Driving in California



Questions on the information below can be directed to the:

California Highway Patrol (CHP) Redding office Foreign Registration Unit Officer Jason Morton +1 530 225 0500



Californian Driving License

Nonresident BSSM students may drive with a drivers licenses issued by a governmental agency.  This is the same drivers license you would use in your home state or home country (California does not recognize “International drivers licenses”).  A drivers license must be valid and in possession of the driver at the time the vehicle is being driven. Driving a motor vehicle without a license (None issued), is a misdemeanor in the State of California and carries a high penalty.  This can include suspension of driving privileges, having the vehicle impounded by the law enforcement agency and in certain cases, the driver may be taken into custody (placed under arrest). There is no set time limit to be a student at a school, as long as foreign or home state residency is maintained, in order to be legally a “non-resident”.  Taking a local job which requires driving requires you to obtain a California driver license.  If you establish residency in California, you have 10 days to apply for a California driver license.  A digital version of the California Driver Handbook is available on the DMV website.  


Automobile Insurance

BSSM students must be covered by automobile insurance when driving in California and carry proof of insurance in the vehicle being driven.  If you drive someone else’s car, ensure you are covered by the owner’s automobile insurance or your own automobile insurance. Proof of insurance must be provided to an officer who stops you.  Interstate registration often has the advantage of being able to use your home state automobile insurance.  It is important to notify your home state insurance company that the vehicle will be based in California for school attendance, as some companies have not covered collisions due to not being notified.  


Emissions Inspection (Smog)

California requires an emissions inspection (smog check) for most vehicles prior to completing vehicle registration.  Smog checks are performed by private businesses, which provide the certification to the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).  You can find smog check stations in Redding online. Most inspections cost between $50-60. You can also go to the California DMV website to determine if your vehicle is exempt from a smog check.

Vehicle Registration

A nonresident student bringing a vehicle into California must register the vehicle in California if it is primarily based in California for the majority of the year.  Since the BSSM school year is from September to May, this requirement applies (especially so for BSSM students attending more than one year of school).  The vehicle must be registered in California within 20 days of a student’s arrival. You can obtain an estimate of the cost to register your vehicle in California by using the Vehicle Registration Fee Calculator at https://www.dmv.ca.gov.  Failure to register a vehicle within the 20 days can result in a penalty fee and a back payment.  


Vehicles Ownership and Registration

Nonresident students operating a vehicle owned by and/or registered to another person (typically the student’s parents) are still required to register their vehicle in California.  They can do so via “interstate registration”.  This allows the vehicle to remain owned by and registered to the other person in their home state.  It is basically dual registration. When you go to a California DMV office for this, ensure you use the term “interstate registration.”  Questions can be directed to the California Highway Patrol (CHP) Redding office, Foreign Registration Unit at 530-225-0500.  



It is important for Canadian and Mexican BSSM students bringing cars into the United States for the school year to tell the U.S. Customs and Border Protections (CBP) agents at the border crossing that you are NOT importing the vehicle.  Emphasize that you will be temporarily registering the vehicle in California as a non-resident student and obtain a proper form from them.  Any one of several CBP forms on the vehicle is acceptable to the California DMV (forms #3299, 3311, 3461, 6059, or 7501).  Canadian and Mexican vehicles are NOT exempt from the California registration requirement for non-resident student vehicles. Canadian BSSM students in particular should confirm their Canadian auto insurer will cover them in California or consider obtaining auto insurance in California.  We have discovered instances of Canadian BSSM students being involved in collisions while in Redding and their Canadian insurer not fully covering them, as the insurance company was unaware they were living in California as a student.