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Path from UK Driver License to California Driver License

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Okay, so this was far more complicated than I had expected! All in all from my first appointment at the DMV 5 days after arriving in the US, it took a full 5 months to get my California Driver License (and that is with passing both the written and behind the wheel tests first time).  

 

I got lots of mixed information along the way but for what it's worth here is a quick summary of my experience -

 

First off, here is a basic timeline:

11/16/16 - Arrive in San Francisco

11/21/16 - First Appointment at DMV. Went in with temporary Green Card, British Passport, British Driver License, proof of address - told I also need Social Security Number to complete the application. The Social Security office was was next door to the DMV so I immediately applied for and received SS number.

12/07/16 - Pass written test, eyesight test and have photograph taken at DMV. Entered into the 'Secondary Review Process' to confirm my identity as a Permanent Resident.

02/17/17 - Appointment with DMV Investigating Agent at DMV Satellite Office to verify my identity as a Permanent Resident.

04/12/17 - Telephone call with DMV Investigations Division clearing me to continue with my application. I immediately book the behind the wheel test with my local DMV for the next day.

04/13/17 - Receive learners permit. Pass behind the wheel test. Receive temporary driver license.

04/21/17 - Received Photocard Driver License in the mail.

 

So, here is the only relevant information available from the DMV online: 

- If you are a visitor in California over 18 and have a valid driver license from your home state or country, you may drive in this state without getting a California driver license as long as your home state license remains valid. 

- If you become a California resident, you must get a California driver license within 10 days. Residency is established by voting in a California election, paying resident tuition, filing for a homeowner's property tax exemption, or any other privilege or benefit not ordinarily extended to nonresidents.

 

This really doesn't seem to make any sense as it was impossible to get a California driver license within 10 days. Were these 10 days a grace period to drive on my British license? I immediately made an appointment with my local DMV on arriving in California in case this meant 'apply for' within 10 days.

 

My appointment was 5 days later and I presented my temporary Green Card, British Passport, British Driver License and proof of address but was told I also needed a Social Security Number to complete the application.  The Social Security Office was just next door so that was nice and easy. Now I asked the staff at the local DMV what this whole '10 day' business was but no one really knew what it meant. They eventually told me that since I had applied for a California license I could drive on my British license until I had passed my California tests. I called the DMV head office when I got home to confirm this and they also said I was fine to drive on my British license until I received my California license.

 

So my next appointment with the local office comes around a couple of weeks later...plenty of time to study the California Driver Handbook and get some practise driving on the other side of the road! I did the eyesight test reading from an eye chart behind the counter, had my photograph taken and passed the written test (touchscreen multiple choice taken in a little booth). It was then I was given a slip of paper stating I was now in the 'Secondary Review Process' and as I was an immigrant the Investigation Divisions would now have to confirm my identity. This was where the waiting began. 

 

I called Sacramento and they told me there was a backlog and they would get to me as soon as possible. They wouldn't be specific but after a bit of a chat with the very friendly lady on the other end of the phone, she opened up and told me they aim for 30 days but it would more likely be several months. My jaw hit the floor and I just double checked with her that I was still good on my British license in the meantime. She said no. My jaw fell open again. After I explained that the DMV had told me both on the phone and in person I was good on my British license she admitted she didn't really know and that I should probably go with what they told me as she just worked in the Investigations Division. Now with me wanting to be the model Permanent Resident with the full intention of applying for citizenship as soon as I'm eligible I immediately called the regular DMV line again to re-check. They again told me that I was fine on my British license. I asked for confirmation in writing and they gave me an email address to contact. So, I emailed the DMV asking for written confirmation and they indeed confirmed...

 

'If you are in secondary review, you would not have been issued any kind of license from us and you will need to continue to use your UK license.' 

 

I wouldn't count on my 2016 / 2017 experiences though - if you find yourself in the same situation I'd advise calling up and checking for yourself at the time as I've no idea how often they change this stuff. 

 

After waiting the initial 30 day period I called the DMV every week to check on my secondary review status. After two and a half months I got an appointment to meet with an investigating agent at a satellite office about an hour and a half drive away. We met up for about 15 minutes whilst he looked at my documents with a loupe and took photocopies. With that he said I was good to go and he'd call through to verify I was ready to continue my application in a couple of weeks. Just over three weeks later I got the all clear and booked myself in with the local DMV the very next day. At that appointment they issued me with a learner permit and I took the behind the wheel test ten minutes later. The test lasted about 20 minutes and after passing they issued me with a temporary paper license at the window straight after. My photocard license arrived in the mail 8 days later.

 

All in all a bit of an unexpected saga! Yes the secondary review process was painfully slow and it wasn't ideal taking a three hour round trip to meet with an investigator just to show the same documents I'd already shown the local office, but the DMV staff were always great with me and other than the waiting times and unclear information online the whole thing was a relatively painless process.

 

Hopefully someone finds this useful!

 

 

 


IR1

05/04/16 - Filed I-130

06/06/16 - NOA1 Email Received

07/15/16 - I-130 Approved

07/16/16 - DS-260 Submitted, Applied for Police Certificate

07/27/16 - Police Certificate Received, Applied for SAR

08/31/16 - SAR Received

09/14/16 - Knightsbridge Medical 

10/21/16 - London Embassy Interview - Immigrant Visa Approved

10/31/16 - Visa Packet Arrived

11/16/16 - Landed in San Francisco

11/21/16 - Applied for SSN

02/17/17 - Green Card Biometrics Appointment

04/03/17 - Green Card Arrived

 

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10 hours ago, bearflag said:

So, here is the only relevant information available from the DMV online: 

- If you are a visitor in California over 18 and have a valid driver license from your home state or country, you may drive in this state without getting a California driver license as long as your home state license remains valid. 

- If you become a California resident, you must get a California driver license within 10 days. Residency is established by voting in a California election, paying resident tuition, filing for a homeowner's property tax exemption, or any other privilege or benefit not ordinarily extended to nonresidents.

 

This really doesn't seem to make any sense as it was impossible to get a California driver license within 10 days. Were these 10 days a grace period to drive on my British license? I immediately made an appointment with my local DMV on arriving in California in case this meant 'apply for' within 10 days.

To muddy the waters slightly, there's a section in the California Driver Handbook that says "When you become a California resident and you want to drive in California, you must apply for a California DL within 10 days" (emphasis mine), not "you must get".

 

IANAL, but I also took a quick look at California's Vehicle Code to see what the law says on the matter. The relevant parts seem to be:

 

Quote

12502.

(a) The following persons may operate a motor vehicle in this state without obtaining a driver’s license under this code:

(1) A nonresident over the age of 18 years having in his or her immediate possession a valid driver’s license issued by a foreign jurisdiction of which he or she is a resident, except as provided in Section 12505.

...

12505.

(a) (1) For purposes of this division only and notwithstanding Section 516, residency shall be determined as a person’s state of domicile. “State of domicile” means the state where a person has his or her true, fixed, and permanent home and principal residence and to which he or she has manifested the intention of returning whenever he or she is absent.

Prima facie evidence of residency for driver’s licensing purposes includes, but is not limited to, the following:

(A) Address where registered to vote.

(B) Payment of resident tuition at a public institution of higher education.

(C) Filing a homeowner’s property tax exemption.

(D) Other acts, occurrences, or events that indicate presence in the state is more than temporary or transient.

(2) California residency is required of a person in order to be issued a commercial driver’s license under this code.

(b) The presumption of residency in this state may be rebutted by satisfactory evidence that the licensee’s primary residence is in another state.

(c) Any person entitled to an exemption under Section 12502, 12503, or 12504 may operate a motor vehicle in this state for not to exceed 10 days from the date he or she establishes residence in this state, except that a person shall not operate a motor vehicle for employment in this state after establishing residency without first obtaining a license from the department.

...

That last part would seem to suggest that you really can use your foreign license for only 10 days.

Edited by broppy
Hit the save button too soon!

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There's also an interesting thread on the matter from 2009 - it's related to K-1 rather than IR/CR-1, but the fact K-1 is kinda non-resident doesn't seem to matter - check the OPs outcome in court at the top of page 4 (he was representing himself - a lawyer may have achieved a different outcome).

 

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3 hours ago, broppy said:

To muddy the waters slightly...

Thanks for the extra information broppy. Wow, what a headache! They really don't make it easy do they. I'll add to my original post to point to the extra information you give here.

 

[Edit: Seems there is no edit option on my original post!]

Edited by bearflag

IR1

05/04/16 - Filed I-130

06/06/16 - NOA1 Email Received

07/15/16 - I-130 Approved

07/16/16 - DS-260 Submitted, Applied for Police Certificate

07/27/16 - Police Certificate Received, Applied for SAR

08/31/16 - SAR Received

09/14/16 - Knightsbridge Medical 

10/21/16 - London Embassy Interview - Immigrant Visa Approved

10/31/16 - Visa Packet Arrived

11/16/16 - Landed in San Francisco

11/21/16 - Applied for SSN

02/17/17 - Green Card Biometrics Appointment

04/03/17 - Green Card Arrived

 

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I went back and forth to the DMV for months because they kept screwing up my application, not passing on my evidence of being a legal permanent resident, eventually after maybe my 6th visit I asked for a supervisor to check my account and he magically fixed it and my DL card was ordered there and then. Moral of the story, with complicated situations (even though getting a DL with a valid GC shouldn't be complicated) don't accept what the teller tells you or accept that they've done their job correctly, ask for a supervisor to check their work. The supervisor discovered that on four visits I had brought my green card but the teller had not passed the information on to the appropriate parties...


Submitted k1 visa petition - January 20th,2013NOA1 - February 2nd 2013NOA2 - June 20th 2013Medical - August 14th 2013<p>Interview - October 4th
Moved to California January 8th smile.png

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