Last Monday, I passed the behind-the-wheel driving test here in Pasadena and officially got my California Driving License. Why did I get it?
When you are a foreign national in the United States, you can drive with your national driving license if it is from some especific countries (including most of Europe). You can use it as long as it is valid in your home country. However, it turns out that the Spanish Driving License is written in Spanish and it is hard to tell policemen that it is a valid one if they cannot read it! Of course, I brought along my international driving license, which is not valid in California!! But it could serve as a translation in case things got awful... A California Driving License is also really useful for identification purposes. Everybody has one and it has become something like a National Identity Card in Spain. So, if you don't want people to look strangely at you when you say you don't have one, it is better to get it from your local DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles).
The first step to get it is to go to the DMV office in your city and apply for it. The price for the application is around 28 USD and covers the written test and a behind-the-wheel driving test. If you want, you can take the test directly that day!! I got the book with driving rules the first day and came back the next day for the test. I studied for around 2-3 hours and passed the test. It is very simple and similar to the tests in Spain. Multiple choice, 36 questions and not more than a few errors allowed.
So, in one day, I got my permit to drive. Once you have your permit you ask for an appointment for a driving test, which is normally a few weeks after that. During that period, you can drive cars under the supervision of experienced drivers. Anyway, I drove my car without anybody, because it was legal with my European license! Driving in the US can be a bit confusing at the beginning and it is better to get used to everything different before taking the driving test. I did not and I failed the first time :( Traffic lights are on the other side of intersections, the color of curbs is different, you can turn right at a traffic light even if it is red (unless especifically forbidden), green light when turning left means yield (no orange flashing light here...), etc. Habbits driving are also a bit different. When you change lanes, you have to look backwards, towards your car's black spot! I have always been told that is a dangerous and unnecessary action and now it is mandatory and penalized me quite a lot during my first driving test!!
For your driving test, you have to bring your own car and come with a licensed driver. As I was one, I could go alone!! Yes, I went to the driving test driving my own car! And then, I failed and left driving my own car as if nothing had happened!! non sense...
Finally, last monday, I had to pay 6 extra USD for a retake fee and pass the test. My driving license will be coming in a couple weeks / 1 month.