California Driver's License Application: Forms, Tips & DMV Requirements

California driver's license

Who needs to apply for a California driver’s license?

All California residents who would like to drive a vehicle on public roads are required, by law, to hold a CA driver’s license.

Adults over 18 years old who hold a valid driver’s license from another state may drive in California without obtaining a CA driver’s license, while visiting the state only. However, if you take up residence in California or acquire employment within the state, you must obtain a valid CA driver’s license within 10 days.

The rules concerning minors with out-of-state licenses are slightly different. If you are visiting California and are between 16 and 18 years old, you may only drive on your original license or permit for 10 days. Beyond this point, you must acquire either a Non-resident Minor’s Certificate or a CA driver’s license.

When don’t you need to apply for a California driver’s license?

It is not necessary to obtain a California driver’s license to:

  • Operate a snowmobile or another off-highway vehicle, providing it is legally registered (though you may not drive these vehicles on a freeway).
  • Operate farm vehicles or farm machinery.
  • Drive a vehicle owned or controlled by the federal government, if you are a member of the United States Armed Forces or a civilian on U.S. government business.

What are the different types of California driver’s license?

There are several types of driver’s license, which differ based on the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GCWR) and whether vehicle will be used for commercial or personal purposes.

This driver’s education course prepares you to apply for a Class C non-commercial license, which is the most common license type. Holding a Class C non-commercial license will qualify you to operate the following vehicles:

  • Any 2-axle vehicle weighing up to and including 26,000 lbs.
  • Any 3-axle vehicle weighing 6,000 lbs or less.
  • A motorized scooter (but not a motorcycle)
  • A motor home of 40 feet or less.

Can I apply for a commercial driving license?

No, not if you are a minor. You may not operate a commercial vehicle (including trucks or buses) for the purposes of employment unless you are over 18 years old and hold a valid commercial driver’s license. Only drivers who hold a commercial license and are over 21 years old may operate commercial vehicles that transport goods across state lines, or that carry hazardous materials.

What is the application process for a CA driver’s license?

You must first complete driver’s education and pass all necessary tests to obtain an instruction permit (also known as a learner’s permit). This will allow you to practice driving under supervision. When you are ready and eligible, you will then take the driving skills test to achieve a minor’s driving license.

When can I apply for an instruction permit?

To apply for a California learner’s permit you must be at least 15 ½ years old, and have completed a state-approved driver’s education course.

At what age I can apply for a CA driver’s license?

To apply for a minor’s driving license you must:

  • Be at least 16 years old
  • Have held your instruction permit for a minimum of six months
  • Have completed 50 hours of supervised driving practice (10 of which must be at night)

Do I need to complete a written test to apply for a driver’s license?

Yes. You will need to pass a general knowledge DMV written test to obtain an instruction permit. The test covers essential driving knowledge such as rules of the road and road signs. For minors, the DMV permit test features 46 questions and has a minimum pass requirement of 38 correct answers.

How many times can I attempt the DMV permit test?

You may take the general knowledge test up to three times in one day. If you fail all three attempts, you will be subject to a 7-day cooling off period before you can take it again.

Do I need to pass a vision test?

Yes. All driver’s license applicants must pass a vision test in order to receive an instruction permit. The minimum standard of vision is 20/40 using both eyes, plus 20/40 for one eye and at least 20/70 for the other. If wear glasses or contact lenses usually, you should wear them during the vision test.

Will I need to take professional driving lessons?

Yes. Anyone under 18 years old must complete 6 hours of behind-the-wheel training with a professional driving instructor, prior to taking the driving test. This will consist of three individual sessions that are two hours long.

What documents do I need to apply for a learner’s permit?

You must provide the DMV with the following documents when applying for an instruction permit:

  • A completed California Driver’s License (DL) application form, signed by your parent(s) or guardian.
  • Your ID or a certified copy of your birth certificate.
  • Your social security number
  • Proof of your residency in California (full details of acceptable documents can be found on the CA DMV website)
  • A Certificate of Completion to demonstrate that you have completed driver’s education

Will I need to take a driving test?

Yes. All new drivers must pass a driving skills test to demonstrate that they can operate a vehicle on public roads safely. The test will be supervised by a DMV examiner riding in the front passenger seat with you.

What happens if I fail the driving test?

You can take the driving test three times on your initial application. If you fail the first test, subsequent attempts will incur a $7 fee. You will need to fill out a new driver’s license application form if you fail the driving test three times in a row.

What documents do I need to apply for a learner’s permit?

When you take your final road skills driving test to achieve a driving license, you will need to present the following documents:

  • Proof of financial responsibility / Auto insurance documents
  • Your Ca learner’s permit with the second page signed by a parent or guardian, to prove you have completed 50 hours of driving practice
  • A certificate of completion to demonstrate you have completed 6 hours of behind-the-wheel training (this is not necessary for adult applicants)

How much does it cost to apply for a California driver’s license?

The application fee for an original driver’s license in California is $33 for minors and $38 for adults.

Will I need to reapply for an adult driver’s license when I turn 18?

No. Your minor’s driving license will automatically become a full driving license when you turn 18. If you wish, you may ask for a replacement license card that does not say ‘minor’ on it, though this is not necessary from a legal standpoint.