Applying for a New License (Drivers 18+) in Iowa
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Whether you're a teen or adult who is applying for your first driver's license, or a new resident who needs to trade in your out-of-state driver's license, the process will go more smoothly if you know what to expect. The Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) offers the following license types:
- Class C Operator
Most drivers receive a Class C operator’s license. This type of license allows you to drive regular passenger vehicles with gross vehicle weights of 16,000 pounds or less.
NOTE: If you are younger than 18, you must complete the Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) system, which includes a permit and an intermediate license before you can apply for your full operator’s license. Please review our Teen Drivers section for details.
Younger than 18―You’re required to complete a driver's education course.
18 and Older―You aren’t required to complete a driver’s education course, but receiving formal training is a great way to make sure you’re equipped to safely operate a motor vehicle―especially when you consider Iowa's history of harsh weather.
Either county treasurers or the DOT manages driver’s license stations in every county. You should call ahead for hours of operation, and generally you must make an appointment to take the driving test.
In addition to being prepared for your tests, you must also be ready to:
- Provide proof of your residency.
- Pass a vision exam.
- Pay a $20 licensing fee with cash or a check. The DOT won’t accept credit or debit cards.
The Iowa Driver's Manual and driver education courses cover everything you must know to pass your written knowledge test. Appointments for the written test aren’t necessary, so once you feel confident call ahead to confirm the driver’s license station’s hours of operation.
Your copy of the test will let you know how many questions you must answer correctly to earn a passing score.
NOTE: Accommodations are available for those with special needs. Computer-based electronic tests are only available at Iowa's larger DOT locations. If you need to have the test administered in a different language or in American Sign Language, contact your local driver’s license station to make your request.
Once You Pass
After passing the written test, you'll receive a driver's permit that allows you to drive only when someone with the same license class supervises you.
If You Fail
If you fail the written test, your examiner will discuss your options for retesting with you.
If you’re applying for your first license, you’ll need to pass a driving test to demonstrate that you can safely operate a motor vehicle. Driver's training programs provide in-car instruction, but you'll probably want a car of your own for additional driving practice.
When purchasing your first car, it's a good idea to spend some time thinking about your needs. You may want a vehicle with great gas mileage, or plenty of space for passengers.
If you're on a tight budget, look for affordable used vehicles. Requesting a vehicle history report (VHR) before purchasing a used car gives you access to valuable background information on the vehicle and helps you determine if it's a wise investment.
State law requires that you have car insurance before operating a motor vehicle, even if you're a new driver practicing to take the test. Visit our Insurance Center for information about minimum car insurance requirements and help finding the most affordable policy for your needs.
If you’re a new resident with a valid out-of-state driver's license, you aren’t required to take the driving test. You can simply exchange your current license for the equivalent operator’s license.
However, if this is your first time applying for any type of license, you must pass a driving test.
Be sure to make an appointment for your driving test, and because the examiner will inspect your vehicle's safety equipment, registration, and proof of insurance you'll want to double-check these items before your test appointment.
Once You Pass
If you’re 18 or older, the DOT will issue you a five-year operator’s license that will expire on your birth date. (Drivers younger than 18, or 70 and older, get a two-year license.)
If You Fail
The DOT representative will suggest you spend more time practicing your driving skills, and once you do that you can schedule an appointment to retake the test. There is no charge to retake the test and you are allowed to take the test as many times as needed to achieve a passing score.
If you have a valid license from another country, and are either visiting Iowa or attending school here, you may drive in the state. Be sure to always have your license with you when driving.
While it's not required, it's a good idea to have an International Driver Permit, issued from your home country. These permits basically translate your license to make it understandable to U.S. officials.
How to Apply as a Non-Citizen
You’ll basically follow the same application process citizens follow, but you must provide Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) documents.
Your license will be valid for as long as your visa is valid or for two years, whichever period is shortest. Permanent resident foreign nationals are granted the standard, five-year license.
For more information, contact your nearest driver’s license station.
NOTE: Non-citizens who wish to obtain a Social Security number can submit an application to the Social Security Administration along with documents to provide age, identity, immigration status, and work eligibility. For more information, call (800) 772-1213.
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