At any branch of the California Department of Motor Vehicles, you can get a California driver's license, register your car, register to vote, and lose precious hours of your life that you will never get back.
There are two DMV locations in the Berkeley area. Both offices are open from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, and from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm on Wednesday.
5300 Claremont Avenue
Oakland, CA 94618
El Cerrito Field Office
6400 Manila Avenue
El Cerrito, CA 94530
Getting a Driver's License
By California State Law, if you intend to become a resident of the State of California (and you do), then you must get a California Driver's License within 10 days of arriving in the state. To apply for a Driver's License, you must:
- Visit a DMV office
- Complete an application for a license
- Give a thumb print
- Have your picture taken
- Provide your social security number
- Verify your birth date and legal presence (using a Birth Certificate, Passport, INS US Citizen ID, Military ID Card, etc)
- Provide your true full name
- Pay the application fee ($28 for the standard Class C license)
- Pass a vision test
- Pass the traffic laws and sign test. There are 36 questions, and you get 3 chances to pass. Exams are not given after 4:30 pm.
If you have a license already from another state, your driving test will be waived. Otherwise, you must also take a driving test. This requires making an appointment. See the DMV website for details.
If you want to study in advance for the traffic test, you can access the California Driver Handbook here.
Bringing a car into California
If you bring a car with you to California, you will have to take several steps to get it legally registered.
Before arriving at the DMV:
Get a smog check. You can do this at dozens of garages around the Berkeley area. It takes about 15 minutes, and costs around $75 - 80. Just about any modern vehicle will pass the check, though you may want to drive your car for a few minutes before arriving at the garage to make sure your catalytic converter is hot, just in case.
Find your Title. You will need to bring this with you to the DMV. Your life will be much easier if your name is already on the Title you currently hold; if you are not the owner of your car, you may want to become the owner before you move.
At the DMV:
Have your car visually inspected. Leave plenty of time for this, as the good folks at the DMV are generally not in a hurry to inspect your car.
Pay a fee. Registration fees in California are quite high compared to those in other states. Also, if your car is less than one year old, California may charge you sales tax on it, even if you already paid sales tax in the state you bought the car in. A registration fee calculator is available here.
Keep your receipts. Vehicle registration is tax-deductible on your Federal Income Taxes. Also, you will need your DMV receipts as part of your application for residency.
Registering to Vote
Do your civic duty. While you're at the DMV waiting to take care of your license or car, fill out a Voter Registration Form. Being registered to vote is also an important component of your petition for residency, so you might as well take care of this now.