If you are the kind of person who decides to do something, then does it in the shortest, most efficient way possible, you may plan to get your driver's license in one visit to the DMV. This has the great advantage of limiting the time you have to spend in line, but there are reasons most people do it in several trips. However, you won't lose anything by gathering the documentation you need.
Driver's License Dreaming
If you need to get a new driver's license, you'll probably be looking at a written test, a driving test and a slew of documentation. Exactly what you 'll need varies among states, but you should be prepared to document almost every aspect of your life.
You will need to prove that you are who you say you are, so start with documenting your identification. That means your name, date of birth, citizenship and state of residence. You'll need a Social Security number or an official statement that you are not eligible for one, plus proof you are in the country legally.
Different States, Different Rules
For an original driver's license for an adult, California requires that you complete a Driver License Application, on form DL 44. You'll need your thumbs for a thumb print, your eyes for a vision exam and your best face for a photo. You have to verify your identity with a document like a passport or certified birth certificate, with certified name change orders from the court if your name has changed. Expect to prove residency with documents like rental agreements or title to a home. You'll also need to pay the fee. With all that, you buy entry to the knowledge test. You'll also need a car to take the driving test.
If you want a REAL ID driver's license (that can serve as federally compliant identification and get you into federal buildings and on domestic flights), bring proof of your identity, SSN and residency from the list of acceptable REAL ID document options. A valid passport, W-2 form and utility bills in your name will do it.
Wisconsin's requirements mirror those of California. Utah requires proof of driver's education for brand new drivers, as well as passing an online test, to avoid having to drive with a permit for 90 days. It also requires a medical questionnaire be filled out in addition to the application and two proofs of state residency.
Once you get everything done, your license will be mailed to you. The time you have to wait varies between jurisdictions. New York is fairly typical with a wait period of about two weeks.
Replacing or Renewing a License
Replacing a lost license or renewing an expired license are different beasts than getting an original license. To replace a lost license, you generally need proof of identity and residence. For example, in Florida simply go to a DMV with proof of identity, proof of residence and a credit card to pay the fee. If your card was stolen and you have a police report, the fee is waived.
If it is time to renew your license, it can be as easy as signing and paying a fee if your state allows you to renew by mail or online. In Florida, you can do it online with your SSN, your driver's license number, your name and your fee. In Massachusetts, you can renew your license online or in person, but not by mail. If you are doing it in person, you'll need to bring a completed Application (Form T21042), your current driver's license, your SSN or all of the following: a denial notice from the Social Security Administration and your non-U.S. passport and I-94 card or number – plus, of course, payment for the renewal fee.
State regulations differ as to what you need to get a license, but generally you need documents that prove your name, date of birth, identity, citizenship or legal status, state residency, Social Security number and name change if any. You'll also need the fee and a vehicle in which to take the driving test.
- California DMV: Driver License (DL) and Identification Card (ID) Information
- Wisconsin DOT: Driver License Documentation
- Utah DOS: Driver License
- DMV.org: Applying for a New License
- DMV.org: Required Documents for Driver's License Renewal
- Florida: Replace a License
- DMV.org: Florida Renew License
- DMV.org: Renew License Massachusetts
- NY DMV: Check Mailing Status
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.