According to the USA official tourism site: DISCOVER AMERICA:
Foreign visitors can legally drive a car in the USA for up to 12 months using their home driver’s licence. However an IDP will have more credibility with U.S. traffic police, especially if your home licence doesn’t have a photo or isn’t in English
My home license has a photo and is valid across the 27 EU countries, according to the official EU site, however it’s not in English. It’s been issued in the standard European format, which includes a tougher security protection but it’s not in English.
What does that mean? Can I or can’t I drive in California with my European driving license?
The official site of the US government: USA.gov (Government made easy) states that:
If you plan to drive when you visit the United States, check the driving rules in the state(s) you’ll be visiting to verify that you can use your non-U.S. driver’s license. You should get an International Driving Permit (IDP), which translates the information contained on your official driver’s license into 10 languages
If you then go and check the California driving rules, the Section 12502 states that a nonresident over 18 years old may operate a motor vehicle if they have in his or her immediate possession a valid driver’s license issued by a foreign jurisdiction of which he or she is a resident. I understand that this mainly applies to tourists because the exception to this rule is that your case falls into the Section 12505 = you are a resident.
Section 12505 applies to residents in California and states that:
(…) Any person entitled to an exemption under Section 12502 (…) may operate a motor vehicle in this state for not to exceed 10 days from the date he or she establishes residence in this state
So, I can drive with my EU driver license for 10 days since I establish residence… and longer if I have the International permit? Did I get it right?
I have to wait 10 days since my arrival to obtain the social security number, but until then am I a nonresident? When does California consider I have established residence?: when I land, when I get my social security number, when I sign a lease?
Since I can’t get a clear answer, I’ve decided to take the safest road and request an International Driving Permit (IDP), which according to Wikipedia:
is a document, recognized by many countries, which allows the permit-holder to drive a private motor vehicle in that country
The department of motor vehicles of every European country is the authority responsible for issuing the IDPs. Even if you are living in a EU country that is not your country of origin, you still can obtain it, although it may take longer. For example, I’m Spanish and I hold a Spanish driving license. I live in Germany and I have requested my IDP to the German authorities. In Madrid I would have obtained it in the same day, here in Munich I will have to wait a couple of weeks before the German bureaucracy confirms my permit is valid and issue the international version.
Everything takes longer when you are an expat. The advantage? you become a master mind in planning!
And then once I’m in California, I will apply for a US driver license there.
What’s your experience on driving in the US with a European permit?