Two documents showing your proof of residency in California.
  • If you are an F-1 student on post-completion OPT, you must have your approved OPT EAD card
    The California State Identity Card

NOTE: If you are not planning to drive, the DMV also issues the California Identity Card with your photo and date of birth information on it. This is an easily recognizable form of identification used for cashing checks, proving your age, etc. Plan on making an appointment before going to the DMV.


External Resources

Driving in the United States

Auto Insurance

An International Student's Guide to Driving in the U.S.