California Driver’s License: Start Driving with this Guide

California License

A trip to the California DMV and the right documents will grant you full driving privileges. The process begins early, age 15 ½, for many, taking them through a learner’s permit for a provisional license. Others will get behind-the-wheel quickly as an adult or registering from out-of-state.

Wherever you are along this path to driving freedom – you’ll learn what’s needed to get a driver’s license in California with this guide.

Get a California Driver’s (Class C) License

Adults 18+ and having held a provisional license for 12-months can apply for a CA driver’s license (Class C) by doing the following:

  1. Schedule and visit a local California DMV office
  2. Submit a Driver’s License or Identification Card Application Form (DL 44)
  3. Provide personal identification (name, SSN, birthdate, and residency)
  4. Take and pass a vision test
  5. Get a thumbprint and photo taken
  6. Submit a driving written/knowledge test
  7. Pay the $33 application fee
  8. Pass the DMV driving test

This process is almost entirely done in-person as the DL 44 form is only available at local offices.

About the Knowledge Test

The 46-question knowledge test is available at physical locations or online.

You must answer 38 questions correctly to pass the test. Refer to the California DMV handbook for studying or take a free practice test through an accredited provider. You have 3 chances (7 days apart) to pass this test in a 12-month period.

Consider practicing the knowledge test beforehand using practice tests.

About the DMV Driving Test

The DMV driving test verifies adult drivers can:

  • Check for safety
  • Control the vehicle
  • Obey traffic signs
  • Signal properly

Do day & night driving while holding the provisional license for those having gone through California’s graduated licensing program.

Submitting the Documents

The DMV test will include a vision exam done on-location. Drivers with corrective lenses should bring and use them during the time of this vision exam.

Applicants will need to provide forms of identification* like:

  • Primary ID
  • Social Security Number
  • Proof of Address

*These documents will vary by citizenship.

Submitting the appropriate paperwork, identification, and passing the tests will award California residents with a temporary license – upon paying the $33 fee, of course. You’ll receive a permanent license 90-days after completing the process.

For Non-Citizens

Non-citizens can apply for a California driver’s license with exceptions and extra requirements. The process is similar except documentation will include the AB 60 license form. An AB 60 license is valid in the state of California but not Federally recognized, restricting driving to the state.

Other Registrations

Motorcycles? Boats? Salvaged vehicles? See our other vehicle registrations guide.

Coming from Out-of-State? Your Requirements

Moved to California? Getting your California license is easy:

  1. Apply for a new license with the DL 44 form
  2. Turn in/transfer your out-of-state license
  3. Take and pass the vision and knowledge test
  4. Pass the driving test and get your thumbprint and photo taken
  5. Pay the $33 application fee

You will receive a 90-day temporary license until the permanent one is mailed to you.

Find a Local DMV Location in California

Need help finding the nearest CA DMV location? Use our California DMV directory to sort the listing by county or use our on-site search if you know the name of the location.