When to Trade Your Out-Of-State License for A California Driver's License

woman driving old car in california

Many drivers think that once you pass a driving test and have your driver’s license in hand, then you are set no matter where you go. While all states accept out-of-state drivers’ licenses for visitors, when you become a full-time resident of a new state, you’ll need to apply for a new driver’s license. California is no different. Read on to learn about the rules for visitors to California, how long you have to get a new license when you become a resident, and what you’ll need to do to get a California driver’s license.

California Rules for Visitors with Out-Of-State Driver's Licenses

If you are 18 years old or older and have an out-of-state driver’s license, you can drive in California for the duration of your visit.

However, if you are 16 or 17 and have an out-of-state driver’s license, you can only drive in California for a maximum of 10 days. This rule does not apply if you get a Nonresident Minor’s Certificate from the California Department of Motor Vehicles. To get a Nonresident Minor’s Certificate, bring proof of insurance or ability to pay in the case of an accident to a California DMV.

California Rules for New Residents with Out-Of-State Driving Licenses

As soon as you become a California resident, you have 10 days to apply for a California driver’s license. Residency is established in many ways, including:

  • Registering to vote in California.

  • Paying in-state tuition at a California college or university.

  • Filing for a homeowner’s property tax exemption.

  • Getting any other benefit not afforded to nonresidents.

However, if you are driving as part of your employment, you must apply for a California license immediately. This is particularly true for rideshare drivers, says Jaime Garza from the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

 “Yes, you will need a California license to drive in California," said Garza. "Even if you have driven for Lyft and Uber before in another state, you will have to get a California license and registration before being able to drive.”

How to Get a California Driver’s License

Even if you have a license from another state, you must present certain documents and pass a knowledge test to get a California driver’s license. Generally, if you have a current license from another state, the driving part of the California exam will be waived.

The knowledge test consists of 46 questions, and to pass, you must answer at least 38 correctly. Some California driving schools will offer a California driver’s ed program online to help you prepare for the knowledge test.

If you are between 16 and 18 years old, you will be issued a provisional California driver’s license. This means you can legally drive, subject to restrictions. With some exceptions, during the first 12 months after you are licensed you are not permitted to:

  • Drive between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.

  • Drive passengers under 20 years old, unless you are with a driver who is over 25 and holds a California license.

The provisional restrictions expire after a year or when you turn 18 years old.