What do I need to get my driver's license?

To get a full driver's license, you typically must advance through the graduated driver licensing (GDL) system in your state. If you're 18 years or older, you may advance through the driver's license process faster if you have a clean driving history, pass the required tests, pay application fees, and provide all of the necessary documentation. If you're younger than 18, you must hold a learner's permit and intermediate license before getting fully licensed. The steps to get a driver's license vary from one state to the next.

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What are the requirements to get a driver's license?

The requirements to get a driver's license depend on your age and the state where you live. Applicants are commonly required to advance through a licensing program that requires applicants to:

  • Take driver's education courses
  • Gain experience behind the wheel under supervision
  • Pass vision, written, and driving exams
  • Pay application fees
  • Provide official documentation

If you're 18, the requirements to get a driver's license may be less stringent than requirements for applicants under 18. No matter your age, you must meet certain criteria to advance through the licensing program stages of your state.

Steps to get a driver's license

Follow these steps to move through the licensing program in your state. Some of the requirements of each step may be waived if you're 18 or older, depending on your residence and driving history.

  1. Apply for a learner's permit

    The first stage of most licensing programs is often applying for a learner's permit. You're eligible to apply for a learner's permit as early as 14 to 16 years of age depending on your state's program. In most states, to receive your permit, you must:

    • Pass a written exam
    • Provide the necessary documents
    • Pay an application fee

    If you're under 18 years of age, you'll also need a parent or legal guardian present.

    A learner's permit allows drivers to gain experience behind the wheel with restrictions. Permit holders are commonly limited to driving only with an instructor, parent or legal guardian, or a licensed adult aged 21 or older.

    New drivers with learner's permits are required to have auto insurance. Drivers under 18 are typically eligible for coverage under a parent or legal guardian's policy; they need to be listed as a driver on their policy. Learn more about learner's permit insurance.

  2. Apply for an intermediate license

    The second stage in getting a driver's license is typically applying for your state's intermediate license. You can apply for an intermediate license after meeting your state's criteria. Most states require that you:

    • Hold the learner's permit for a certain amount of time, often 6-12 months
    • Complete a specified number of supervised hours behind the wheel, including day and night requirements
    • Spend a certain amount of hours in driver's education courses
    • Pay an application fee
    • Provide necessary documents
    • Pass a driving test

    An intermediate license is a probationary license and carries restrictions specific to your state. It may also be referred to as a junior or provisional license. Some of the most common restrictions include the time of day you're allowed on the road and the number and age of passengers in the vehicle.

  3. Apply for a full license

    The final stage of most licensing programs is applying for a regular or full driver's license. You can apply for a full license after satisfying your state's requirements. Most states require that you:

    • Hold the intermediate license for a certain amount of time, often 6-12 months
    • Don't violate state restrictions on intermediate-licensed drivers
    • Are conviction-free throughout the probationary period
    • Provide necessary documents
    • Pay an application fee

    A full license can be earned anywhere from 16 ½ years of age or older, depending on where you live. Fully licensed drivers are allowed to drive without restrictions.

Pro tip:

If you're 18 years of age or older, you may be able to apply for a full license without needing to meet the criteria at each stage of the licensing program. You will likely still be required to pass vision, written, and driving exams to receive a full license, but the process may be expedited.

What tests must I pass to get a driver's license?

The written exam will quiz you on road rules, signs, and safety topics. You can get a driver's manual from your state's department of motor vehicles (DMV) to review before you take the written exam.

The driving exam will test your knowledge of procedures on the road and practical ability in parallel and perpendicular parking techniques. The driving exam is as much about ensuring your safety as granting you the right to drive. In many states, you'll take the driving exam with a DMV instructor, though you may also have the option of taking the exam at your driving school.

If you're starting the process of getting a driver's license, reach out to your local DMV to determine the specific requirements in your state at each stage of the process.

What documents are needed to get a driver's license?

Beyond your birth certificate and Social Security card, you may need additional documentation depending on where you live or the type of ID for which you're applying. For example, if you're getting a REAL ID, which is a form of identification that has stricter compliance requirements, there are additional required documents which may include:

  • Proof of identity:

    You may be asked to bring another form of identification besides a birth certificate. This can be a U.S. passport or other form of government-issued ID. If your address doesn't match the one listed on your ID, you may need to update this before you apply for a driver's license.

  • Proof of residence:

    If you're applying for a license for the first time, you may be required to prove you live where you say you do. For applicants still living at home, their parents or guardians can help obtain these documents. A utility bill or lease should work if you live on your own.

  • Parental consent:

    If you're under 18, you'll likely need parental consent, requiring parents or legal guardians to sign a form stating they permit their child to apply for a license.

    Depending on the state, you may also be required to provide other documentation, like proof of schooling or driver's education, for a first-time driver's license. Check with your local DMV to confirm which documents are needed.

When do I need to renew my license?

Typically, you need to renew your license every four to eight years depending on your state guidelines. Consider starting the process one to three months before the expiration date to give yourself enough time to complete all the steps. If you miss your expiration date, you can still renew an expired license.

If your grace period has ended, the DMV may require you to retake a vision test, written exam, or even the full driving test before you can be issued a new license. Note that you can't drive with an expired license. Depending on where you live, you may need an updated driver's license if important details have changed, such as your name or address.

What do I need to bring to renew my license?

The process of renewing a driver's license varies from state to state. These general steps apply to most drivers in the United States:

  1. Pay off outstanding tickets

    Many states won't allow you to renew your license while you have unpaid tickets or fines.

  2. Decide how you'll be renewing your license

    Determine whether you're able to renew your driver's license online or if you'll need to do it in person. If you go to the DMV to renew, allow plenty of time — license renewal lines are often long. If possible, avoid going during peak times such as after work or weekend hours.

  3. Complete driver's license renewal documents

    Check with your state's DMV to ensure you're filling out all necessary forms. Forms verify the information on your license, such as your address, appearance, organ donor status, and medical issues that may impact your ability to drive.

  4. Provide necessary documentation

    When renewing your license, you'll need to bring your most recent license with you, even if it's expired. Bring proof if any information needs to be changed, such as a new address or name change. If your previous license has expired, you'll also need to bring some additional forms of identification, like your passport, birth certificate, or Social Security card. You may also need to bring your residence card or naturalization papers if you were born outside of the United States.

  5. Take a vision test if necessary

    Some states require an updated vision test each time you renew, while others require regular eye exams from seniors. Depending on the state, you may need to renew in person when an updated vision test is needed. Others allow you to renew online if you submit a report from your eye doctor.

  6. Pay the license renewal fee

    Your state's license renewal fees typically fall between $5 and $80. If your previous license has expired, you may have to pay an additional fine, which is generally $1 to $25.

Once you've completed the steps to renew your driver's license in some states, the DMV will issue a temporary license while your new license is being made. The temporary license is valid for 30 to 60 days, depending on the state, and you can start using your new license as soon as it arrives. Learn more about car insurance requirements by state.

Do I need proof of insurance to renew a license?

Most states don't require proof of insurance to renew a license, but some need to see proof of insurance before you can take your first driving test. You'll need to provide proof of insurance to your state's DMV when registering a car, and it's illegal to drive without insurance in most states.

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