Applying for a New License (Drivers 18+) in Illinois
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Whether you're a teen, first-time adult driver, or new Illinois resident, it's helpful to understand what is required to apply for driving privileges from the Driver Services Department of the Illinois Secretary of State (SOS). Consider the following license classes before continuing:
- A Class D license allows you to drive most passenger vehicles.
- A Commercial Driver's License (CDL) is necessary for operating commercial vehicles such as those transporting 16 or more passengers, transporting placarded hazardous materials, or have a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 16,000 pounds or more.
- A Class M license lets you legally operate a motorcycle.
- A Class L license allows you to operate any motor-driven cycle with less than 150 cc displacement.
NOTE: If you are younger than 18, you must complete the Graduated Driver License (GDL) program which includes taking driver's ed, geting a permit, and completing 50 hours of behind-the-wheel training before applying for a provisional driver's license.
Younger than 18―You must complete an approved driver's education course before receiving your license.
18 and Older―First-time drivers 18 and older are not legally required to complete a driver's education course. However, it's definitely a good idea to take a supplemental course such as the one offered by our sponsor before you take the written test at your SOS facility.
More than 130 SOS offices provide driver services. Office hours and appointment policies vary, so remember to call ahead before your visit.
Before you can receive your license, you will need to:
- Prove your Social Security number. Acceptable documents include your Social Security card, Social Security award letter, or military service record.
- Provide proof of your date of birth with your birth certificate or another acceptable document.
- Provide proof of your residency, such as a recent utility bill, rental agreement, or voter registration card.
- Provide proof of your written signature. You may show a canceled check, major credit card, passport, mortgage agreement, or other acceptable documentation.
- Pay the appropriate fee with cash or a check.
Traffic signs, signals, pavement markings, basic rules of the road―the written test covers them all. Once you study the Illinois Rules of the Road, possibly complete a driver education courses, and gather the documents and fees listed above, you'll be ready to take the test.
Keep in mind you must take the written exam every eight years, unless you have no traffic convictions.
NOTE: Accommodations for completing the written exam are available for those with special needs. Contact your local SOS facility for additional information.
Once You Pass
After passing the written test, the SOS will issue you a driver's permit that allows you gain instruction from a formal driving school or a friend or relative who is 21 or older and has held a license for at least one year.
If You Fail
If you do not successfully pass the written exam, you may retake the test at a later date. State law entitles you to three attempts to pass the exams within one year from the date you paid your application fee.
NOTE: Testing officials don't mess around. Continued suspicious behavior, such as using a cell phone, is grounds for a failing score and a 30-day waiting period before you can test again. Assisting another person with the exam is grounds for fines and even jail time.
Completing a driver's training program will provide you with basic in-car instruction, but you'll probably want a car of your own for additional driving practice. Additionally, you must provide a licensed vehicle that complies with the SOS’s vehicle condition standards before you are allowed to complete the driving test.
Take your time shopping for your first vehicle; this is a decision you shouldn't make lightly. Used vehicles are generally more affordable than new cars, but paying extra for a vehicle with better gas mileage might be the smarter choice if you have a long commute.
No matter what you decide, remember to request a vehicle history report (VHR) before making your purchase. This will help you determine if the vehicle you're considering is a wise investment.
The law requires you to have car insurance. Visit our Insurance Center for details about minimum coverage requirements and help finding a policy that fits your budget.
If you've just moved to the state and already have a valid out-of-state driver's license, you don't have to take the driving test. Simply exchange your out-of-state license of the Illinois equivalent.
However, you must take the driving test if:
- You're a first-time applicant.
- You're 75 or older.
- You have accidents on your driving record.
Once you're ready to test, check the schedule of your local SOS facility. You don't need an appointment, but testing days and times vary. Too, the examiner won't give tests if it's dark outside or weather conditions are poor.
Once You Pass
You'll receive your license once you pass the driving test. The license is good for four years, and you'll receive a letter in the mail reminding you when it's time to renew your license.
Curious about how your license will look? Check out the state's driver's license designs.
If You Fail
The testing official will ask you to spend more time practicing and give you information about scheduling a day to retake the test. You can take the test up to three times within the year after you paid your application fee.
NOTE: You will automatically fail the driving test if you violate any traffic laws or commit any dangerous actions.
If you're just visiting and already have a valid out-of-country license, you may legally drive for up to one year in the state. Just be sure to have your license with you whenever you're driving.
While not required, it's a good idea to also have an International Driving Permit issued from your home country. The permit basically translates your license to make it understandable to U.S. officials.
How to Apply as a Non-Citizen
If you're temporarily residing in the state, and are legally allowed to be in the country, you may be able to apply for a Temporary Visitor Driver's License (TVDL).
To obtain the TVDL, you'll need to:
- Provide acceptable documentation.
- Pass the vision, written, and driving tests.
- Pay the appropriate fee.
In most cases, the license is valid for three years or until your visa expires, whichever period is shortest. For more information, visit the SOS's page on applying for a TVDL.
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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