I am a UK citizen, planning to work for a few months in Orange County, CA this summer. I am in the process of getting a UK driving licence (& then international driving licence). I plan to buy a car at the start of the summer and sell it at the end.

What's the process like/ what kind of documents do I need? Do I need a CA licence to buy a car? If I have no USA credit score, do I have to pay for the car upfront? What's the process with smog checks/ registration? How long does it take to get a CA licence?

  • Given the short duration of stay this may be more a travel.SE question then the expat one. Where similar thing is discussed. travel.stackexchange.com/questions/3620/… in addition I would suggest reviewing CA DMV for driver's license requirements especially Social Security one.
    – Karlson
    Mar 19 '14 at 15:45
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about travel rather then migration
    – Karlson
    Mar 19 '14 at 15:46
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    @Karlson How long does one have to stay for it to count as migration vs travel? So far the sentiment on this thread about students is that a full semester is sufficient to qualify a foreign study question an expat question. Either way we are talking about 1/4 of a year. Moreover, buying a car is not something a tourist typically does, it is something a resident typically does. Mar 19 '14 at 17:22
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    If someone is residing in a country long enough to obtain a drivers license and buy a car, it is certainly more related to an issue migration than vacation and travel. Please consider the context of the question rather than trying to put hard numbers on these things. Mar 19 '14 at 17:25

As a tourist, you will not be able to get a CA license. You will need a work visa like L or H, and a SSN (that you become eligible for if you have such a visa).

Buying a car with a foreign license is possible (as with no license at all), the problem is then the insurance which will become very expensive. Also, getting rid of the car in the end will lead to some losses.


A CA drivers license isn't required to register a car in CA. I have a Massachusetts drivers license and have bought several cars in CA and the DMV process was basically the same as if I had had a CA drivers license. The clerk just wrote a note that my drivers license number is from Massachusetts. It should be the same for you.

On a side note, if you buy a used car, you can register it at AAA instead of the DMV and have a much shorter line. AAA's price is minimal.

I'm not sure if you can get a car loan without a SSN. But you can definitely pay cash for a new or used car.

All you need to rent a car is a credit card. A UK one would work. The weekly rate for car rentals is surprisingly affordable.

  • Wouldn't they care if your driver licence number was non-US?
    – SztupY
    Mar 19 '14 at 16:48
  • @SztupY I doubt it. My MA license number didn't even fit on the form but they forced it in anyway. They don't seem strict about that field. The DMV isn't going to be an issue. A car loan might be. Insurance might be, too, but I don't think it will be. It might be steep because first time insurance usually is. saku, if you already have insurance in the UK I would check if your company supports international insurance for a situation like this. Mar 19 '14 at 17:16
  • Agreed, I bought a car, registered it and insured it before getting a CA licence. The only one of those three who insisted on a CA licence was the insurance - and they gave me (I think) a month to get one. Mar 19 '14 at 23:48

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