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Yes, you read that right. PART ONE. Because when the DMV is involved, nothing is as easy as it seems it should be. It took me FOUR visits to get this far.

This  post will detail exactly what you need to do if you’re an Australian living in California and want to drive. I’m writing it in the hopes that you won’t have to go through the frustration that I did.

 

THE LOWDOWN

You need to get a California driver license (their words, not mine) within 10 days of moving to the state/establishing residency. This is true if you’re switching from an Australian license, but also if you’re coming in from another US state.

Establishing residency means that you have a signed lease with your address on it, or have utility bills, insurance documents, or student bills that prove you live in California.

This can be established at different times depending on which visa you’re on. I’d suggest double-checking with the DMV. There’s more info on this in the “What You Need” section below.

 
 

WARNING

Those found to be driving on an Australian driver’s license after that time, could be charged with Driving Without A License, which is a serious offence in California. It’s a misdemeanor, meaning they can haul you off to the cells then and there.

If convicted, it becomes part of your criminal record and is likely to appear on any background checks.

The penalties for driving without a license are:
  • Up to six months jail time
  • A fine of up to $1,000, not including fees
  • Up to three years informal probation
  • Impounding your vehicle for up to 30 days
 

THE TESTS

You will need to visit the DMV twice. Once to complete a written road rules test and a second time to take a driving test – much like you did in Australia all those years ago. I know, I’m as annoyed as you are.
 
There are two ways to go about taking the written test. You can either call the DMV phone line during business hours on +1-800-777-0133 and make an appointment at your closest branch, or you can try your luck by just showing up and waiting in line (DO NOT show up after 4.30pm – that’s when they stop giving written tests).
 
Note: I tried to make an appointment in early October and was lucky enough to nab the last one in October. When I was unable to take the test during that appointment (for reasons I will no doubt whinge about later), the next available appointment was not until December. This was after trying all of the DMV’s that surround me. So be aware that you might be better off showing up without an appointment.

 

 

CALIFORNIA DRIVER HANDBOOK

You will need to read the California Driver Handbook. It is filled with confusing measurements like feet and inches. I’m sorry. It is also filled with epic advice, such as, not shooting your gun on a highway. So maybe it’s not all bad. If you’re just driving a car to get around you’ll need a Class C license.

 

 

PRACTICE TESTS

It doesn’t hurt to take a few dry runs to see how you’ll fare on the test. You can find a few on the DMV website or there are others available on other sites on the web.

 

 

WHAT YOU’LL NEED

You’re going to need a bunch of identification, some of which they don’t actually alert you to beforehand (cue me wasting my first appointment). Here’s what you’re going to need:
  • DL 44: You can either call the DMV phone line and ask them to mail you a DL 44 form, or they will give you one at your appointment (these are not available online). A DL 44 is just the application form that you need fill in and sign.
  • Proof of residency documents: These take the form of any official document with your address on it (please note your address needs to be exactly right on these documents otherwise they will not be accepted). You will need TWO of these. Examples include:
    1. Utility bills (includes mobile phone bill)
    2. Lease agreement signed by you and your landlord
    3. Mortgage bill
    4. Vehicle Registration documents
    5. Insurance documents
    6. Student bills
    7. A signed employment contract
  • I-94: This form is distributed to resident aliens and records their arrivals and departures to and from the US. It’s issued by the US Customs and Border Protection and US Citizenship and Immigration Services. You can download and print a copy of yours from this website. If you are in the US on an E3-D visa, you can use your work permit or EAD card instead of the I-94.
  • Passport: Please note if you have renewed your passport since getting your US visa, you will also need to bring your previous passport, containing your visa.
  • Social Security Number: If you have been issued a SSN, the DL 44 form will ask you to list it. However, it is not necessary if you don’t have one.
  • Patience: I’m not even kidding. You’ll need much of this.

Post Script: On advice from reader, Monika, I’ve got to add a caveat (you can read about it in the comments if you’d like).

This blog is written from the point of view of an E3 visa holder. Monika, however, is the proud owner of an E3-D visa, which adds certain restrictions such as not being able to hold a job for at least three months after arriving in the US.

 

She says it best:

I’m in the US on an E3-D Visa and you’re actually allowed to drive for more than 10 days on an Aussie Licence (on E3-D) because US residency is only automatically in effect on arrival for E3 visa holders, not E3-D holders (who are not required to be immediately employed as part of their visa).”

 
“E3-D are not considered residents until they have met other, less well defined, residency requirements such as getting a job (which they can’t do for 3 months) or living in the state for a minimum of 6 months (and a few other criteria).”
 
Thanks for the input!
 

THE KNOWLEDGE TEST

It’s a 36-question, computerised multiple choice knowledge test. Fair warning: the test costs $33 and they will take your thumb print and use it as identification.

You have three chances to pass it. If you don’t know the answer to a question you can skip it. But you may only skip three questions. Once you complete the test it will let you know whether you have passed or failed..

Return to the line of very patient people waiting for their interim license. From here on out you are allowed to drive if you have a Californian resident who is 18 or older in the car with you.

 

Once you pass that, you’ll get a card with a phone number and website to make an appointment for the driving test. And here’s the process for taking that test. Enjoy!

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