Thanks to Chris for sharing her personal Californian driving license experience with us! I think her story can help you but is also very funny.
Let me see your Driving License please…
Actually, an American driver’s license is pretty much the last thing you think about when you organize your new life in the States. But at least when they don’t want to sell you any beer at Safeway, because they neither accept your German ID nor the European driver license as an ID, you think it over and register yourself for the written test!
Well of course this is not the only reason why I have passed the driving test after 12 years of driving experience. When asked ‘How long can I drive a car in California with my German driver license?’, unfortunately you will receive very different answers such as:
a. 1 year
b. Half a year
c. one month
d. 10 days.
No, it is not a multiple choice test, but it feels like one. The problem is not failing to know the correct answer, but a ticket of about $ 300, which you will have to pay if you are stopped by the police. Because the risk seemed too high for me, I just decided for variant d and signed up for the written test.
Go online to register for the test
To sign up for the written test (first part of the driving license), I would recommend to anyone to go online to make an office visit appointment at the Department Motor Vehicule (DMV) of your choice. Having an appointment can shorter the process but don’t believe it will be quick.
The art of being patient (or bringing a good book for the D-day)
Once you’re at the DMV and to save some time, choose the right queue – the appointment queue. Those who have an appointment are allowed to queue in a shorter line than the ‘general’ queue. After 20 minutes in the queue you will be asked to take a chair and wait until your number is called.
Once you’re called, you must give your information to another employee, pay $ 31 and read a few (well maybe three) letters first with your left eye then with your right eye (American vision test!).
So, and then you will again be referred to the next line where your final ID photo will be sealed with a snap shot without even taking note of it. Unfortunatelly they don’t tell you in advance that this exact photo on which you just look like a criminal will later appear on your driver’s license…
Grab a pen and go ahead! The actual test
After the photo everything goes much faster. You will be asked if a test is ok in English or if you want a different language. You get a piece of paper and you must fill in the form (front and back) standing behind a small wall. It means you hear all the DMV room disturbing noises, but when you’ve managed to focus on your test and mark the correct answers, you can finally line up in the last line where you will be notified at the end whether you passed or not. Note that you must do less than 6 mistakes to pass the test (there are 36 questions).
You passed it! What’s next?
If you passed the written test you will receive your temporary driver license (which is not an ID). So from here on you have about 2 months to complete your ‘Behind the wheel test’ (the second part!).
Practice and relax
To practice before the written test, I read the ‘California Driver Handbook‘ and watched the test videos on youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmy1-sduvoA&feature=fvwrelas a preparation for the written test.