Driving in California with a Foreign License

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One of the challenges of traveling is finding a way to move around in the place you are visiting, especially if it’s California. Driving in California with a foreign license is one option.

Using public transportation is another option to consider, but you may run into more than a few challenges if you do not know about the quirks of a particular system.

Riding taxis and using ridesharing services can also help you get around, but you’ll need to compete with other people who need to travel. Plus, relying on taxis and ridesharing for the entirety of your trip can be expensive.

Driving is still one of the best ways to move around, even in a city you have never visited before. However, there are important things you need to know before you get behind the wheel.

russian driver

What Are the General Requirements for Foreign Nationals Driving in California?

The important thing to remember about driving requirements in California is that you must have a valid driver’s license. That rule extends beyond California.

Per USA.gov, the valid driver’s license is required regardless of where you are planning to drive in the country.

All you will need is the driver’s license they issued you in your country; as long as you have that, you can take to the road without any worry.

Don’t risk going on the California roads if your driver’s license is invalid in some way. That is a violation of the law, and you can get in real trouble because of it.

It is worth pointing out, though, that you may need additional requirements depending on where you are driving.

Specifically, some states require you to possess what’s known as an International Driving Permit or an IDP. We’ll get into what an IDP is later on in this article, but for now, the important thing to remember is that it is not a prerequisite for driving in California.

Can You Drive in California if You Are a Foreign National under the Age of Eighteen?

Foreign nationals under the age of eighteen may also come to the state of California to visit friends and family members. Will they be limited to using public transportation or can they drive as well?

The answer to that question is contingent on several factors.

The first consideration is exactly how old they are. DriversEducationUSA.com notes that minors need to be at least sixteen years old if they want to drive. If they aren’t sixteen yet, relying on public transportation is their only choice.

For those who meet the age requirements in California, they can drive their own vehicle, provided they have either a valid driver’s license from their home country or an equivalent permit.

What Is an International Driving Permit, and Will I Ever Need It?

We talked a bit earlier about the International Driving Permit and how laws vary with regards to whether foreign nationals need it before they go on the road. As stated earlier, you do not need an IDP if you are driving in California and neighboring states such as Arizona and Oregon.

So, is there any reason for you to seek out an IDP before making the trip to the Golden State?

The best reason is probably convenience. A language other than English may be on your driver’s license, and that can make it difficult for law enforcement officials in California to interpret your personal information if they ever need to do so.

Because the IDP translates the information on your driver’s license into numerous other languages, it will be easier to understand for people who didn’t come from your country.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your IDP can take the place of your driver’s license. You can drive around the state with your license and no IDP, but it won’t work the other way around, so be careful.

They may also ask you to present your foreign driver’s license and an IDP if you are going to rent a car. We’ll get more into the car rental process later in this article.

What if the Country I’m from Does Not Issue Driver’s Licenses?

Some countries do not issue driver’s licenses, and you may be wondering what’s your next course of action if you happen to be from one of them. Can you still drive in California if the country you’re from never gave you a driver’s license, to begin with?

The answer is yes, but you must meet a few requirements.

The first of those important requirements is that you are at least eighteen years old. You must also be driving a foreign vehicle you own. Lastly, you can only drive that foreign vehicle for a maximum of 30 days.

It’s not easy meeting all those requirements, but technically, you can still drive in the state even if you hail from a country that does not issue driver’s licenses.

confused driver

How Long Can I Drive in California if I’m a Foreign National?

As noted above, foreigners who come from countries that don’t provide driver’s licenses can drive their own vehicles for only thirty days. They are not the only ones with limitations imposed on how long they can drive, though.

Foreign nationals under the age of eighteen can only rely on their driver’s license for ten days. If you want to continue driving beyond that ten-day period, you will need to look into acquiring additional documentation.

Specifically, you will need to secure either a driver’s license issued by the state of California or seek out a Non-resident Minor’s Certificate.

Adults who have a driver’s license provided by their home country have more time to enjoy driving in California. According to UC Berkeley’s International Office, foreign nationals with valid driver’s licenses can continue to drive in the state for up to one year.

Remember to check the validity of your driver’s license, though. Even if you have a full year to drive in the state with your foreign license, it is still a violation of the law to use one that is no longer valid. Should your driver’s license expire before your one-year allowance is up, obey the law and start using public transportation instead.

Can I Still Use My Foreign Driver’s License if I Plan to Stay in California?

The state of California is beautiful. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better place in the world to live.

It’s only natural for you to find yourself wanting to stay for good after living in California for a while. If you have a good reason to stay in California, then you should, by all means, consider it, but you may want to do something about your driving situation too.

The good news is that you have a head start. You have ten days to work on obtaining your state of California-issued driver’s license.

What Do I Need to Know About Renting a Car in California?

Unless the people you’re visiting are willing to lend you a car, the chances are that you will need to rent one temporarily if you want to bypass public transportation.

Before heading over to the nearest establishment that offers rental cars, make sure that you bring your foreign driver’s license with you. Some establishments may ask you to show up with an IDP, but that is not a uniform policy. You should still be able to rent a car with no IDP.

Insurance is another matter, though, as California laws indicate that you must carry around proof of your liability coverage. You can find yourself in hot water if you start driving without insurance.

Thankfully, many car rental establishments also offer insurance plans along with their rentals. You won’t have to go elsewhere for that.

In some cases, you may already have the coverage you need ahead of renting a car.

Some organizations offer that kind of insurance. You may even receive coverage from the credit card you are using to pay for the rental. Your employer may also have handled your insurance if you’re in California for business.

Double-check if you have coverage before purchasing any new plan.

While you’re at it, you might as well take the time to perform a thorough examination of the car you’re renting. There may be damages already present there that are not obvious right away. Point them out to the rental car company to ensure that you won’t be held responsible for them.

It’s also a good idea to examine the rental agreement closely. If you find something odd or something that you don’t completely understand, go ahead and ask the rental agency to clear it up before you go driving away.

You should handle other matters such as how much fuel the car should have before returning it, and the deposit before leaving the lot.

What Should I Be Mindful of When I’m on the Road?

Let’s say that you’ve gone through the whole rental process, you have the valid foreign driver’s license, and even an IDP for good measure. That means you’re all set to start driving, which makes this a good time to remind you of the laws you must follow.

This is true for about everywhere in the United States now, but it’s still important to note that texting and driving is a big no-no in the state of California.

Texting and driving are highly dangerous. If your full attention is not on the road, you can easily zoom past a red light, drive on to a sidewalk, or hit another car.

People found to be texting while driving in California are ordered to pay hefty fines. By the way, you can still be cited for a violation even if your texting does not lead to an accident. Law enforcers can ask you to pull over if they suspect that you disobeyed that law.

It’s not only texting. You are also not allowed to hold your phone to take a call while you are driving. If there is an urgent call you must take, you’ll need to rely on your hands-free device.

Do note that there are also limitations on how you use your hands-free device. You can only have one earplug inserted if you are using the device while driving. That rule is in place to prevent you from getting distracted.

Drivers also need to follow the speed limit.

According to Safe Motorist, the speed limit in California is 55 mph unless there is a sign indicating otherwise. If you’re on the highway, you can go as fast as 65 mph. You may also drive up to 70 mph in certain areas.

One more note on road safety: If you are feeling tired, stressed out, or if you went drinking, do yourself and everyone else a favor by staying off the road. Nothing good can come out of you taking to the road when you are not competent to drive.

It’s too easy to crash your car if your senses are impaired. Err on the side of caution in that scenario, so ask someone for a ride or use public transportation.

Regardless of where in the world you are driving, safety should always be your priority.

What You Should Do if You’re Involved in a Car Accident

Unfortunately, being careful can only go so far. You can’t control how others behave inside their cars.

Should you ever find yourself in a car crash, it’s important that you get in touch with a lawyer right away. At Batta Fulkerson, you will find lawyers who have numerous years of experience when it comes to accident cases. Count on them to help you out during that trying time.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a citizen of the United States or a foreign national, you can seek help from Batta Fulkerson.