Drivers Permits in North Carolina
COVID-19 Effects on Licensing Services
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, state DMVs nationwide have closed office locations, extended license and registration expiration dates, and/or limited the transactions they are processing. If possible, residents should use the DMV's online services to complete any relevant transactions. Follow the DMV's most recent updates for the latest information.
Driver's Permits in North Carolina
The North Carolina limited learner permit is the first stage of the state's graduated driver's license (GDL) process for teens under 18 years old.
The GDL process involves several licensing stages, each with eligibility requirements and driving restrictions.
North Carolina REAL ID Driver's License
The NCDMV issues federally-compliant REAL ID driver’s licenses in addition to non-compliant licenses. As of May 3, 2023, only the REAL ID will function as federal identification for domestic travel and entry into federal and military buildings—a standard license will not after this date.
You have the choice to apply for a non-compliant license or upgrade to a REAL ID license—we'll walk you through the requirements below. For more detail, visit the NCDMV's guide to REAL IDs.
New to North Carolina?
You have 60 days to transfer your out-of-state learner's permit or driver's license when you move to North Carolina.
Contact your local DMV office to determine which GDL stage you should start with if you:
- Are 15 years old to under 18 years old.
- Have an out-of-state permit or license.
To apply for your North Carolina learner's permit, follow the steps outlined below.
Driver's Ed Requirement
If you're younger than 18 years old, you must successfully complete driver's education before you can obtain your learner's permit.
If you have taken a Driver's Ed course in another state, you will not have to take it again in North Carolina if you can show a certificate of completion of an out-of-state course. Your course must have included:
- 30 hours of classroom instruction.
- 6 hours of behind-the-wheel instruction.
If you haven't completed Driver's Ed in another state, you will be issued a temporary learner's permit, until you complete the requirements for NC. Contact the Division of Motor Vehicles at (919) 715-7000 for more information on new resident driver's licenses and permits.
North Carolina Learner's Permit Requirements
Before you can apply for a North Carolina limited learner's permit, you must:
- Complete Driver’s Ed.
- Be at least 15 years old.
You must apply for your learner's permit in person at a DMV office and:
- Show your driving eligibility certificate, proving you've completed Driver's Ed.
- Submit proof of your:
- Identity and birth date (1 document).
- Social Security number (1 document).
- The agent may be able to verify your SSN electronically, but bring your documents just in case.
- Legal presence, if you are not a U.S. citizen.
- North Carolina residency:
- Have your parent or guardian sign your application form.
- Pass a:
- Written knowledge test.
- Road signs test.
- Vision screening exam.
- Pay the $21.50 fee (can be paid by cash, check, or money order).
Taking the Written Permit Tests
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Before your learner's permit is issued, you must pass the following permit tests:
- Written test, covering:
- NC traffic laws.
- Safe driving.
- Road signs test, which tests your ability to:
- Identify traffic signs by their shapes and colors.
- Describe the meaning of each traffic sign.
Learner's Permit Driving Restrictions
You face several restrictions when driving with a North Carolina learner's permit.
- You MUST be accompanied by your licensed parent, guardian, or other adult that has been granted permission.
- Your supervisor must have held a valid driver's license for at least 5 years.
- Your supervisor must be seated in the seat next to you.
- You can only drive from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m., for the first 6 months.
- After this period you may drive at anytime (but you must still be supervised).
- All passengers must be wearing a seat belt or be seated in a child safety seat.
- You must NOT use a mobile phone while driving, except for in emergencies.
While you have your learner's permit, the NC Division of Motor Vehicles requires that you complete 60 hours of supervised driving practice.
When getting your behind-the-wheel experience, be sure that you:
- Include 10 hours of driving at night.
- Keep a record of your practice hours on the Driving Log to Advance to N.C. Level 2 Limited Provisional Driver License (Form DL-4A).
- Record no more than 10 hours per week of practice driving on your driving log.
Next Step: NC Provisional License
The next stage of the North Carolina GDL process is the limited provisional driver's license.
You can apply when you have:
- Held your North Carolina learner's permit for at least 6 months.
- Logged the required behind-the-wheel practice hours.
- Maintained a clean driving record for the last 6 months.
At this time, you will have the option to get the REAL ID if you did not provide the required documents for your permit. The NCDMV has a guide to required documents.
For more information about the limited provisional driver's license and other GDL licensing stages, see our page Applying for a New License (Teen Drivers) in North Carolina.