How to Change an Out-of-State Driver's License to California

by Tom Streissguth
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If you're moving to the Golden State, you'll soon have to acquire a new driver's license to legally cruise down Rodeo Drive. California allows visitors, as well as new arrivals, to use a valid license from another state, but it sets a tight deadline for anyone who takes up legal residence. Since the state's DMV offices require appointments, it's smart to get organized for this chore before you arrive.

Valid Out of State Licenses

California requires all drivers to have a valid license. State law also insists that new residents get a California license within 10 days of establishing residency. There are several actions that mean you're now a legal Californian: voting in a state-held election, paying tuition as a resident, or filing for a benefit limited to California residents, such as a property tax exemption.

Applying for the New License

To secure a new California license, you'll need to make an appointment with a California DMV office, where you'll provide a completed Form DL44, and have your photograph and thumbprint taken. You also need a Social Security number -- which will be verified by the DMV -- pass an eye exam and pass a 36-question written test. You don't need to pass a driving test unless you've moved from a foreign country.

Penalty for Driving Without a California LIcense

Driving without a valid license is a misdemeanor under California Vehicle Code Section 12500. If you're still carrying a valid license from out of state, you may be let off with a warning and reminder of the law covering new residents. Since police officers may not have access to the date of your legal residency, they may not be able to write a ticket or collect a fine. However, they'll inquire as to the date you moved in, and a second stop for the same reason will probably mean a citation and a fine. This can reach a maximum $1,000, in addition to six months in jail, three years' probation and/or a 30-day impound of your car, on top of other penalties for driving on out-of-state plates and car registration.

New California Car Registration

Although you may be able to drive temporarily on a valid out of state license, you'll have to register your vehicle in California. This requires the last registration certificate, as well as a California Application for Title or Registration, signed by all owners shown on the old registration. You'll also need a Verification of Vehicle form completed by an appropriate party. California also wants to see the out of state title if there's a change of registered owner. You'll have to turn in the old license plates unless they're expired or the original state where they were issued requires you to turn them in.

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