Do I need a California driver’s license?
This is a very basic and seemingly obvious question, but sometimes it’s hard to know if you actually need a California driver’s license. For example, here are some situations where it might get confusing…
- You are a temporary resident of California with a valid out of state driver’s license
- You recently moved to California
- You have been driving on a learner’s permit
- You are stationed in California as a member of the United States military
- You are a sub-contractor living in employer housing
These are just a few areas where things can get confusing.
Obtaining a driver’s license in California is a relatively simple process, but as a part of obtaining your driver’s license, you must understand some of the basic requirements and also figure out if you actually need to obtain a driver’s license in California.
So, let’s get right to it…
Who Must Obtain A California Driver License?
Here is a basic list of people required to obtain a driver’s license in California.
California residents who drive on public highways or use public parking facilities must have a valid California driver license, unless they are:
- An officer or employee of the U. S. government operating a vehicle owned or controlled by the U.S. government on federal business, except when operating a commercial motor vehicle.
- Driving or operating implements of husbandry not operated or moved over a highway.
- Driving or operating an off-highway vehicle across a highway.
California Resident Military Personnel (U.S. Armed Forces)
If you are out-of-state on active military duty and have a valid California driver license, your and your spouse’s California driver license will be valid for the full time you are absent from California and for 30 days following your discharge date, if you are honorably discharged outside of California. Carry both, your driver license and discharge or separation documents, during those 30 days (CVC § 12817).
Call 1-800-777-0133 to obtain an Extension of License for Person in Armed Forces (DL 236) card which extends your California driver’s license.
NOTE: Your driver’s license is not valid if it has been suspended, canceled or revoked.
Nonresident Military Personnel Stationed in California
If you are 18 years of age or older, refer to the “California Residents” and “Adults Visiting California” sections on this page for additional information. Licensees eligible for military extensions should carry documentation from their home state to verify their status to law enforcement.
New California Residents
When you become a California resident and you want to drive in California, you must apply for a California driver’s license within 10 days. Residency is established in a variety of ways, including the following:
- Being registered to vote in California elections.
- Paying resident tuition at a California college or university.
- Filing for a home owner’s property tax exemption.
- Receiving any other privilege or benefit not ordinarily extended to nonresidents.
Adults Visiting California
Visitors over 18 years old with a valid driver’s license from their home state or country may drive in California without getting a California driver’s license as long as their home state driver’s license is valid.
Minors Visiting California
Visitors between 16 – 18 years old may drive with their home state driver license for only 10 days after arriving in California. After 10 days, they must have a:
- Current California driver license, or
- Nonresident Minor’s Certificate (which is issued by DMV) to a minor with proof of financial responsibility.
How To Obtain A Driver’s License In California
For more information about the requirements to obtain a California driver’s license, check out this easy guide.
However, obtaining a driver’s license in California isn’t a complicated process. Here is a video explaining how to do it whether you are an adult or teen just obtaining a driver’s license for the first time.
PRO TIP: For those of you new to the state of California, anytime you need to go to the DMV, make sure you schedule an appointment! In many states, you can just show up at the DMV with no problem, but in California, this could cost you a lot of unnecessary time. Always schedule an appointment online first.