Wait at least ten calendar days after you arrive in the United States before applying. During these ten days, governmental databases will be updated with your arrival information. If you apply before the ten day period is over, you risk coming up as unregistered in government databases which could delay the process further. While you wait, connect with your designated school official (your DSO) about local driving regulations.
Your DSO is also the person who must activate your status Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). SEVIS is the database that manages all students on an F-1 visa. This updated status is what enables you to register for classes or check in for any programs. Once your DSO confirms you are active in SEVIS, you’re almost ready to get started, but…
Wait Two More Days!
Yes, you have to be extremely patient during this process but it’s important that you wait an additional two business days (Monday through Friday, excluding holidays) after your DSO confirms you’ve been entered into SEVIS. This is to make sure all of the databases that hold your information can be properly updated with your status. Again, failing to wait these additional two days can result in delays of up to TWENTY days—it’s not worth it.
Time to Apply
Now it’s time to apply for that ID! If it’s a driver’s license, that typically means a written test, a driving test, and submission of various documents. Most states do not require a Social Security Number (SSN) to obtain a state ID or license, but some states will request an SSN or require that you apply for one. In California, you may be eligible for AB 60, a provision allowing those without an SSN to obtain a driver license. In general, you’ll need to present the following documents:
Valid passport with visa
Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record from Department of Homeland Security)
Form I-797 (Notice of Action from US Customs and Immigrations Services)
Either an SSN card or a notice of application status for an SSN
Connect with your local department of motor vehicles for its particular requirements—you may need more or less than the above documents. But if you’re patient and careful, you can expect your ID very soon, your first big step towards independence in the US. Congratulations; now keep that passport in a safe place!