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-   -   Getting Licenced in California - Pls Help (http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hubb/north-america/getting-licenced-california-pls-help-42048)

SmokinWheels 9 Apr 2009 15:53

Getting Licenced in California - Pls Help
Hi All

My planned trip has been delayed and so was going to get a UK licence (costing c. £550) but saw on here that it may be possible to acquire a California licence as a visiting Brit when I am there buying a Bike to take South in June/July.

I've read up on it and it looks like all I will need is to present my passport and I-94 / ESTA document to the DMV in order to qualify for a Cali permit, then pass the relevant theory & skill tests (costing c.$50). As you can see the difference in price would be at least another month on the road!

Can anyone from California, or any foreign visitors that have done it recently confirm that this is indeed the case presently? Would not want to commit to this plan if it will be impossible to get that licence...

Also anything else i need to think about apart from a registration address? DMV.ORG - DMV Guide - The Unofficial Guide to the DMV doesn't give any idea of how long the reg documents take to arrive either?

Thanks in advance!

irlsanders 9 Apr 2009 22:12

Are you not licensed in the UK?
As far as I know you do not need a local license to drive in the US.
I've had four international visitors stay with me, and none of them needed a new license.

SmokinWheels 9 Apr 2009 23:32

Thanks for the response

I am hoping to get a first licence in States to save myself a lot of ca$h so am hoping for confirmation that it can be done before i finalise my travel plans.


motoreiter 10 Apr 2009 06:26

I didn't see anything in that link other than transferring an out of state license (which also mentions passports, so presumably would apply to international licenses as well). But since you don't already have a license, I doubt that would apply. I can't speak about California in particular, but most US states have become much tougher in recent years about handing out licenses, requiring proof of residence, etc. I doubt that it will be as easy as you think.

Also, I would not rely on the site that you linked to--it is some kind of summary site for various dmv and is not official. You should go to the actual california DMV site: California Department of Motor Vehicles I'm sure there is a number, you should call them and find out if the issue is not specifically addressed in their website.

JMo (& piglet) 10 Apr 2009 07:41

Hee hee - I can see where you're coming from Smokinwheels (a considerable saving), but I think Motoreiter is right, you'd need to be a resident to get a driving licence in the US...

I also wonder if when you get back to the UK (if you ever chose to?) that as a UK citizen with a US licence, you wouldn't actually be entitled to drive/ride in the UK? (US citizens are of course, but then they are there as tourists/visitors, not permanent residents...).

Of course you could always do a 'Dan Walsh' and just not bother with a licence at all - seemed to work for him for years!


motoreiter 10 Apr 2009 08:33

I forgot to mention how hard it is to believe that you have to pay 550 GBP to get a freaking drivers license--that is nuts!

Moreover it seems very regressive, because that kind of money could be completely out of reach for lower income citizens, who might need a vehicle to get to work. Is this just a way to keep the riff-raff off the road?

JMo (& piglet) 10 Apr 2009 08:56


Originally Posted by motoreiter (Post 237093)
I forgot to mention how hard it is to believe that you have to pay 550 GBP to get a freaking drivers license--that is nuts!

Moreover it seems very regressive, because that kind of money could be completely out of reach for lower income citizens, who might need a vehicle to get to work. Is this just a way to keep the riff-raff off the road?

Don't panic! It doesn't cost that much to get a UK licence (the licence itself is still £50), rather I think what Smokinwheels is referring to is the 'Direct Access' course to specifically get your motorcycle licence quickly - this includes the initial part 1 test, followed by (typically) 3-5 days on-road training with an instructor, the hire of a bike etc, plus the written test and final practical test at the end. It is basically the short-cut route to obtaining your licence, and available if you are over 21 years old.


markharf 10 Apr 2009 09:15

In America, where it's considered everyone's inalienable right to drive whenever and wherever he/she wishes, driver's licenses are cheap, quick and easily obtained. My motorcycle license cost about US$150 total: this included a two-day class which included both written and road testing, plus a replacement license with unlimited motorcycle endorsement on it (i.e., no size restrictions like those in the U.K.). Of course, I can't claim that I knew how to ride a bike very well following that class--I'd only been riding for a total of 8 hours or so. The following week I went out and bought a 650, which now (two years later) has almost 50,000 miles on it.

In Europe it's different. For one thing, there's often good public transit, so people don't necessarily need cars to get to work, the beach or the mountains. Poor people, in fact, generally don't need cars at all. Gas is expensive, as are traffic fines and tolls (but roads are better quality). Licensing is a long, expensive process (in Estonia, my friend had pay for a minimum of 20 hours of professional on-road instruction before she could take the test; in America, I taught myself and passed the test easily as a teenager), and motorcycle licensing sounds even slower and more expensive. But driving standards are high as a result, and although I get nervous at some of the tailgating, lane-sharing and speeding I'd rather be surrounded by European drivers than the same number of untrained, unpredictable, attention-deficit Americans.

I've got nothing constructive to add to the subject of whether the OP can easily get a license in California. I'd suspect not, but I bet a definitive answer is available directly from the relevant state authorities.

Mileages vary.


SmokinWheels 10 Apr 2009 13:32

Thanks for all the good input,

I am going to call the state DMV department, although their website also seems to indicate that it should be possible with the I-94 and passport.

For those interested as far as the UK test goes the minimum i could take the test for £80 and would need to pay £60 for bike hire (no kit) as well as spending money on DVDs to learn the rigmarole of mirror / observation sequences, with another £140 to retake plus the waiting period should i fail. I also need to do the CBT again as mine has lapsed - thats another £100 for a day sucking eggs (similar to your Cali practical test).

As for me I can already ride and have spent over 2 years on bikes (up to 400cc) so a faster track option would be good but is unavailable here. As for returning on my arrival in the UK i can ride on a US licence for up to 12 months but would then need to take the UK test as we don't xchange US licences. However at present the EU states will all exchange licences freely for small fee (Polish > UK etc.) and so i believe with an "address" one could find a country that will exchange US then transfer that to a UK one!

Anyways thanks all - am still hoping to hear from any foreign visitors to US / California who have made this happen in 2009 - so please post your experiences!


DLbiten 10 Apr 2009 23:02

I think you will save MUCH more time getting your license in the UK than the USA that way. They do not say you will given a test if you show up with the papers to a worker at the DMV. What do you think your chances are that 4pound a hr. worker will know what a real British passport looks like what the hell a I-94 is. They do 100s of license a day and you come along with paperwork they have never seen before. Hope they dont throw out that little whit slip of paper the I-94.

You will be involving the DMV of California, US State Department, The Department of Homeland Security, and US Immigration. All need to ok your paperwork. Then to top all that off you are going to ride south and explain why a UK citizen is using a brand new invalid US/California drivers license with the I-94 dates on it.

But given all that you can get a valid California DL in the USA. But you will have to pass a written test, one test per day, you must pass it they do not care if you mess up and pick the wrong language or do not understand the questions. Then (if your over 18) you can take a skills test after setting a date with the DMV (after a week, takes that long to get your info in the computer or did for me). You must pass this test as well, fall once, hit 3 cones or skid a bit and you get set another date with DMV. Paying for each test.

Some people do not know the license will expire when the I-94 dose, when you leave the US. So you will need a new one in Mexico any way.

But yes you can get a license that way but you dont want to.

Or gust go with out one.

Quintin 14 Apr 2009 19:23

Forget it.........
You used to be able to get a license in California-I got a truck/car/bike license back in 1978- but they changed the rules in I think 1986 and from that date you could only get a license (including renewing an existing license) if you had the US equivilent of a National Insurance number. I didn't so that was that.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.


MotoEdde 14 Apr 2009 19:39

Fromt he brief reading I did of the website...you can get your license in Cali...despite the Social Secuity # requirement...as there is an exception...

"If you are legally present in the US, but ineligible for an SSN, you are exempt from SSN requirements. However, you must still provide an acceptable birth date/legal presence document for any DL/ID card application OR provide a valid SSN."

Here's the link to provide you with the information on requirements.

Driver License and Identification (ID) Card Information

And it will probably be cheaper to get one in the US compared to the UK...as you can rent a scooter to take the test in Cali...highly recommended you take the riding test on a scooter....which you don't need a license to rent;)


SteveH 15 Apr 2009 21:42

As Jmo and dbiten has already stated Jamie It seems a good idea but for all the uncertainty I would do the test over here.

Buy MCN this week and you will see in the classified's can get a direct access test for £399 with B&B, then go to the states and enjoy your trip!

irlsanders 17 Apr 2009 22:45

I'm pretty sure that on a visa, and without an existing license,
you will not be issued any US state driver's license. You must be
a legal resident of some sort to qualify.

You can only get a driver's license in the US if you are on a visa which permits residence for one year or more, and there must be at least one full year remaining on the visa to get the DL. The DL expires the day your visa expires.

Here are the Federal Rules (relating to international permits)
Foreign Visitors Driving in the U.S.: USA.gov

California Rules
Driver License and Identification (ID) Card Information

Info page for college students
OIS - Driver's License/California ID FAQ

California Rules of the road
California Driving: A Brief Guide To California's Road Rules and Driving Laws

Driver's Licenses

If you are temporarily visiting California, you can use your out-of-state or foreign driver's license for as long as it's valid where it was issued — you do not need to register with the DMV or do anything beyond making sure your license is valid and current. In most cases, (e.g. Western European countries, Australia, most of SE. Asia, etc.) foreigners do not really need one of those additional International Driver's License as well, but if your license looks exotic, it would probably help to have one just in case (this is the license issued by the relevant Automobile Association or Government body in your country that certifies in several languages that you have a license in your own country. You must also have your normal license with you if you use the International License).

If you intend working here, or establishing a long-term residence here, then technically you must get a California driver's license after ten day's residence. Drivers with valid licenses from other U.S. States and Canada usually need only pass a written road rules test and hand in their old license. Drivers from foreign countries normally have to take a full driving and road rules test; the old (foreign) license is then either endorsed as not valid for California, or, since everything is now computerized, it is given back to you untouched (but if you try to use it the DMV and police computers will flag it as invalid for use in California).

Actually getting your license is not that difficult, even with the tests. The road rules tests are fairly simple multiple choice, with only a few tricky ones; the road test itself is harder, but usually pretty fair. Most people pass on their first or second attempts; the driving tests do not have any tricks, but you will probably fail for silly reasons like forgetting to stop at the first white line near the stop sign, etc. (the sort of thing everyone does in real life all the time). Despite the crowds and lines at DMV offices, the test procedures do not take long, and it is possible (in many cases nowadays mandatory) to book a test place a week or so in advance so that there's minimal waiting around.

Chris Ball 7 May 2009 13:39

Smokinwheels, let me know how you go with this mate. I am an australian with a restricted license (level just below full) and am strugling with issues with planned eurepean journey orginating from the UK. (not sure if I will be able to get insurance on a bike big enough to do the job - in oz I can ride a suzuki DR650SE which would do the job) If you can roll into the states and hook up alicense and then insure it I would be really keen to potentialy follow this option and head down to central/south america. One of my best mates lives in LA so if you need a contact on the ground let me know. Cheers

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