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Driver's License

International Student Services

» Driver's License

This page provides details for getting your driver’s license or purchasing a car in California.

  • A California Driver’s License is required to purchase a car and obtain auto insurance. 
  • As a student entering the U.S. on an F-1 visa, you must obtain a California’s driver's license. As a non-tourist, your foreign driver’s licenses are valid for only 10 days. 
  • A Social Security Number is not required in the state of California to obtain a driver’s license. 
  • California does not recognize International Driving Permits (IDP) as valid driver's licenses. 
  • If you are not planning to drive, you may obtain a California Identification (ID) Card instead. This is an easily recognizable form of identification in the U.S.

Steps to Obtain a California Driver’s License without a Social Security Number

California’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has a guide for obtaining your driver’s license, as well as the latest California Driver’s Handbook, which includes instructions on how to apply for a Driver’s License. 

Step 1: Complete driver’s license application

Fill out the application for a Driver’s License online and pay the application fee.

Step 2: Schedule a DMV appointment

Use the DMV online service to schedule your appointment. You will need to bring the following documents to the DMV:

  • Valid passport
  • Printout of I-94 admission record
  • Chapman I-20/DS-2019
  • Two residency documents (see examples below of acceptable residency documents)

Step 3: Pass the knowledge and driving tests 

Prepare for the written and driving tests. It is recommended to review the DMV’s Educational Materials for more information on these tests Note that.

Local DMV Offices
The closest DMV offices to Chapman’s Orange Campus are below. The links will take you to a Google Maps page for driving directions:

Examples of Acceptable Residency Documents

Any of the following that include your address in California: 

  • Rental or lease agreement with the signature of the tenant/resident.
  • Home utility bills (including cell phone).
  • School documents that includes the applicant's date of birth.
  • Medical documents.
  • Insurance documents, including medical, dental, vision, life and rental.
  • Bank or credit card documents.
  • Any document issued by a country, state, county.

You can find the full list of documents here that are acceptable as proof of California residency.


Purchasing a Car in California

The DMV website has detailed information on purchasing a vehicle. 

  • You do not need a social security number or California driver license to purchase a car.
  • You will be required to register your vehicle and purchase auto insurance
  • If you purchase a car from a dealership, all Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) paperwork and temporary insurance will be provided with your car purchase.
    • The law requires that you purchase liability insurance if you plan to drive in the U.S. You can get 6 months of insurance coverage when you purchase a car, but you must get a California driver’s license within those 6 months in order to update your coverage.
  • If you purchase a car through a private party, you may save money. However, you will need to take care of DMV paperwork and insurance on your own. Besure to do your research prior to making a purchase. 

International Student Services provides general guidance. Any advice provided to you by the ISS should not be construed as legal advice.

Additionally, due to the fluid nature of governmental interpretation, government agencies such as USCIS/ICE/CBP may change their interpretation of immigration laws/regulations and eligibility requirements for benefits at any time. We will do our best to provide the most current guidance.

Each case is fact-specific and it is advised that you contact an experienced immigration attorney if you have questions regarding your situation.