Driving in California
If you study, work or establish residence in California and you want to drive, you need to get a California driver's license. You do not need a Social Security Number (SSN) to obtain a driver's license.
A driver's license is also useful for identification, for example, when you cash a check or buy alcohol (in California you must be 21 years of age to buy alcohol).
NOTE: The State of California does not recognize an International Driving Permit (IDP) as a valid driver’s license. The IDP is also known as the International Driver License or International License. While tourists can drive with a license from their home country, international students are considered by the Department of Motor Vehicle to be "residents," and therefore are not eligible to use their home country license.
If you have an international driver's license, or a driver's license from your country,
you will need to get a California driver's license if you want to drive. To obtain
a license you will need to successfully pass a written traffic law test and a driving
If you have a valid license from another state, you will still need to get a California driver's license. However, you will only need to take the written law test. You will not have to take the driving test.
Department of Motor Vehicles offices (DMV)
In San José:
- San José DMV Office
111 West Alma Avenue, San José, CA 95110.
Located between Almaden Expressway and South 1st Street.
- Santa Teresa DMV Office
180 Mertinvale Lane, San José, CA 95119
In Santa Clara:
- Santa Clara DMV Office
3556 Flora Vista Avenue, Santa Clara, CA 95051
- Fremont DMV Office
4287 Central Avenue, Fremont, CA 94536
Steps for applying for a Driver's License:
- You do not need a Social Security Number (SSN) in order to apply for a California Driver's License. However, you will need to get a letter from the Social Security office that verifies that you do not need a SSN.
- Before you apply for a California driver's license:
- Pick up a Driver's Handbook from the DMV office or find a copy online. This handbook covers all the CA traffic laws that will be covered on the driving test. You can get the Driver's Handbook in English, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, and Vietnamese.
- Study the handbook! You will probably not be able to pass the test if you do not study!
- Make your appointment for the written test, or go on a day when you have time to wait in line.
- On the day of your test, bring with you the following documents:
- Your passport or birth certificate, and copies of your electronic I-94 and I-20
- A check payable to DMV for the required fees
- Your driver's license from your home country or another U.S. state (if you have one)
- Take the written traffic law test. If you pass the test, you will take the eye test there. If you are required to take the driving test, you will also receive a permit that allows you to practice driving to prepare for the driving test.
- Make an appointment to take the driving test.
- When you take the driving test, take a car to the test. A driver's license examiner will be in the car with you during the test.
If you do not know how to drive and want to learn, you can find driving schools in the Yellow Pages or by searching online for driving schools in San José.
California Identification Card
A California Identification Card (ID) can also be obtained in the DMV office. You must bring your passport, I-94, and your I-20 with you when applying. This is a useful I.D. for those who do not drive.
Want to take the train to San Francisco? Where can you park your bike on campus? Need suggestions on how to get to local attractions? Get all your transportation questions at the Transportation Solutions Office. Learn about the different forms of public transportation you can take and get advice on how to get to different places!
How to Rent a Car
For most car rental companies, the renter must be at least 25 years of age and hold
a valid and current driver’s license. This includes a California driver’s license,
a license from your home country (must be written out in the Latin alphabet), or an
International Driver’s Permit (International Driver License). It is recommended that
international students bring their passport when picking up their rental car. If a
renter is under 25 years of age, often the car rental company will charge an additional
fee, between $15-$35/day. Some companies will not rent certain types of cars to persons
under 25 years old. Most car rental companies will offer collision damage insurance.
This is usually for an additional fee. If the rental car is damaged during the rental
period, the company will charge the renter for the cost of the damage.
In addition, you should have personal health insurance that provides adequate coverage in case of an accident. Be sure to carry your health insurance card with you at all times in case you need to seek medical treatment. All current International Gateways students must have health insurance.
Car rental companies near and around downtown San José: