I just moved to California. How do I get my California license and my vehicle registered?

When you move to California, as a new resident, you are required to get a new driver’s license by performing a driver’s license transfer, and you need to perform an out-of-state vehicle title transfer in order to register your vehicle. Here’s what you need to know about getting your driver’s license and vehicle registration situated in the Golden State.

How to Perform a CA Driver’s License Transfer

When you’re a new resident of California, you must transfer your driver’s license. The good news is, the transfer process is relatively easy.

How to Successfully Transfer Your Out-of-State Driver’s License to California

There are different steps you need to take to successfully transfer your out-of-state driver’s license in the state of California.

Schedule a DMV Appointment

First, you will need to schedule an appointment with the California Department of Motor Vehicles (CA DMV) to complete the driver’s license transfer. Most DMV locations in California are open Monday through Friday from 8 AM to 5 PM. It’s important to schedule an appointment at the DMV to avoid waiting in line all day. As a new California resident, you have 10 days to transfer your driver’s license after establishing residency in this state.

Individuals are considered a resident of California when they have been present in the state for at least 6 months within a 12-month period, and are not visiting on a temporary basis.

You will be considered a new resident of CA if you:

  • Are gainfully employed in California
  • Pay resident tuition at a public institution of higher education
  • Are a homeowner benefiting from property tax exemptions
  • Rent property in California
  • Are registered to vote in California
  • Own a business in California

Complete the New Driver License or Identification Card Application Form

Before you head to your local CA DMV branch, you need to complete the Driver License or Identification Card Application Form (Form DL 44). This form is not available online because each form contains a unique barcode.

Surrender Your Out-of-State License

Your out-of-state driver’s license becomes invalid once you apply for a new driver’s license in California. You need to surrender your old driver’s license when you receive your new California driver’s license.

Have Your Picture Taken and Provide a Thumbprint

Once you’re at your local CA DMV, you are required to provide prints of both your thumbs. You will also need to take an updated picture for your new driver’s license.

Submit the Required Documentation

When you visit your local California DMV branch, you must provide specific documents. To successfully complete your driver’s license transfer application, you need to provide proof of the following:

  • Identification
  • Social security
  • California residence
  • Citizenship or US legal presence
  • Birthdate

Pass the Vision Exam

You are required to pass a vision exam to make sure you can see and identify important road signs and other marks while driving. If you wear glasses or contact lenses, you must wear them during the vision exam. The vision standards in California are 20/40 in both eyes or 20/40 in one eye, and at least 20/70 in the other eye.

Pass the Knowledge Exam

The written knowledge exam for the state of California has 46 questions that pertain to core driving concepts and traffic laws and road signs in California. As a resident of this state, you are required to answer 38 of the 46 questions correctly or pass with a score of approximately 82%. You are given three chances to pass the written knowledge exam within a 12-month period.

Pass the Road Exam

The road exam in the state of California is designed to test new drivers of their ability to perform standard driving maneuvers safely. As a new resident of CA, you will be tested on your ability to perform driving actions, such as parallel parking, reversing, stopping, and other actions.

Pay the Application Fee

You need to be prepared to pay $33 for the application processing fee. You can make this required payment by check, cash, credit, or debit card.

Once you complete these steps, you will be issued a temporary paper license provided by the CA DMV. This paper license is valid for 90 days. Within these 90 days, your new California license will be mailed to you.

What If You Are Under the Age of 18?

If you are under the age of 18 and have an out-of-state license, you must complete a similar process to the process above when you are transferring your out-of-state license. In the state of California, you will be required to obtain an out-of-state minor’s driver’s license until you are 18 years old. You can apply for a driver’s license in California at 16 years old.

In order to successfully obtain an out-of-state minor’s driver’s license in the state of California, you must complete a Driver License and ID Card Application Form, then surrender your driver’s license from your previous state.

Keep in mind, your parent or legal guardian must accompany you to your local CA DMV and sign the necessary documents. Once these documents are signed, you need to complete a knowledge test to determine your understanding of the road signs and laws in California. You may also be required to pass an in-car (behind-the-wheel) driving test, but this exam is often waived for out-of-state applicants.

Be advised the CA DMV has the right to test you regardless, so make sure you’re prepared to test when you arrive at your local CA DMV branch. You may be required to provide proof of driver education and driver training in your previous home state.

Driving Restrictions

Out-of-state minor applicants in the state of California are subject to all provisional restrictions for the first year they obtain their out-of-state minor’s driver’s license, or until they turn 18 years old. These restrictions include prohibiting the transport of passengers under 20 years old (unless accompanied by a driver 25 years or older) and forbidding driving between the hours of 11 PM and 5 AM.

Now that you know how to transfer your out-of-state driver’s license in California, we can move on to registering your vehicle in California.

Registering Your Vehicle in California

When you are a new resident of California, you are required to transfer your out-of-state vehicle title and vehicle registration to the state of California. You must transfer your vehicle’s title within 20 days of becoming a new resident of the Garden State.

Vehicle Pre-Transfer Requirements

Before you can apply for a California vehicle title, there are different steps you need to take. Before applying for a CA vehicle title, you need to pass a:

  • Smog inspection
  • Vehicle verification

With a vehicle verification, your car is verified using the car’s vehicle identification number (VIN) to ensure its legality. Your vehicle can be verified by a:

  • DMV employee at your CA DMV office
  • CA licensed vehicle verifier
  • Certified auto club employee
  • California law enforcement/peace officer

You will need to complete a Vehicle Verification Form (Form REG 31).

Converting Your Out-of-State Vehicle Title

Once you complete your smog inspection and vehicle verification, you need to convert your out-of-state vehicle title to a CA vehicle title. You can apply for your CA vehicle registration and CA vehicle title simultaneously.

You need to provide the following documents and payment(s) at your local California DMV branch:

  • Your vehicle’s out-of-state:
    • Registration and title
    • License plates (unless your license plates are expired, already surrendered to your previous resident state, or assigned to an interstate-registered vehicle
  • The valid smog inspection certificate, proving your vehicle meets California’s emissions guidelines and requirements
  • A weight certificate (if you’re titling a pick-up or truck)
  • If you’re transferring ownership of the vehicle, you’ll need a (an):
    • Bill(s) of sale
    • Odometer disclosure (located on the back of the vehicle title)
  • Payment for the California vehicle title fee of $23 (you can pay this vehicle title fee by debit/credit card, cash, money order, or cashier’s check.

Make sure you have the required payment(s) and documents ready when you head to your local CA DMV branch to avoid delays and possible penalties.

California Driver’s License and Vehicle Registration Q&A

Q. How long can you live in California with an out-of-state license?

Drivers who are 18 years old or older and have no time restriction for using an out-of-state license in California can continue to operate a vehicle as long as they are not California residents, and their license remains valid in their state of residence.

As an out-of-state driver who is 16 or 17 years old is allowed to drive for a maximum of 10 days immediately following their entry into the state of California.

If you move to California and want to operate a vehicle, you are required to apply for a new license from the CA DMV within 10 days of establishing residency in the state of California. You are required to apply for a CA driver’s license immediately if you are a new resident of the state and driving is part of your employment (Uber, Lyft). Be advised that driving to and from your place of employment does not qualify as driving as part of the employment.

Q. How long after moving to California do I have to register my car?

You have 20 days after establishing residency in California to register your vehicle.

Q. Do I need proof of residency to get a California driver’s license?

Yes, you are required to provide proof of CA residency to obtain a California driver’s license by presenting house-related paperwork, such as a rental lease, court or government documents, tax records, education records, such as your enrollment in a university.

Q. How much does it cost to get your car registered in California?

The cost to register a vehicle in the state of California is $46.

Q. Can I register my car in California with an out-of-state license?

Yes. You can register your car with an out-of-state license. You need to visit your local CA DMV and provide the necessary documentation.

Q. Can I live in California and have a car registered in another state?

Yes, you can live in California and have a car registered in a different state, but there are specific rules and regulations set by the state you need to follow.

Q. How much does it cost to register a car in California from another state?

The fee is to register an out-of-state vehicle in California is $20.

Q. Does California require smog check or vehicle inspection?

California residents are required to complete a smog check every two years. New residents of California must complete an emissions test before the vehicle can be registered.

California Department of Motor Vehicle Branch Locations

There are different locations in California where you can transfer your driver’s license and register your vehicle.

State of California Department of Motor Vehicles
1365 N. Grand Avenue
Suite 102
Covina, CA 91724
(626) 974-7140
Monday – Friday (7 AM – 4 PM)
Saturday and Sunday (Closed)

California DMV – Davis Branch
505 Pole Line Rd
Davis, CA 95618
(800) 777-0133
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday (7 AM – 5 PM)
Wednesday (9 AM – 5 PM)
Saturday and Sunday (Closed)

CA DMV – Rancho San Diego Branch
1530 Hilton Head Rd
El Cajon, CA 92019
(619) 401-8738
Monday – Friday (7 AM – 4 PM)
Saturday and Sunday (Closed)

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