Drivers Permits in California
CA REAL ID License Update
The California DMV has begun issuing federally-compliant REAL ID driver’s licenses in addition to standard non-compliant driver’s licenses. The REAL ID allows you to use your license for domestic travel and entry into federal and military buildings after May 3, 2023. You can choose to receive either a REAL ID or non-compliant provisional permit. Keep reading for details.
Getting Your California Learner's Permit
In an effort to reduce the alarming number of accidents involving teen drivers, California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has initiated a Graduated Driver License (GDL) program in which first-time drivers must achieve certain milestones prior to obtaining their unrestricted California driver license.
One of the first steps on your path to your California driver's license is to obtain your provisional permit, which is commonly referred to as a learner's permit. Below you will learn what to expect during the GDL process, including details about CA Online Driver's Ed and why you should take an online CA Permit Practice Test.
California Learner's Permit Requirements
If you want to get your California provisional permit you must be at least 15 1/2 years old. If you are younger than 17 1/2 years old you will be required to participate in Driver's Ed. Here's what you need to do.
Take a Driver's Ed Course
First: Enroll in a state-approved driver education course that consists of:
- 25 hours of classroom instruction. This classroom instruction may be completed through:
- California secondary school classes.
- A state-licensed professional driving school course.
- An internet training program, as long as it meets the requirement of 25 hours.
- 6 hours of driver training. Your driver training cannot exceed 2 hours per day and if you're observing another driver in the car, that time does not count toward your requirement of 6 hours.
*If you're at least 14 years old but less than 18 years old AND can prove a hardship of some sort, you can apply for a Junior Permit. For steps and restrictions, review the Application for Junior Permit (Form DL 120).
Did you know that you can take your driver's education course in the comfort of your own home? It's true! Now you can study online, when and where you want and you'll have access to your course 24/7.
Learn more about CA Online Driver's Education.
Take Your Permit Exam
Once you have completed Driver's Ed it's time to visit your local DMV and take your Learner's Permit Exam. For faster service make an appointment.
You can choose whether to apply for a REAL ID-compliant permit or a standard permit. Note that a standard permit will only upgrade to a standard license, which will NOT be valid as federal identification after May 3, 2023. If you choose to upgrade to a REAL ID later, you'll need to bring all of your required documents then.
Here's what you'll need to bring:
- A completed Driver License or Identification Card Application.
- Be sure to have your parents or guardians sign the application!
- Proof of Social Security number. It will be verified with the Social Security Administration while you are at the DMV.
- The agent may be able to verify your SSN electronically, but bring your documents just in case.
- Your original birth certificate, or a certified copy of your original birth certificate.
- Proof of identity and lawful U.S. presence (e.g. unexpired U.S. passport, Certificate of Citizenship or Naturalization, original or certified birth certificate).
- Proof of your California residency with:
- 2 documents for a REAL ID-compliant permit.
- 2 documents for a non-compliant permit.
- Certificates stating that you either:
- Completed Driver's Ed.
- Completed driver education and driver training.
- Are enrolled and participating in an approved driver training program.
If you're over 17 1/2 years old, but not yet 18 years old, you do not have to provide certificates of completion for driver's education and driver training. However, you must wait until you're 18 years old to take the driving test.
Here's what you'll need to do:
- Pass a vision exam.
- Pass the written permit test.
- Have your picture taken.
- Provide a thumbprint.
- Pay the application fee.
About the DMV Written California Permit Test
The DMV written permit test contains written questions about California traffic laws, road signs, and rules of safe driving. A passing score is at least 80% correct answers.
Ace Your Exam on the First Try!
Don't leave your permit test to chance—take our free permit practice test with questions directly from the CA driver handbook. It's the fastest, easiest way to set yourself up for success!
You will have 3 chances to pass. If you fail the exam, the DMV requires you to wait 7 days before taking the permit test again.
Once you pass the written permit test and pay $41, you'll earn your provisional permit. The $41 fee covers a total of 3 exams within a 12 months period and pays for your provisional learner's permit and driver's license. However, if all requirements are not met within a period of 12 months, the application is considered void and you must repeat all steps mentioned above.
California Learner's Permit Restrictions
With a provisional learner's permit in your possession, it's illegal for you to drive alone at any time. If you do drive, a parent, guardian, spouse, or adult 25 years old or older who has a valid CA driver's license must be with you and seated close enough to take control of the vehicle if necessary.
New to California?
If you have completed Driver's Ed and driver training outside of California, an out-of-state learner's permit is not considered acceptable proof.
Instead, you must provide the California DMV with one of the following documents:
- A "To Secondary Schools Other Than California Schools" document (Form DL 33). The out-of-state school you most recently attended must complete this form. You can get this form from your local DMV office or by calling (800) 777-0133. It is not available for download.
- A letter from your out-of-state secondary school on the school's stationery that is signed by a school official stating the courses you have taken are equivalent to a California secondary school driver's education course.
Lost or Expired Learner's Permit?
- If you lose your provisional permit, simply head to your local CA DMV with all identification and residence documents you used when you applied for your original permit (see above), and request a new one. There is no charge.
- If your learner's permit has expired, you must start the entire process again. This means resubmitting documents, paying the application fee of $41, and taking the required tests.
- And don't forget, if you're still under 18 years old, you will need your parent(s) or guardian(s) signature on the application form.
Once you have your provisional permit in hand, you're ready to continue your quest to get your CA driver's license. The next step in the GDL process is to complete driver training so that you can get your provisional license. For more information about getting your provisional license, please refer to our provisional license page.