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  • Applying for a New License (Drivers 18+) in California

    Applying for a California Driver’s License

    Want to legally drive in California? Then you need to apply for a new California driver's license.

    The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) helps you earn your CA driver’s license, whether you’re ready for your first-time driver license, new to the state, or a legally present non-citizen, and we’ve outlined it all for you below.

    AB 60 Driver's License Update:

    California residents who cannot provide proof of legal presence in the U.S. will soon be able to get a CA driver's license. California will begin implementing the law in early 2015. Check back for updates about the regulations and required documents for an AB 60 license.

    New to California?

    You must apply for a California driver license within 10 days of establishing residency in the state.

    Residency is generally established when you take part in situations or benefits generally not extended to nonresidents, such as:

    • Registering to vote.
    • Paying in-state college tuition.
    • Filing for homeowner property tax exemption.

    To apply for a new California driver’s license, you must follow all the instructions in “Apply for Your CA License” below (including taking the written exam).

    Note, however, that the California DMV will most likely waive your driving exam if you already hold a license* UNLESS your license is from another country (see our section on non-citizens below).

    If you’ve never been licensed before, you will be given a permit once you pass your written permit test so you can practice driving before your driving test.

    If you’ve been licensed before, skip the learner's permit section.

    * Waived driving exams are at the discretion of the California DMV, so be prepared to take one if they ask you to.

    Types of California Driver's Licenses

    California has the following full, noncommercial driver's licenses:

    • Class C:
      • The Class C license allows you to drive regular, noncommercial passenger cars and trucks.
    • Noncommercial Class A:
      • The Noncommercial Class A license covers not-for-hire travel trailers weighing more than 10,000 lbs, fifth-wheel travel trailers weighing more than 15,000 lbs, and livestock trailers weighing more than 10,000 lbs but no more than 15,000 lbs.
    • Noncommercial Class B:
      • You can drive a house car (RV or motor home) up to 45 feet (no longer).

    If you need another type of license, check out the following pages:

    • Teen Drivers
      • Covers CA’s GDL process, including Driver’s Ed requirements, provisional permits, and provisional licenses.
    • Motorcycles
      • CA offers M1 and M2 licenses for motorcyclists.
    • Commercial Vehicles
      • Find out how to get your Class A, B, and C commercial driver license (CDL), as well as how to add endorsements.

    California Driver’s License Requirements

    Before heading to the DMV, find out whether you need to apply for a new license.

    You DO need a new California driver license if:

    • You’re a long-time CA resident who’s never been licensed.
    • You’re new to California and want to:
      • Apply for a California driver's license.
      • Transfer an out-of-state license.
    • You plan to operate any of the Noncommercial Class A and B vehicles described above (“Types of CA Driver Licenses”).
    • You have legal presence in the state and country.
      • You do not need a new California driver license if you possess a diplomatic driver license issued by the U.S. Department of State.

    You do NOT need a California driver license if:

    • You’re 18 years old or older and visiting CA with a valid out-of-state driver's license.
    • You’re an active military member or dependent stationed in California, as long as you have a valid out-of-state license and you haven’t established CA residency.
    • You operate farm vehicles off public highways.
    • You only operate registered off-highway vehicles and snowmobiles without accessing public roads (other than crossing them.)
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    Obtain a California Learner’s Permit

    You must obtain a learner’s permit before getting a full Class C or Noncommercial Class A or B license IF you’ve never held one of these licenses before.

    “Apply for Your CA Driver’s License” below will explain at what point during the application process you’ll receive your learner’s permit.

    Apply for Your CA Driver’s License

    To apply for a new California driver's license, you must not have any discrepancies such as suspensions, revocations, cancellations, or other legal matters preventing you from possessing a valid driver’s license. (Learn how to check your driving record.)

    Class C License

    To apply for your Class C driver's license in California:

    • Make an appointment with your local DMV for the vision and written exams.
      • The DMV suggests making an appointment. No tests are administered after 4:30 p.m.
    • Complete the Driver License or Identification Card Application (Form DL-44).
      • This form isn’t available online. You can pick one up at the DMV or call the DMV’s Automated Telephone Service at (800) 777-0133 to have one mailed to you.
    • Provide proof of your Social Security number*, such as your:
      • Social Security card.
      • Military ID card.
    • Provide proof of your full and true name. The CA DMV provides a list of documents, including documents that show:
      • Marriage or verification of domestic partnership formation.
      • Dissolution of marriage or domestic partnership.
      • Name change. (Must include original and new names.)
    • Provide 1 document (original or certified) that proves your birth date and legal presence from the state’s list of documents, which includes:
      • U.S. birth certificate.
      • U.S. passport.
    • Have your thumbprint taken.
    • Have your photo taken.
    • Pass the vision exam.
    • Pay the $33 fee.
    • Pass the written permit test.
      • The written exam consists of 36 questions on traffic laws and signs. You have 3 chances to pass.
      • Prepare for the written permit test by studying the state’s driver handbook and taking a few practice tests.

    * If you’re a non-citizen who’s legally present but doesn’t have an SSN, or you’re not eligible for an SSN, you’re exempt from this requirement. Learn more at “Getting a California Driver's License as a Non-Citizen” below.

    At this point—and once you pass your written test—the California DMV will issue you a learner's permit (if applicable). Use this permit to practice for your driving test. You must practice with a licensed driver who holds the same class of license and is at least 18 years old.

    There is no minimum time you must hold the learner's permit. If you think you’re ready, you can schedule a driving test as early as the next day.

    Now it’s time to move on to your driving test:

    • Make an appointment with the California DMV.
      • Appointments are mandatory for this test.
    • Show up with a vehicle and:
      • Proof of registration.
      • Proof of insurance.

    Note that:

    • You have 3 chances to pass the driving test.
    • There is no minimum waiting period between driving tests, but you must make an appointment for each one.
    • The first test is included in your application fee; each test after that costs $6.

    Once you pass your driving exam, you’ll receive a temporary driver’s license that’s good for 90 days. The DMV mails your permanent license; if you don’t receive it within 60 days, contact the DMV at (800) 777-0133 to check the status.

    Noncommercial Class A or B License

    You’ll apply for a Noncommercial Class A or B license the same way you would apply for a Class C license (see above), with just a few exceptions.

    • You’ll complete the Commercial Driver’s License Application (Form DL 44C).
      • This form isn’t available online. You can pick one up at the DMV or call the DMV’s Automated Telephone Service at (800) 777-0133 to have one mailed to you.
      • A completed Medical Examination Report (Form DL 51)
    • Your fee is $34.

    Once you meet those requirements, the California DMV will issue your Noncommercial Class A or B permit. The same practicing restrictions apply, only your accompanying driver must have a full Noncommercial Class A or B license.

    To upgrade your Noncommercial Class A or B permit to a full license:

    • Make an appointment with a CDL office.
    • Bring either the Noncommercial Class A or Class B vehicle with you.
    • Pass the pre-trip and safety inspections.
    • Pass the skills and driving exams.

    After you pass, the DMV will give you an interim license until you receive your permanent driver's license in the mail. If you don’t receive your permanent license in 60 days, contact the DMV at (800) 777-0133 to check the status.

    Non-Citizens and California Driver's Licenses

    You will follow the same new California driver's license application process as described above, paying close attention to:

    • Your Social Security number*. The DMV might waive this if BOTH of the following apply to you:
      • You are not authorized to work in the country or are otherwise ineligible.
      • You can provide an acceptable birth date/legal presence (BD/LP) document.
    • Your birth date/legal presence (BD/LP) document.
      • This document shows your birth date and legal presence in the country.
      • The DMV verifies this document with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
      • The state provides a full list of documents, but examples include:
        • Employment Authorization Card.
        • Valid I-94.
        • Temporary Resident Identification Card.

    * Learn more about applying for an SSN at the Social Security Administration’s Social Security number and card.

    Timing is a factor, too. If your BD/LP expires:

    • More than 30 days from the day you apply for a driver’s license, your application process will move forward normally.
    • Fewer than 60 days from the day you apply for a driver’s license, you can take all your tests but you won’t receive a photo driver’s license card until you present another BD/LP document that’s valid for 60 days or more from the date of your application.

    After you’ve met all requirements and the USCIS has verified your legal presence, you’ll receive your driver’s license. Your driver's license is considered a:

    • Limited Term (LT) driver’s license if your BD/LP expires fewer than 5 years from the date you applied for your license.
    • Full driver’s license if your BD/LP expires more than 5 years from the date you applied for your license.

    NOTE: Again, you do not need a new California driver’s license if you possess a valid diplomatic driver license from the U.S. Department of State.

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