Applying for a New License (Drivers 18+) in Tennessee
Compare Insurance Rates in 3 Easy Steps
1. Start Your Quote:
- 1) Choose Your License
- 2) Take a Driver’s Education Course
- 3) Prepare for the Test
- 4) Locate a Tennessee Driver License Service Center
- 5) Make Test-Day Preparations
- 6) Take the Written Test
- 7) Get a Car
- 8) Get Car Insurance
- 9) Take the Driving Test
- 10) Receive Your TN License in the Mail
All first-time drivers and drivers who are new to the state need valid Tennessee licenses to legally operate motor vehicles. The Tennessee Department of Safety (DOS) offers the following types of licenses:
- Class D Licenses and Class PD Licenses (permits) are for driving regular passenger vehicles and are the licenses discussed here.
- Graduated Driver Licenses which include learner permits, restricted intermediate licenses, and unrestricted intermediate licenses for teen drivers.
- Class H Licenses are for drivers who are 14 years old or 15 years old and are for driving in hardship situations (see below for details).
- Class F Licenses are for driving "for hire" vehicles.
- Class M Licenses, including Class M endorsements and Class PM motorcycle permits, are for driving motorcycles.
- Commercial Driver Licenses (CDLs) includes Class A, B, and C licenses and are for driving commercial vehicles.
NOTE: If you're a teen driver who needs to go through the graduated licensing system, head on over to our Teen Drivers section for instructions specific to you.
If you're 14 years old or 15 years old and need a driver's license due to a special hardship case, you may be able to get a Class H driver's license―a "hardship license."
A hardship license allows you to drive a passenger vehicle or motorcycle, but with quite a few restrictions. Before you can begin the testing processes, you must first complete an SF-0263, submit it to the DOS, and wait for approval and further instructions.
Younger than eighteen―You don't have to take a driver education course (unless you're applying for a Class H license and have never held a permit), but you do have to complete 50 hours of behind-the-wheel experience before you can get your unrestricted intermediate license.
If you are new to the state and can present a valid license from another state (or a certified driving record that proves you hold one), you will only need to pass the vision screening in most cases.
However, requiring the taking of written or driving tests is always at the discretion of the examiner. And you will be required to take the vision test, the written knowledge test and the road test if your license from another state has been expired for more than six months.
Your local DOS Driver License Service Center is where you'll complete all license transactions. You don't need to make an appointment for your written knowledge test, but you do need to make an appointment for your road skills test.
On the day you test for your Class D license, be prepared to:
- Pay the appropriate fee ($5.50 for a permit and $19.50 for a regular license).
- Show proof of citizenship.
- Show primary and secondary proofs of identification.
- Show two proofs of physical residency.
- Give your Social Security number or sign an affidavit swearing the Social Security Administration never issued you one.
- Pass a vision test with at least 20/40 in each individual eye and both eyes together.
- Take and pass the written and driving test if your out-of-state license has expired for longer than six months.
- Have your picture taken for your new license.
New-to-Tennessee drivers who already hold valid out-of-state licenses generally don't have to take the knowledge test. However, this requirement is always at the examiner's discretion. The exception is this rule is if your license has been expired six months or longer.
First-time drivers, and those drivers with out-of-state licenses that have been expired for six months or more, can prepare for the knowledge test when they study the Driver License Study Guide and take a supplemental training course.
Knowledge tests are available in written and computerized formats, depending on the Driver License Service Center, and are available in English, Spanish, Japanese, and Korean.
NOTE: Oral and sign language tests are available at certain locations. If you require an oral test, call ahead to your nearest Driver License Service Center for details about availability and appointments. Please note that if you're younger than 18, you'll need to present a written statement from your doctor or educational specialist.
Once You Pass
In the best case scenario, you can take your road skills test the same day you pass your knowledge test; however, this is only if the Driver License Service Center has an opening. In other words, it's a rare occurrence and you'll most likely need to make an appointment for the next available day.
However, if you want to obtain a Class PD license (a permit) in order to gain some extra driving experience, you can do so now.
If You Fail
If you fail your knowledge test, you must wait seven days before retaking it. Be prepared to pay $2 each time you test and fail.
Most applicants must take a road skills test in order to get a Tennessee driver's license. While any supplemental training course you took may have provided wheels for you, you must provide your own once it's time to take your test.
If you're purchasing a vehicle, make sure you choose one that fits your needs. Reliable, affordable, easy on gas―the requirements depend on your preferences. Of course, if you choose to purchase a used vehicle it's wise to get a vehicle history report. Like the name suggests, this report gives you a particular vehicle's history.
Regardless of whether you use your own vehicle or borrow someone else's, it must be properly registered and in good working order. The examiner will check for these conditions.
Tennessee is one of the few states that doesn't have minimum car insurance requirements; however, you must comply with the Financial Responsibility Law. Simply put, you must be able to show proof that you can financially cover the requirements of the law. Visit our Insurance Center for details.
If you're new to Tennessee and have a valid out-of-state license, you don't need to take the road skills test. You simply need to take the vision test, provide required proofs of identity, residency, and citizenship, and swap your old license for a Tennessee license within 30 days of moving to the state.
If your out-of-state license has been expired for six months or more, you do have to take the road skills test as well as the vision and written tests.
All first-time drivers must take a road skills test. You must make an appointment and you must show up with a properly registered and functioning vehicle that meets Tennessee's requirements under the Financial Responsibility Law.
Once You Pass
Once you pass your road skills test, a Driver License Service Center employee will take your picture and issue you your license.
If You Fail
If you fail your road skills test, your date to retest will depend on your actual test score. Tennessee's Driver License Handbook outlines the conditions in full, but simply put you'll be able to retake your test as early as the next day or as late as 30 days. Be prepared to pay $2 each time you test and fail.
In most cases, a Driver License Service Center employee will take your picture and issue you your license on the spot; however, it's good to make sure the DOS has your most current mailing address on file for other correspondence.
If you're a non-citizen who's simply visiting Tennessee, you can drive with your valid out-of-country license. Tennessee doesn't require you to also have an International Driver Permit, but the DOS does recommend it.
If you become a resident and have at least one year left of residency, you can apply for a Temporary Driver License (TDL), or an ID-only license if you don't drive. A TDL is available for driving passenger vehicles and motorcycles and is valid for as long as you're authorized to stay in the United States (but for no longer than five years).
How to Apply as a Non-Citizen
The Tennessee DOS thoroughly covers TDLs and the application process. In short, you'll need to:
- Make an appointment with your local Driver License Service Center.
- Pay the appropriate fee ($19.50 for a TDL and $9.50 for an ID-only license).
- Present documentation of your legal presence from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Department.
- Resent two proofs of Tennessee residency and two proofs of identification.
- Pass the required vision, knowledge, and roak skills tests.
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