Applying for a New License (Drivers 18+) in Washington DC
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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 between the ages of 16 and 21), you’ll find more thorough information pertaining to your application process in our Teen Drivers section. (Remember, all drivers under the age of 21 are automatically enrolled in the GRAD program.)
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.
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
- 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 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.
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.
- 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 one year and drivers under the age of 21 must wait six months before taking the road skills test (per the GRAD program). 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.
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.
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.
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 between the ages of 16-20, your Certificate for Eligibility for Provisional License w/ Conditions form.
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 seven days; however, if you fail the test three times, you must wait one year from the first test date to take it again.
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.
If you’re a non-citizen with a valid out-of-country license, you can drive in DC for up to one year. You must also possess an International Driver’s Permit issued by your home country. Make sure to carry both documents with you whenever you drive.
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 six months left in the United States, or you’re a non-citizen who already has a valid, out-of-country license.
- Call ahead or make an appointment with the Georgetown Service Center. (This is the only Driver Service Station that handles non-citizen licenses.)
- Complete the DC Driver’s License Application.
- 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.)
- Provide proof of your Social Security number, or a letter from the Social Security Administration stating you don’t have one or are ineligible.
- Provide proof of DC residency.
- Pass the vision test.
- 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.)
- Pay the required fee. (These will vary depending on your license status.)
- Get your license.
NOTE: You don’t have to relinquish your out-of-country license.
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We put a lot of effort into making our content helpful & accurate. Please let us know if you see something that isn't clear or correct; we are here to ease any frustrations you may have while navigating DMV topics. We are not a government agency, please reach out to your local DMV, insurance agent, or respective professional for further assistance on specific situations.