How Long Is a California State Driver's License Good For?

By Teo Spengler - Updated July 23, 2018
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Nothing lasts forever, and your driver's license bites the dust just like everything else. If you live in California, you'll have to say goodbye to the document on or before the driver's license expiration date, within five years from the date you pass your tests at the CA DMV office. How long is a driver's license good for in California? Generally, the license expires on your fifth birthday after you turn in your application for the license. A few months earlier is the ideal time for a driver's licence renewal application.

Tip

Under California Vehicle Code Section 12816(a), an original driver's license expires on your fifth birthday following the date of the application. A few months before is the time to start the driver's license renewal process.

California Driver's License

In California, the agency in charge of testing and issuing driver's licenses is the California Department of Motor Vehicles, or CA DMV. That's where you start the process. In many locations, it's smart to make an appointment since walk-ins have a much longer wait.

The first day, you get the ball rolling by turning in an application for the license and proving your identity, citizenship and residence status. If you are getting a REAL ID Driver's License, you must provide proof of your Social Security number, too, either the card itself or a W-2 or 1099 form with your Social Security number on it. You'll need to pay a fee. The REAL ID is a special ID that complies with new federal laws. You can use a REAL ID driver's license to board a domestic flight or enter some federal facilities, although a valid passport, passport card or military ID works as well.

The next step is to take a written knowledge test. These days, many CA DMVs offer the option of taking the test on a computer instead of using pen and paper. You get three chances to pass the test. Once you pass, you are issued a permit that allows you to practice driving with another licensed driver. When you are ready, you take the on-the-road driving test. Assuming you pass, you can drive immediately with a temporary license issued that same day. You also need to take a vision test, do finger printing and have a photo taken.

Driver's License Expiration Date

At this stage, all you have to do is wait. You will get your new license in the mail within a couple of weeks. If for some reason you don't, call the DMV.

This new driver's license is valid until your fifth birthday after the date you filed your application for a California driver's license with the CA DMV. Two months before the driver's license expiration date, the DMV will remind you to start the driver's license renewal process.

Don't tarry. In California, you cannot drive legally on an expired license. If you are caught, fines and even jail may await you. How about the expired license grace period? Don't count on it in California. The state doesn't offer a grace period.

About the Author

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.

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