How to Get a California Driver's License

By Leslie Bloom - Updated April 23, 2018
Teenager learning to drive

Getting a driver’s license is an exciting achievement, whether you're getting one for the first time or getting one in a new state. Each state has its own rules for obtaining a driver’s license and a driver’s permit. If you’re planning to cruise the coastal routes of California permanently, you must comply with the state’s regulations for getting a driver’s license.

Tip

You need to study for your DMV test, take a road exam and provide necessary paperwork to get your California driver's license.

All drivers who get licensed in California must submit an application to a California DMV office, provide verification of identity and residency, pay an application fee, pass vision and driving exams, and provide proof of state auto insurance. Those who are under 18 must take driver’s education and meet the requirements of their provisional license, as well. If you are over 18, the driver’s test may be waived.

How Do You Get a Permit in California?

Before you get a driver’s license in California, you need a driver’s permit. The process for getting a permit depends on whether you are over or under 18 years old.

If you are over 18 years old, meet all of the requirements for getting a driver’s license and pass the necessary tests, you are issued a permit. This allows you to drive in the state, but only with a legal driver who is 18 or older. This permit is valid until you pass the driving test.

If you are under 18 years old, you must apply for a provisional permit. Provisional permits are issued to those 15 1/2 to 17 1/2 years old. The same information needed to get a driver’s license is required to get a provisional permit. You’ll also need a parent or guardian signature and a certification of completion or enrollment in a driver’s education or training program.

Once all of this is complete and you pass your driver’s test (called the knowledge test by the DMV), you are issued a provisional permit. This permit allows you to drive only with a legal driver who is 25 or older. You cannot drive alone with a provisional permit. You must pass your driving test to drive in the state on your own.

How Long Does it Take to Get Your License After You Pass the Test?

Once you pass the driving test, you should get your official California driver’s license within 60 days. You are issued an interim license in the meantime that allows you to drive legally. The interim license is valid for 90 days to allow time for your license to arrive by mail.

Receipt of your driver’s license may be delayed if you give the DMV the incorrect address, you move or your name has changed. You can call the DMV to check the status of your driver’s license if you don’t receive it in a timely manner.

How Long Does it Take to Replace a Driving License?

If your California driver’s license is lost or stolen, replace it immediately so that you aren’t driving without a license. You do not have to go through the process of getting a new driver’s license if you are simply replacing a driver's license. To replace a driver’s license in California, make an appointment with the DMV, submit the needed application and fee and provide a thumbprint.

Once the DMV verifies your identity, you are given an interim license and a receipt to use as proof that you ordered a replacement license. The interim license is valid for 90 days, but you should receive your new driver’s license within 60 days.

Converting to a REAL ID License

Beginning in 2020, you must have a REAL ID driver’s license if you want to use your license to board a domestic flight or enter any federal facility. If you are replacing a driver’s license, you may want to convert it to a REAL ID driver’s license so that you have it if needed. To do that, you must also present proof of identity, your Social Security number and residency documents from a list of acceptable documents. After all the needed documentation is received, you should receive your new license within 60 days.

About the Author

Leslie Bloom earned a J.D. from U.C. Davis’ King Hall, with a focus on public interest law. She is a licensed attorney who has done advocacy work for children and women. She holds a B.S. in print journalism, and has more than 20 years of experience writing for a variety of print and online publications, including the Journal of Juvenile Law and Policy.

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