Applying for a New License (Drivers 18+) in Tennessee
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- 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 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 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 6 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
How to Apply as a Non-Citizen
The Tennessee DOS thoroughly covers TDLs and the application process. In short, you'll need to:
Other Topics in This Section
- Make an appointment with your local Driver License Service Center.
- Pay the appropriate fee.
- 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 road skills tests.