In a handful of U.S. states, someone who was born in a country other than the U.S. and who has no legal immigration status in the U.S. can obtain a driver's license. (The short term for such a person is "undocumented." You might also hear the term "illegal alien.") California is one of those states. This portion of the law is widely referred to as AB 60, and was passed in 2013.
If you are an undocumented person, you'll want to read this article explaining California's rules on getting a driver's license and outlining the next steps to take in order to apply.
No, getting a California driver's license does NOT give you any sort of legal status in the United States. Only the U.S. federal government has the power to legalize someone's U.S. immigration status—no individual state can do that.
What getting a California driver's license does mean is that you are allowed to operate a vehicle within the state of California and to carry an identity card proving that fact. That's all. The main reason the California legislature passed this law was traffic safety. It noted various studies finding that around one in five fatal crashes involved a driver without a proper license; and that millions of California drivers lacked car insurance.
So, for example, you cannot use your California AB60 license for federal identification purposes, to show to an employer, or to vote in U.S. elections.
As an undocumented person seeking a California driver's license despite having no legal immigration status nor a valid Social Security Number (SSN) will need to meet the terms set out in AB 60. This law requires you to not only meet the same standards as other prospective drivers (for example, to understand the traffic laws and have adequate vision to drive safely), but to:
You will need to supply proof of your identity, most likely from your home country, such as a passport, consular card (matricula consular), or electoral card.
You will also need to submit proof of your residence in California, such as rental or lease agreements showing your and the landlord's signature, mortgage and home utility bills in your name, school, medical, insurance, bank, and employment records, a letter from your church, temple, mosque, or other place of worship, and so on. If you present documents in a language other than English, you will need to also submit a certified translation or an affidavit of translation into English.
To apply for your license, you can either make an appointment or show up at one of various California drivers license processing centers during open hours.
You will be expected to fill out an application form, pay fees, and pass a written exam and possibly a road sign test, an eye test, and a driving skills test (with you behind the wheel). Study materials are available in a number of languages.
For details, see the AB 60 Driver License page of the California DMV website.
Your California driver's license will bear the notation "FEDERAL LIMITS APPLY." That means anyone reading might guess that you are not a U.S. citizen—but not necessarily. The same notation will be given to California residents (including U.S. citizens) who simply can't or won't qualify for a so-called "REAL ID" (as will be required starting May 7, 2025 for anyone wanting to board a commercial plane or engage in certain other federally related activities).
The law also forbids discrimination against people holding an AB 60 license. California police do not, by and large, turn over undocumented people to federal immigration enforcement agents.
It remains true, however, that nothing stops federal immigration officials from arresting someone who holds an AB 60 license and cannot otherwise prove legal immigration status—perhaps after encountering them during a home or workplace raid, placing a hold on them after an arrest and imprisonment by law enforcement, or accessing the DMV files because they are searching for that person.
Think twice about applying if you have a record of driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs (a DUI) or other criminal record, have been ordered deported (removed) in the past, or have used false documents to obtain a past drivers' license. Consult with an attorney about the risks before applying for your AB 60 license.
If you are an undocumented person living in California who would like a license to drive, see the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) website for more specific guidance. You will also find suggestions regarding what documents to submit on the AB 60 license and AB 60 Checklist pages of the DMV website.