Driver's licences - Canada- US

I received some 75 replies to my enquiry about getting a California Driver's licence when moving from BC. Some were extremely technical.

Some were funny.

When I had my California Driver's licence back in 1972 or so, they just gave me the licence when I handed in my Manitoba Licence. It has obviously changed since then.

I have included several replies but my favourite is the next one. It includes a lot of food for thought. And, of course, there is a lot of difference between moving to and working in Mendocino or Crescent City and moving to LA or San Francisco with a 30 mile commute.


a postscript to my response below about getting a BC car "smogged" in California. At the end of the repairs after it failed the recent smog test, I had to take it back to the college that did the original test. The inspector gravely took me aside to ask me where I had obtained the car, indicating that there might be a problem with its origins--perhaps illegally brought into the country? Turns out he couldn't find the approval sticker that HE had put in the wrong place four years ago!! (It's supposed to be under the hood, and he put in on the passenger door jamb).

Oh, and recently I was checking online the cost of apartment rentals in northern California--seems like one would be looking at a minimum of $1,600-$1,700 a month for a two-bedroom apartment!!

Thanks for this great list!


Sorry, friend, you'll have to take the whole durn test! I almost failed
because my examiner kept telling me to do something I'd never done in my 30+
years of driving and I couldn't figure out what on earth she meant! She
wanted me to reverse up the street with my right arm along the top of the
passenger seat to help me turn my head around to look where I was going.
I've never used my arm to do that when reversing and I was completely
baffled until she demonstrated!

Even more interesting is the rigmarole they put your poor Canadian car
through to make it into a "California" car! I'm afraid I don't remember all
the steps but because my job involves driving and I had to have CA licence
plates ("license" here) I had to get my very B.C. "Air-Care'd" car
transformed (with a sticker after much song and dance and paperwork going
back and forth). You get an order to have it "smog tested" but this first
time it has to be done by a special smog testing place/person. Mine turned
out to be the automotive dept. at the local community college where several
students and a faculty member/mechanic manually hauled around arcane pieces
of equipment that are all automated in BC's AirCare testing stations. It
took well over the hour I had for lunch (actually, I only get a half hour!)
and involved a great deal of standing around and consulting with each other.
After it was all, finally, over (and I was *starving*!!) it turned out that
the test was essentially the identical test my car had passed six months
earlier in B.C. (but which of course didn't count). And forget about the
handy phone line to find out the wait times at the various testing
centers--most "smog only" testing places are grungy corner gas stations, or
tucked away where no-one can find them. Anyway, when my car passed it got a
special sticker that they have to find every 2 years when they smog test my
car again and I can never remember where they put it because it's not in the
"usual" place these stickers go. This year my 13-year-old Mazda 323 failed
its smog test. The good news is the California govt. pays up to $500 for
repairs--I think I pay the first $100, then they pick up the balance. Let's
just pray it's fixable!!!

By the way, be prepared for the outrageous cost of housing in CA. In
rentals, your average $650-$800 Vancouver apartment will run you
$1,100-$1,500 a month before utilities, and there's practically nothing left
in houses under a half-million. People shoot each other most days of the
week in So Cal and every freeway has several major accidents every day.
Rush hour is when the cars don't move and the freeways are gridlocked. It
lasts from about 5-9:30 a.m. and from 3-9:00 p.m. I used to leave at 7:00
a.m. to get to a training at Cedars-Sinai for 30 weeks that started at 9:00.
It's about 30 miles away.

Oh, and if you like to breathe, stay away from Southern California or you'll
have allergies about 3 years from now (and your kids will have asthma!!)
For four years I've been wondering why people flock here from all
over--surely it can't be for the dubious pleasure of spotting movie stars
without make-up buying groceries and being mean to their puppies? To enjoy
our three seasons, perhaps?:

1. Floods and mudslides
2. Earthquakes
3. Forest fires

N.B. (the second season runs January to December)

Anywhere north of Oxnard that's near the coast has air (and the
euphemistically termed "marine layer" commonly known as FOG from June
through September!). Elsewhere, you don't want to know what you're

Oh, and by the way, watch out for "at will" employment. The law here is you
can fire someone pretty much however and whenever you want. David can tell
you more about that!

Why did I move here? To go to graduate school. Everyone has to do
something absolutely irrational and foolhardy once or twice in a lifetime!

Best of luck!


He will have to take both the written (in a choice of
a zillion languages) plus a driving test.

3. Well, you go to the DMV, you get their "driver's handbook" and study it
(and remind yourself of how silly some of the driving rules are). You
then go do a written test, and if you pass that, you do a driving test.
Remember the silly rules. It's easy to fall into "real world" driving
habits that just the tester will just not like.

If you pass the driving test, congratulations, you get a driving

Yup. California does not recognize a BC drivers license as valid and
treats you as if you had no previous driver's license.


4. to obtain a licence, you have to take both written and
driving test. But you still can use your BC driving
licence here.

good luck.

same status as you.


As a Canadian who moved to California for a year I can say that you will
have to take the entire test, written and driving. I drove to my own
drivers test in my own car. Always make an appointment when you go to
the DMV, it will save you a lot of time.

Also, if your car is imported from Canada (even if it was built in the
US) it will need to be inspected. Fortunately, when I had my car
inspected it was cheaper than a smog test (and included the smog test)
so this is not much of an inconvenience. The worst part was that I had
to have it inspected in Canada when I moved back. Just for the irony I
would have had it inspected at the dealership from where I bought it,
but they charge too much :-).

As for insurance. Some companies will consider ALL your driving
experience while others will consider you a new US driver. I went with
State Farm as all they needed was my Canadian driving record to give me
a really good rate.


6 You have to take both written and driving test for a California
driver's license no matter what your driving history is in Canada.
Check this website:


7. Good day,

If you do not currently hold an American drivers license in any state
California requires you to do both, a written and practical test. I have
been working in Ca for 5 years now and had to after 15+ years driving
experience in Canada, take the practical test.... Felt like I was back in
high school. However once you hold a drivers license from any state you no
longer will be required to do the practical.. just the written when changing
licensee's from state to state.

Good luck.


I think our job hunter can take all of this and know what to do, maybe find a job in Mendocino for instance.

Only one person was not happy with the question and he wrote the following:

8. Why doesn't "BC resident getting a California
Driver's licence"(spelled license here in the US) contact the DOL in California
for the answer to his question? The answer from the "oracle" would be a lot more
guaranteed than relying on one or your "readers". In any case it's "no big deal"
even if he does have to take another driver's test.

Yours truly,
However, all comments are welcome. H was correct. One can always contact the DOL or DMV but then we wouldn't have something to talk about.

This also reminds me of the book, "The Peter Principle" In that book, the author talks about a Corporate board meeting where the members will vote a $5,000,000 expansion in 5 minutes because there is a report that says it is the thing to do and then they will spend hours debating a $900 bicycle stand because "everyone" has an opinion about the intricacies of


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