I am going to be in California for 9 months as an exchange student (J1 visa). I hold a valid Indian driving license. Can I drive using my indian license or do I need to get my International Driving Permit?

  • 3
    Please don't use CA for California while not in US. It's confusing, as CA happens to be the ISO code for Canada.
    – vartec
    Commented Jul 17, 2014 at 11:29

1 Answer 1


CA VC Sec. 12502 says this:

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.

Sec. 12505 says, among other things, this:

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, eexcept that ( )1 a person shall not operate a motor vehicle for employment in this state after establishing residency without first obtaining a license from the department.

And this:

( )3 (f) Subject to Section 12504, a person over the age of 16 years who is a resident of a foreign jurisdiction ( )4 may operate a motor vehicle in this state without obtaining a license from the department, ( )5 unless the department determines that the foreign jurisdiction does not meet the licensing standards imposed by this code.

It also defines the term "resident" in 12505(a) (you can read through the link). As a J1 student you're probably not falling under any of the categories making you resident in California.

So basically, if your foreign license adequately identifies you (in English) and identifies the classes of vehicles you may drive - you can use it in California during your visit. Unless of course the DMV explicitly exclude Indian licenses (as they are allowed per 12505(f)), but I have not found any evidence of such exclusion.

  • I don't think this is very reliable advice. If you're staying for 9 months, it could easily be argued that wherever you're staying is in fact your primary residence. And if you do anything such as using that address for a bank account, credit card, SSN, phone bill, etc., you would likely be considered resident. You might not need vehicle registration - but they expect out-of-country drivers to get licensed. California has some uncommon driving challenges (mountains, cyclists, lane splitting with motorcycles, etc.) - you'd be wise to read the handbook and confirm this with the DMV.
    – Aaronaught
    Commented Oct 4, 2014 at 6:17
  • @Aaronaught you can argue whatever you want, but there are rules and regulations to determine things. He's not the first exchange student to be in California, you know...
    – littleadv
    Commented Oct 4, 2014 at 23:33
  • Yes, I know, I live here now and had to read those rules in detail in order to get a license. Nowhere in the regulations does it say anything about an exchange student not being considered a resident. To the contrary, a resident is someone who "receives any benefit not ordinarily extended to a nonresident". The entire purpose of those rules is to not allow people to drive here for extended periods without properly learning the California driving laws. If you have evidence that a J1 student does not fall under the definition of "resident", present it; otherwise, this is dangerous advice.
    – Aaronaught
    Commented Oct 4, 2014 at 23:52
  • @Aaronaught I'm not a lawyer of course, but the Sec. 12505 says "residency shall be determined as a person’s state of domicile". Exchange student is domiciled by definition at his home state/country, not in California. I'm a bit too old to have exchange student friends, but I do know of people who come here to work for similar periods of time and they don't need to get a CA license.
    – littleadv
    Commented Oct 5, 2014 at 3:19

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