Visitors Driving in California

You must abide by California rules for visiting drivers when traveling to the state. Most visiting driver requirements apply in California as well as the rest of the U.S. The state of California has certain driver’s license requirements for visiting foreigners who wish to use a drivers license during their time in the state. In CA, the rules for visiting drivers do not require you to hold an International Driving Permit (IDP). Instead, you may use your drivers license from your home state or country. In California, visitors older than 18 years of age may operate a vehicle as long as they hold a valid drivers license. Using an expired or otherwise invalid foreign drivers license is against the law. Traffic laws vary from state to state, and it is best to familiarize yourself with visiting driver rules whether you are visiting California from a different country or simply from a different state. Find out everything you need to know about CA foreign visitors driving requirements and rules for U.S. citizens from other states to be aware of in the sections below.

Driver License Rules for Visiting Drivers in California

One of the most important California drivers license requirements for visiting foreigners to be aware of is that California does not consider an IDP to be a valid license. As such, CA requirements for visiting drivers state that you do not need to hold an IDP in California. However, many other U.S. states do recognize IDP licenses. If you are a foreign visitor driving in other U.S. states in addition to CA, check with each state to see their IDP requirements.

Rules for visiting drivers in states other than CA may require that you hold an IDP. If you plan to visit other U.S. states that have visitor driving requirements for an IDP, apply for one in your home country prior to traveling to the U.S. The United States does not issue IDPs for foreign visitors. Note that many car rental companies in states neighboring CA may require you to show your drivers license and IDP to obtain a rental car.

Although an IDP is not one of the foreign visitor driving requirements in California, you can still receive a traffic citation against your IDP if you hold an IDP card and break a driving law in the state. Any citation you receive in CA will be recorded by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) if you hold an IDP.

Road Rules and Visiting Driver Requirements in California

There are several driving rules for visiting drivers to be aware of when traveling in California. If you have never driven in the U.S., it is best to familiarize yourself with general visiting driver requirements and traffic basics such as California’s speed limits, traffic laws and what to do in an emergency situation. While many driving safety rules are the same no matter where you are, you may not be familiar with some CA driving laws. Several visiting driver requirements in CA that may differ from road rules in your own state or country are as follows:

  • You cannot use a cell phone without using a hands-free device in California. This includes texting or holding a phone to talk.
  • California does not allow you to use a headset, ear plugs or headphones in both ears while driving. Using a hands-free device in one ear is acceptable in most cases.
  • One of the most important visiting driver rules is that the vehicle you operate while visiting CA must be insured. You must ensure that any vehicle you drive, including a rental vehicle, has valid insurance documents.

You can download our complimentary guide to learn about other California driving rules important to visiting drivers.

Rules for Visiting Drivers Stationed in California

Drivers license rules for visiting drivers with a diplomatic license vary slightly in CA. California visiting driver rules state that you are exempt from state drivers license requirements if you hold a valid diplomatic drivers license issued by the U.S. Department of State.

The rules for visiting drivers in CA also vary if you are in the U.S. military or if you are a non-civilian member of NATO stationed in California. One of the main visiting drivers requirements for military and NATO members is that you can operate a vehicle with your original license plates as long as you meet certain requirements. Examples of these requirements include the following:

  • The license plates from a foreign or out-of-state jurisdiction are valid and up-to-date.
  • The vehicle is registered to you or your spouse.
  • You have valid insurance on your vehicle.

If you meet these requirements and others, you may drive your vehicle in California without being required to register the vehicle.