Your California driver's license expires every five years on your birthday. About two months before that date, the California Department of Motor Vehicles will mail you a renewal notice telling you how, when and where to renew your license. Depending on your license status, you can do this in person, online, by mail or over the telephone. You can also check the renewal status by any of these methods, but it's probably simpler to call the DMV.
How to Renew Your License
If you have a valid California driver's license, are less than 70 years old, did not make your last two renewals by phone, have no driving suspensions and your license expires within 60 days, you can renew online, by mail or over the telephone. In all other circumstances, you must renew your license in person at your local DMV office. If that sounds complicated, your license renewal notice will tell you whether you qualify to renew by phone, online or by mail. It will also provide a form for you to fill out for mail renewals, and the Renewal Identification Number you'll need to use for telephone and online renewals.
Wait 90 Days
The California DMV processes online renewal applications within three weeks, and applications made by other methods within 60 days. When your old license expires, you'll be given a temporary license to carry until your new license comes through. This license lasts for 90 days. If you have not received your new license within 60 days, you can start to check the status of the renewal. Be aware that there's no grace period for an expired driver's license in California. You must apply for a renewal at least 60 days before it expires because the DMV needs this period to mail your new license.
Call the DMV
The simplest way to check the status of your application is to call the California DMV at (800) 777-0133. You might be put on hold for 10 or 15 minutes — with the usual "muzak" to entertain you while you wait — but once you get a DMV operator on the line, he will be able to look up your application and let you know your license renewal status. You'll just have to provide him with your last name and your driver's license number or Renewal Identification Number.
Check the Status Online
You'll need to be a registered user to use the online status check, but that's easy enough if you applied for the renewal online. Just navigate to the California DMV "Driver License Application Status" page, log in to your account, and follow the on-screen instructions. California's online service is automated, so be aware that the information you get might not be completely up to date. Generally, the status might not reflect transactions processed within the past two business days.
Driving Without a Valid License Is Illegal
Driving with an expired license is illegal in California. Be sure to keep on top of the DMV and keep checking your application status before your temporary license runs out. If you're running close to the 90-day expiration date on your temporary license, it's worth visiting the DMV in person and explaining the situation. They might be able to extend your temporary license until the renewal comes through.
Jayne Thompson earned an LL.B. in Law and Business Administration from the University of Birmingham and an LL.M. in International Law from the University of East London. She practiced in various “Big Law” firms before launching a career as a commercial writer. Her work has appeared on numerous legal blogs including Quittance, Upcounsel and Medical Negligence Experts.