How to Get Your Iowa Driver’s License: Step-by-Step

Learn to Drive
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The Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) oversees the state’s graduated licensing program. This program helps first-time drivers learn driving basics through knowledge testing, behind-the-wheel practice, and real-world experience under the supervision of a licensed adult.

What is the IOWA GDL Program?

Iowa’s GDL program begins at 14 years old, taking the first-time driver through a series of permits and licensing. The teen will get and practice with a learner’s permit before upgrading to a provisional one. The provisional eventually becomes an unrestricted (adult) license with patience and practice.

Adults (18+) wanting to apply for their IA driver’s license can partake in this GDL program. Adults can take a series of tests (the same as the GDL program) back-to-back, along with real-world experience.

This guide shares how you’ll get a license in Iowa, starting with a learner’s permit. It will then share the details of upgrading the permit into a provisional or unrestricted license. The guide also shares what’s required if you’re getting a license when older, as an adult.

You will visit an IA DMV throughout each of these applications.

Getting a Learner’s Permit in Iowa

The learner’s permit is available for those aged 14 and residents of the state. Non-U.S. citizens can apply to get their learner’s permit, too, by providing legal documentation. Out-of-state, first-time drivers can transfer their learner if they’re 16, have held it for 12 months, passed a driver’s ed course, done 20 hours of supervised driving, and have a clean driving record.

An adult will accompany you to a local DMV when processing your learner’s permit or submitting a consent form.

Here’s how you can get a learner’s permit:

  1. Go to the DMV
  2. Get consent from a parent or guardian
    1. Or: Submit the Parent’s/Guardian’s Written Consent Form (430018)
  3. Show proof of identity:
    1. ID
    2. SSN
  4. Pay the $6 application fee
  5. Pass the knowledge test
  6. Get your learner’s permit

You will take a knowledge test during the application. This test examines your ability to acknowledge and answer road safety questions. We recommend reviewing your IA driver’s manual or use online practice tests from approved third parties to improve your passing chances.

Pass these requirements, and you can drive with a qualified parent, guardian, or driving trainer. This will let you gain the valuable behind-the-wheel experience needed when upgrading to a provisional.

Driver’s Education and Behind-the-Wheel Experience

A driver’s education course is required after your learner’s permit but before a driver’s license. These courses typically include 30 hours of classroom training and a few hours of behind-the-wheel training. During this time, you should also get 20 hours of behind-the-wheel experience.

Next up is…

Getting a Provisional License in Iowa

Iowa’s GDL program includes a minor and provisional license. Those in the program typically begin upgrading to a provisional when they turn 16 and pass requirements like driver’s ed, behind-the-wheel experience, and have held a learner’s for at least one year (with a clean driving record within six months).

What are the steps to upgrade an Iowa learner’s permit to a provisional license?

  1. Go to a DMV and present your learner’s permit.
  2. Have a parent or guardian sign off on your application
    1. Or: Submit a Parent’s/Guardian’s Written Consent Form
  3. Pay the $8 application fee

You are now free to drive on your own between 5 AM and 12:30 AM. Otherwise, a parent or guardian must be present during the off-hours.

Getting an Unrestricted License in Iowa

Those holding a provisional can upgrade to an unrestricted license when they meet the criteria.

Criteria include:

  • Getting 10 hours of driving experience (2 hours at night) with their provisional
  • Held their provisional for at least a year (free from traffic incidents)
  • Get written approval from a parent or guardian

A provisional license holder will go to the DMV and pay the $4/yr. Licensing fee to upgrade to an unrestricted license. Congratulations! You’ve passed the GDL program.

Adults (18+) wanting to get their Iowa driver’s license has different requirements, but some overlap with the state’s GDL program. Adults will take a knowledge and driving test when applying. Driver’s education provides ample behind-the-wheel experience if you do not have ways to practice.

Here are the steps you’ll take to get a new driver’s license and an Iowa adult:

  1. Go to the DMV
  2. Submit your personal information:
    1. ID with SSN
    2. Passport
    3. Foreign passport and I-94 form
  3. Submit your proof of residency:
    1. Utility bill
    2. Insurance policy
    3. Bank statement
  4. Pass the tests & exams:
    1. Vision
    2. Knowledge
    3. Road
  5. Pay the $4/yr. licensing fee

You will take a road skills test when applying, testing your ability to control the vehicle and practice safe driving. The driver’s education course and behind-the-wheel experience should have provided ample training before this test. Yet, you can retake the test after 14 days if you should fail after paying the fee.

Pass these requirements, and the unrestricted license is yours!

Congratulations, You’re an Iowa Driver!

You’ve completed your journey in getting an Iowa driver’s license. You began with a learner’s permit, upgraded to a provisional license, and finally got unrestricted privileges. Each $4/yr. payment makes you a legal driver – up to 8 years if paid in advance — until you’re ready to renew your IA license.

What’s next? Consider registering a vehicle in your name.

You’ll want auto insurance during the registration and throughout your time on the road. Check with local insurance providers or use our IA insurance guides for full details!