California has been a magnet for immigrants and tourists for a long time. With that in mind, it’s understandable why Green Card holders, visa holders, and foreign visitors would want to know if they can legally drive in California without a California driver’s license.
If you’re a non-resident and you’re visiting in California, planning on applying for permanent resident status, or working toward becoming a naturalized citizen, what do you have to do to drive legally in the state?
If you’re not a resident of California, you do not need to apply for a California driver’s license. California recognizes driver licenses from other states, but it also recognizes foreign driver licenses as long as the person isn’t making California their fixed or permanent place of residence. If you’re from China, for example, and you have no intention of going home for many years, but you do plan to reside in Oakland with your relatives, you would need to apply for a California driver’s license.
When Foreigners Can Drive in California
Let’s say you’re from Mexico and you’re visiting California for a couple of months. Can you drive legally in the state? You can if you meet the following requirements:
- You are a non-resident
- You are over the age of 18
- You have in your possession, a valid driver’s license issued to you in the jurisdiction where you currently call home in Mexico
Does California Accept International Driving Permits?
California does not recognize people’s International Driving Permits (IDP); the state does not consider IDPs to be valid driver licenses. The state does, however, recognize valid driver licenses that are issued by foreign governments in the jurisdiction where the license holder is presently a resident.
For example, if you were a resident of London, England, and you were visiting the Bay Area on “holiday,” and you had a valid “driving licence,” as they’re called in London, it would be valid in California. You could legally drive as long as you had the current licence from England in your possession.