How to Apply for a New CA Driver's License in California (For 18+)

New License Applications in California

Are you trying to drive legally in California? If that's the case, you must apply for your new CA driver's license.

The CA DMV is there to help people get their California driver's license. You can be a brand new first time driver, a new resident in the state, or a legal non-citizen. You can find the information for each case below or here for applying for a new license for teens.

Update on AB 60 Driver's License

If you are a California resident but can't give proof of U.S. legal presence, there will be a way for you to obtain a California driver's license. This law will be effective starting in the beginning of 2015. Check here periodically to find out about the most recent updates and what documents you will need to get an AB 60 license.

Just Moved to California?

Once you have established residency in the state, you need to apply for your CA driver's license in 10 days or less. Also see how to get your California ID cards.

You generally establish residency when you partake in state benefits that nonresidents do not receive. Examples include:

  • Voter registration.
  • Paying tuition for a California college.
  • Applying for property tax exemption for homeowners.

When applying for a new CA driver's license, you should refer to the steps under the section "Applying for a California Driver's License" below. (Includes information about the written test.)

You should know that your driving test will likely be waived if you already have a driver's license from a different state. If you have one from a different country, it will not be waived. (Refer to the section on non-citizens coming soon.)

For those who have never held a driver's license before, you will receive your permit after passing your written permit exam. At that point you can begin practicing for your road driving test.

If you have held a driver's license before, you may skip the section about the learner's permit. NOTE: Waived tests are decided by the CA DMV, so you should be prepared to take one if it comes to it.

Types of CA Driver's Licenses

The following are the types of driver's licenses in California:

  • Class C - With this license, you can operate regular, noncommercial passenger vehicles.
  • Non-commercial Class A - This license is for those who operate noncommercial travel trailers that weigh over 10,000 pounds, fifth-wheel travel trailers over 15,000 pounds, and livestock trailers between the weight of 10,000 pounds and 15,000 pounds.
  • Non-commercial Class B - With this driver's license, you may drive a motor home or RV 45 feet or less in length.

For those who need a different type of license, please see the following pages:

  • Teen Drivers
    • Goes over California's GDL program, which includes driver's ed requirements, provisional licenses, and provisional permits.
  • Motorcycles
    • You can get an M1 and M2 motorcycle license in California.
  • Commercial Vehicles
    • Figure out how you can obtain a Class A, B, or C commercial driver's licenses (CDL). You'll also find information about adding endorsements.

CA Driver's License Requirements

Before you go to the DMV, check on whether or not you're required to apply for a new driver's license. You WILL need a new CA in the following instances:

  • You've been a California resident for a while and have never had a license.
  • You've just moved to CA and are trying to:
    • Apply to get a CA driver's license.
    • Transfer your out-of-state license.
  • You wish to drive any of the non-commercial Class A and B vehicles mentioned above. ("Types of CA Driver's Licenses")
  • You are in the U.S. legally.
    • If you have a diplomatic driver's license from the U.S. Department of State, you don't need to get a new CA driver's license.

You will not need a CA driver's license in the following instances:

  • You're over 18 years old and just visiting California with an out-of-state license.
  • You're an active member of the military or you're a dependent stationed in CA. This applies if you have a valid out-of-state license and are not a resident of California.
  • You drive farm vehicles off of public roads.
  • You only drive off-highway vehicles and/or snowmobiles without going on public roads (except to cross).

Getting a CA Learner's Permit

If you've never held a Class C or Non-commercial Class A or B license in California, you will need to get a learner's permit first.

"Applying for a California Driver's License" below provides more information on getting your learner's permit.

Applying for a California Driver's License

If you're applying for a new CA driver's license, you cannot have any suspensions, cancelations, revocations, or any other legal penalties that keep you from having a valid driver's license. (Take a look at your driving record.) Class C License Applying for your Class C license in CA involves:

  • Making an appointment with your DMV to take the written and vision exams.
    • You should make an appointment before 4:30p.m.
  • Completing the Driver's License or Identification Card Application (Form DL 44).
    • You cannot find this form online. You must get one at the DMV or call the automated DMV number at (800) 777-0133 to get one in the mail.
  • Bringing proof of your SSN, which could be: (NOTE: For those who are non-citizens with a legal presence but no Social Security number or not eligible for one, you do not need to meet this requirement.)
    • A Social Security card.
    • A Military ID card.
  • Bringing proof of your full name. The documents allowed for proof include the following:
    • Marriage certificate and/or proof of a domestic partnership formation.
    • Divorce documentation.
    • A legal name change.
  • Providing one document that shows your date of birth and legal presence from the following options from the state's allowed documents:
    • U.S. birth certificate.
    • U.S. passport.
  • Having your thumbprint taken.
  • Having a picture taken.
  • Passing a vision exam.
  • Paying the fee of $33.
  • Passing your written permit test.
    • This test contains 36 questions about traffic laws and road signs, and you will have three chances to pass.
    • You may take this practice test to prepare yourself for the test.

Now, once you have passed the written test, you will be issued a learner's permit by the CA DMV. You may use this permit for practicing for the permit test. For practicing, you must be with a licensed driver who has the same license class and is over the age of 18.

There is no required amount of time that you must have your learner's permit. For those who think they are ready, they may even schedule their test on the day after getting their permit.

Now, The Driving Test

  • You've got to make an appointment with your local DMV.
    • Tests MUST be done at the DMV.
  • You must bring your own vehicle and:
    • Proof of vehicle registration.
    • Proof of vehicle insurance.

Know that:

  • You will have three chances to pass your driving test.
  • You don't have to wait a minimum period of time between driving test attempts, but you must make a new appointment for each one.
  • Your first attempt at the test is part of the application fee, but every attempt after the first is a $6 fee.

After passing your driving test, you will get a temporary driver's license that will be valid for 90 days. You will be mailed your permanent license by the DMV. If it doesn't come in the mail within 60 days, call the DMV at (800) 777-0133. Noncommercial Licenses: Classes A & B Applications for a Class A or B license are done in the same manner as applying for a Class C license mentioned above, except for the following:

  • You will need to fill out a Commercial Driver's License Application (Form DL 44C).
    • You will have to get the form either at the DMV or through the mail by calling (800) 777-0133. It is not online.
    • A filled out Medical Examination Report(Form DL 51)
  • You will pay a fee of $34.

After satisfying these requirements, you will be issued your Noncommercial Class A or B license by the CA DMV through the mail. If it doesn't make it to you within 60 days, give the DMV a call at (800) 777-0133. For upgrading a Noncommercial Class A or B permit to a full driver's license, you must:

  • Schedule a meeting with your local CDL office.
  • Bring along your Noncommercial Class A or B vehicle.
  • Pass pre-trip/safety inspections.
  • Pass skills/driving exams.

Upon successful completion of your exams, you will be issued an interim license before you get your full driver's license through the mail. If your permanent license doesn't arrive within 60 days, give the DMV a call at (800) 777-0133. Non-Citizens and CA Driver's License The same instructions are used here as outlined above for a new California driver's license, but you must pay attention to the following:

  • Your SSN. This may be waived if you fall under BOTH of the following categories: (Find out more about the application process for a SSN here.)
    • You are not allowed to work in the U.S. or are ineligible otherwise.
    • You can show a valid birth date and/or legal presence (BD/LP) paper.
  • Your date of birth/legal presence (BD/LP) papers.
    • These papers show you date of birth and legal presence in the U.S.
    • This document is certified by the DMV with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
    • California has a full list of documents to refer to, but some of the following are allowed:
      • Employment Authorization Card
      • Temporary Resident ID card.
      • Valid I-94.

Time is a factor as well. In the case that your BD/LP reaches its expiration:

  • Over 30 days from the day you have applied for a driver's license, the application process will go ahead as expected.
  • Less than 60 days from the date you applied for your driver's license, you are allowed to take your tests, but you will not get a driver's license with your photo on it until you are able to show another BD/LP document that is valid for 60 or more days from your date of applying.

Once you have met these requirements and the USCIS verifies your legal presence, you will get your driver's license. It will be a:

  • Limited Term (LT) driver's license in the case of your BD/LP expiring less than five years from your license application date.
  • Full driver's license in the case that your BD/LP expires over five years from your license application date.

NOTE: To reiterate, you will not need a new CA driver's license if you have a valid diplomatic driver's license from the U.S. Department of State. It is however, essential to to keep up with your California License Renewals at all times.

Driver Ed Teen