How to Get Your Driver’s License in California

Obtaining a California driver’s license can be a complex process if you’re coming from a different state or another country and are a first-time driver in the Golden State. There are several steps you need to follow to obtain your license, especially now that the Real ID card will be required for domestic travel. What is the difference between the two and which one do you need? Follow the steps in this article to determine the best option for you.

Steps to get your California driver’s license

Visit your local DMV office if you’re a first-time driver in California. Whether you’re coming from out of state or a foreign country, it’s always advisable to speak to a DMV customer service representative to better understand the process.

While walk-ins are accepted at the DMV, waiting times are long and can extend for up to eight hours depending on the day. It’s always advised to make an appointment through the website.

  • Download and complete the Driver License or Card Application form. (You can fill it out online to save time).
  • Provide your Social Security Number (SSN).
  • Show proof of your identity.
  • Pay a non-refundable application fee.
  • Pass a vision exam.
  • Have your photograph and fingerprints taken.
  • Pass your written test.
  • Take and pass the behind-the-wheel test.

Verifying your identity

Showing proof of your identity in order to get your driver’s license in California means that you need an acceptable document that “is produced by an authority, such as a county, state, federal, or foreign agency,” as the DMV states. These must be original documents that show your true full name, date of birth, and identity. Photocopies or other informational documents are not accepted. You must also take your SSN Card or military ID card with you as well as two other documents that prove your California residency, such as mortgage bills, utility bills, or lease/rental agreement.

Provide all these documents to the DMV clerk so they can verify your identity. After that, pay the application fee, have your picture and fingerprints taken, and get ready for the written test.

Taking the tests

Even though the behind-the-wheel test isn’t very complicated, study before you take the exam. Different states and countries follow their own set of traffic rules. Become familiar with California’s regulations before you take the test by downloading and studying the official handbook.

Written tests must be taken before 4:30pm. Make an appointment for the driving exam if you pass the knowledge test. The wait time can be long, that’s why it’s always better to schedule your exam as soon as you get the result. Call 1-800-777-0133 for your appointment.

The DMV issues an interim driver’s license after you pass the behind-the-wheel test and it’s valid for 90 days while you wait for your official card in the mail.

What is the REAL ID?

The REAL ID is a new form of identification that is federally accepted. It can also be used to travel domestically and to enter federal facilities, in addition to serving as your California driver’s license. Starting March 7, 2025 driver’s licenses won’t be considered a valid document to prove your identity at airports or federal buildings. You can either use your passport or a REAL ID document.

While obtaining the REAL ID is optional, it’s recommended to apply for it if you intend to board domestic flights in the US without using a passport.

The DMV website has an entire section devoted to this new form of identification. Learn more by clicking here.

What if I’m under 18?

People under the age of 18 can’t obtain a driver’s license in California. They can, however, apply for a provisional instruction permit if they’re between the ages of 15½ and 18. In addition to the steps shared above, minors need parental or guardian consent to obtain their permit to accept liability for them. First-time teenage drivers who are under the age of 17½ must also complete a driver training course. These classes are available at California secondary schools or professional driving schools.

Keeping all documents handy helps speed up the process of obtaining your driver’s license in California. It’s also important to secure your auto insurance policy after you pass your tests and if you intend to drive.

Infinity Insurance has different plans available to meet your budget and needs. Speak to one of our agents today by calling 1-800-INFINITY to receive a quote in minutes.

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