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

    1) Choose Your License

    Whether you’re a teen, a first-time applicant, or a new DC resident, if you want to learn how you can legally operate a regular passenger vehicle in the District of Columbia, you’re in luck. Here, we explain how to first obtain a learner permit (all applicants must get them) and how to move on to your regular DC driver’s license.

    Make sure you’re aware of the other types of licenses in which you may be interested. The DC Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offers:

    • Full driver's license (Class D).
    • Special Licenses to operate taxis or become a chauffeur.
    • Motorcycle Endorsements (Class M) that go on your regular driver’s license and allow you to operate motorcycles.
    • Commercial Driver Licenses (CDLs) which include permits and Class A, B, and C licenses in order to operate commercial vehicles.

    NOTE: If you’re an applicant who must participate in the Gradual Rearing of Adult Drivers (GRAD) program (for drivers who are 16 to 21 years old), you’ll find more thorough information pertaining to your application process in our Teen Drivers section. (Drivers 21 years old and older are not required to participate the GRAD program.)

    2) Take a Driver’s Education Course

    Driver’s education isn’t a requirement for any DC drivers; however, taking a supplemental course like the one our sponsor offers will help prepare you for your knowledge test.

    3) Prepare for the Test

    The DC Driving Manual provides everything you need to know about applying and studying for your tests. You can even get some extra practice in when you take a few practice tests.

    4) Locate a DMV Service Center

    DMV Service Centers handle license applications and testing. You may want to call ahead for hours and test schedules once you’re ready to take your knowledge test, and you must make an appointment when you’re ready to take your road skills test.

    5) Make Test-Day Preparations

    Because DC requires all drivers to first obtain learner permits, your exact test-day preparations will vary depending on your age and how long you’re required to (or want to) keep your learner permit.

    Once your ready to take your test, be prepared to:

    • Call ahead for hours and schedules (unless you’re taking the road skills test, in which case you must make an appointment)
    • Present the DC Driver’s License Application (Form DMVR-4)
    • Present all required documents (including proof of identity, proof of DC residency, your Social Security number, and proof of your ability to drive)
    • Pass the vision exam
    • Pass the knowledge test (or road skills test)
    • Pay the appropriate fees ($20 for a learner permit and $44 for your regular driver’s license; $10 for knowledge test or $10 skills test)
    • Get your picture taken and receive your permit (or driver’s license)

    NOTE: You may visit any DMV office to obtain your permit, except for the Adjudication Services, Brentwood Road Test Office and Inspection Station.

    6) Take the Knowledge Test

    You must take the knowledge test if you’re:

    • A first-time applicant.
    • A new DC resident with an out-of-state license that’s been expired for more than 90 days (You will also be required to take the road test).
    • A foreign national who wishes to exchange an out-of-country license for a DC license.

    In addition to gathering up all the paperwork, legal documents, and fees before you head out, be sure to also study. The DC Driving Manual covers the rules for driving, parking, and handling traffic, as well as everything you need to know about signals, signs, and markings. Supplemental education courses are also great ways to learn the rules and prepare for the test.

    The knowledge test is available in English, Spanish, Chinese and Vietnamese.

    NOTE: For applicants with special needs, DMV Service Centers also offer the knowledge test in both audio and visual with touch screen formats.

    Once You Pass

    Once you pass the knowledge test, you’ll receive your learner permit. This permit is valid for 1 year. If you are under 21 years old you must have hold your permit for 6 months, with no traffic violations, in order to apply for a provisional license. If you’re 21 years old or older, you can immediately make an appointment to take the road skills test.

    If You Fail

    If you fail the knowledge test, you can take it again the next business day. You don’t have to pay any fees until you pass the test and get your learner permit and then driver’s license.

    7) Get a Car

    Any driver education course you took may have provided a vehicle for instruction, and you may even use a DMV Service Center vehicle when you take your road skills test; however, once it’s time to hit the streets with your driver’s license, you’ll need your own set of wheels.

    Shopping for a vehicle isn’t tough when you prepare yourself. Think about what you need in a vehicle―great gas mileage, low payments, extra room? Remember that purchasing a well-kept used vehicle can provide all these things, too, and getting a vehicle history report makes shopping for used cars even easier.

    8) Get Car Insurance

    If you plan to drive in DC, you must have car insurance. The State has minimum liability insurance requirements in place, and our Insurance Center not only helps you make sure you meet those requirements, but also helps you shop for the best car insurance rate.

    9) Take the Road Skills Test

    All first-time drivers, new-to-DC drivers with out-of-state licenses that have been expired for more than 180 days, and some non-citizen applicants have to take the road skills test.

    You must make an appointment for your road skills test; the DMV doesn’t allow walk-ins. If for some reason you can’t keep your appointment, you must call and cancel within two business days or be charged $10.

    Remember to bring your learner permit and, if you’re under 21 years old, your Certificate for Eligibility for Provisional License (Form DMV-GRAD-HR40).

    In some cases, the DMV Service Center provides vehicles for testing. Otherwise, you can bring your own vehicles as long as:

    • You can show proof of registration and insurance. (Visit our Insurance Center for details.)
    • The vehicle has a valid inspection sticker and license tags.
    • The vehicle is in good working order with two rearview mirrors and a functioning emergency brake, brake lights, signals, and driver’s side window.

    NOTE: You can’t drive yourself to your appointment. If you don’t show up with a licensed driver who is at least 21 years old, the DMV will cancel your appointment.

    Once You Pass

    Once you pass the road skills test, you’ll immediately receive your license. There is no waiting period.

    If You Fail

    If you fail the road skills test, you can take it again in 72 hours; however, if you fail the test 6 times, you must wait 1 year from the 1st test date to take it again.

    10) Receive Your License in the Mail

    In DC, you don’t receive your license in the mail; your DMV Service Center immediately processes your license once you pass the road skills test. Of course, it is your responsibility to inform the DC DMV of your current mailing address.

    Non-Citizens

    If you’re a non-citizen with a valid out-of-country license, you will be required to fulfill certain requirements in order to drive in D.C.

    How to Apply as a Non-Citizen

    Before continuing, note that you can’t apply for a DC driver’s license if you have visitor visa status. You can only apply for a DC driver’s license if you’re a non-citizen who has at least 6 months left in the United States, or you’re a non-citizen who already has a valid, out-of-country license.

    1. Call ahead or make an appointment with the Georgetown Service Center. (This is the only Driver Service Station that handles non-citizen licenses.)
    2. Complete the DC Driver’s License Application.
    3. Provide proof of your identity, date of birth, and duration of stay/status in the United States. (The DMV provides a list of acceptable documents.)
    4. Provide proof of your Social Security number, or a letter from the Social Security Administration stating you don’t have one or are ineligible.
    5. Provide proof of DC residency.
    6. Pass the vision test.
    7. Pass the knowledge test and road skills test. (You don’t have to take the road skills test if you already have a valid out-of-country license.)
    8. Pay the required fee. (These will vary depending on your license status.)
    9. Get your license.

    NOTE: You don’t have to relinquish your out-of-country license.

    For more information about non-citizen drivers in DC, visit the DC DMV’s information on non-citizen drivers and converting out-of-country licensesor call the city-wide call center at (202) 737-4404.