In this article, we will cover how to get your California driver’s license, commercial driver’s license, and motorcycle license.

Read on to learn how to get your license in California!

Types of California Driver’s Licenses

There is more than one type of California driver’s license. Here’s what you need to know about the types of California driver’s licenses.

  • Class C Driver’s License:
    • A Class C California driver’s license allows you to drive a traditional, non-commercial, passenger cars and trucks.
  • Non-Commercial Class A Driver’s License:
    • A Class A California driver’s license covers not-for-hire travel trailers that exceed 10,000 pounds, fifth-wheel travel trailers that weigh more than 15,000 pounds, and livestock trailers that weigh more than 10,000 pounds, but no more than 15,000 pounds.
  • Non-Commercial Class B:
    • You are allowed to drive a house car (RV or motor home) up to 45 feet (it can be no longer than 45 feet)

California Driver’s License Requirements

Before you head to your local CA DMV, you need to find out whether you need to apply for a new CA driver’s license.

You are required to obtain a California driver’s license if:

  • You are a long-time California resident who’s never been licensed
  • You are new to the state of California and want to apply for a California driver’s license or transfer an out-of-state driver’s license.
  • You plan to operate any of the non-commercial Class A and Class B vehicles described above
  • You have a legal presence in the state of California and the United States (You are not required to have a California driver’s license if you possess a diplomatic driver’s license that has been issued by the U.S. Department of State.)

You are not required to possess a California driver’s license if:

  • You’re 18 years old or older, and visiting California with a valid out-of-state driver’s license
  • You’re an active military member or dependent that is stationed in California, as long as you have a valid out-of-state driver’s license, and you haven’t established residency in CA
  • You operate farm vehicles off public highways
  • You only operate registered off-highway vehicles and snowmobiles without accessing public roads (other than crossing the roads)

Applying for Your California Driver’s License

Certain California driver’s licenses are age specific.

  • In order to obtain a junior permit in California, you must be 14 years of age, if you can prove eligible hardship.
  • A provisional California permit is available for individuals who are 15 ½ years old with the completion of the CA driver’s education course.
    • This provisional permit is also available for individuals who are 17 ½ years of age without the completion of the CA driver’s education course.
  • California also has a provisional driver’s license for individuals who are 16 years old and have completed the CA driver’s education course.
  • A full California driver’s license is available for individuals who are 18 years old or older.

In order to apply for a new California driver’s license, you can’t have any discrepancies, such as suspensions, revocations, cancellation, or other legal matters, that would prevent you from possessing a valid California driver’s license.

In order to successfully apply for your Class C driver’s license in the state of California, you need to:

  • Make an appointment with your local CA DMV for the vision and written exams. (Keep in mind that no tests are administered after 30 minutes before closing.)
  • Complete and sign the California Driver License or Identification Card Application (Form DL 44/eDL 44)
  • Provide proof of your social security number (this can be your social security card or military ID card)
  • Provide proof of your full, true name. The CA DMV provides a list of documents, including documents that show:
    • Marriage or verification of domestic partnership formation
    • Dissolution of marriage or domestic partnership
    • Name change (must include original and new names)
  • Provide 1 document (original or certified) that proves your birth date and legal presence from the state’s list of documents, which includes:
    • U.S. birth certificate
    • U.S. passport
  • Present proof of California residency; either:
    • 2 documents for a non-compliant driver’s license
    • 2 documents for a REAL-ID-compliant license
  • Have your thumbprint taken
  • Have your photo taken
  • Pass the vision exam
  • Pay the $39 fee
  • Pass the written permit test (the California written exam consists of questions that pertain to the CA traffic laws and signs. You have 3 chances to pass the California written exam.)

When you sign the CA Driver’s License Application form, you are agreeing to submit to a chemical test to determine the alcohol and drug content of your blood when requested by a peace officer. If you refuse to sign this statement, the CA DMV will not issue you a permit or driver’s license.

If you are a non-citizen who’s legally present but do not have a SSN, or you’re not eligible for a SSN, you are exempt from this requirement.

You are granted 3 attempts to pass each of the required California knowledge tests. If you fail this test 3 times, the application is no longer valid, and you must reapply.

You will also be granted 3 attempts at the California driving test. If you fail this test, you are required to pay a $7 retest fee for subsequent test(s), and you must schedule the driving test for a different day. If you fail the California driving test 3 times, your application will no longer be valid, and you are required to reapply.

Pass a vision test (you must pass the CA vision test with or without corrective lenses, and obtain visual acuity that exceeds 20/200 in at least one eye without the use of a bioptic telescopic lens or similar bioptic device to meet the minimum vision acuity standard.

Acceptable identification documents in California

In the state of California, there are different types of acceptable identification documents you can use when you’re applying for your CA driver’s license.

  • Birth certificate
  • Passport
  • Armed forces ID cards
  • Certificate of Naturalization
  • Permanent Resident Card
  • Foreign passport with a valid I-94 (the expiration date of the I-94 expiration date must be more than two months from the date you visit the office).

Examples of true full name verification documents include:

  • Adoption documents that contain your legal name as a result of the adoption
  • Name change documents containing your legal name both before and after
  • Marriage certificate
  • Certificate of registration document that verifies the formation of a domestic partnership
  • A dissolution of marriage document that contains your legal name as a result of the court order

Examples of acceptable residency documents include:

  • Resident utility bills (this includes cell phone bills)
  • Insurance documents
  • California vehicle or vessel title or registration
  • A record of a financial institution

In this situation, a legal guardian, parent, or child can use a birth certificate. A spouse or domestic partner can use a marriage license or domestic partner registration certificate to trace their relationship to the individual to whom the acceptable residency documentation was addressed.

Obtaining a California Driver’s License Under the age of 18 Years Old

If you are a CA resident who is under the age of 18 years old, there are certain requirements you must meet to obtain a valid California driver’s license. First, you must be at least 16 years old and have held your instruction permit in the state of California or a different state, for at least six months. You are also required to provide proof of completion of the driver education and driver training.

Getting Your Driver’s License As a New Resident of California

As a new resident of California, you are required to apply for a CA driver’s license within 10 days of establishing residency in the state. You can establish residency in California when you:

  • Register to vote
  • Pay in-state college tuition
  • File for homeowner property tax exemption

You need to follow the steps in the “Applying for Your California Driver’s License” section of this article and follow the required steps.

If you already have a valid driver’s license, the CA DMV will most likely waive your driving exam, unless you are a licensed driver from a different country.

If you have never obtained a driver’s license, you must pass the CA written exam to obtain your CA learner’s license. If you have been licensed before, you won’t be required to obtain a California learner’s permit.

Be advised that waived CA driving exams are at the discretion of the CA DMV, so be prepared to take one just in case you are required to take the exam.

The California Written Exam & Road Test

Taking the California Written Exam

The written knowledge exam for the state of California is a 46-question exam that covers California’s core driving concepts, traffic laws, and road signs in California. You must answer at least 38 questions correctly in order to pass the CA written exam, which is a score of at least 82%. You have three chances to pass this exam in a 12-month period.

Taking the California Road Test

California also has a road exam that CA drivers are required to pass. This road exam is used to test your ability to perform common driving maneuvers safely. You will be tested on your ability to parallel park, reverse, stop, and more.

Non-Commercial Class A or B Driver’s Licenses in California

In the state of California, Class and Class B driver’s licenses are required if you are driving a vehicle that is not a traditional vehicle, such as a not-for-hire travel trailers, RVs or motor home. If you need to apply for a non-commercial Class A or Class B California driver’s license, you will follow the same steps you would if you were applying for a Class C California driver’s license, with minor exceptions.

You will need to complete a Medical Examination Report (Form MCSA-5876) and a California Commercial Driver’s License Application here. You will pay a fee of $39.

Once these requirements are met, the CA DMV will issue your Non-commercial Class A or Class B permit. The same restrictions that apply when you are operating a traditional motor vehicle apply in this scenario, except the accompanying driver is required to have a full Non-commercial Class A or Class B California license.

If you want to upgrade your Non-commercial Class A or Class B California permit to a full license, you need to:

  • Make an appointment with a CDL office
  • Take either the Non-commercial Class A or Class B vehicle with you
  • Pass the pre-trip and safety inspections
  • Pass the California skills and driving exams

Once you pass these exams, the CA DMV will give you an interim license until you receive your permanent CA driver’s license in the mail. If you don’t receive your permit license in 4 weeks, you can contact the DMV at (800) 777-0133 to check the status of your permit.

Married, Divorced, or Name Change?

You may be required to provide a name change document in the state of California if you’re applying for a new CA driver’s license or identification card. Be advised that you may be required to submit a name change document(s), such as a marriage license, to be issued a REAL ID-Compliant driver’s license or ID card in your true full name.

If the name on your identification document differs from the name you provided on your application, you are required to submit a document that establishes your true full name. Examples of documents that establish your true full name can include the following:

  • A marriage certificate
  • Adoption documents that contain the legal names as a result of the adoption
  • A name change document that contains the legal name of both before and after the name change
  • A certificate, declaration, or registration document that verifies the formation of a domestic partnership
  • A dissolution of marriage/domestic partnership document that contains the legal name as a result of the court action

Does the REAL ID Act Impact Californians?

Starting October 1, 2020, the federal government requires residents of California to have their driver’s license or identification card be REAL ID Compliant if they wish to use their driver’s license or ID card to board an airplane for domestic flights or to enter military bases, and most federal facilities.

Be advised, that as a California resident, if you have a military ID, U.S. passport, passport card, or another form of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) approved identification, these documents will continue to be accepted to board an airplane.

Is Obtaining a REAL ID Mandatory In California?

The federal compliant REAL ID or REAL DRIVER’S LICENSE is optional. If you obtain valid documents of the above-listed TSA documents, you can use them to pass TSA checkpoints at airport terminals nationwide and visit a secure federal building or military installation at any time.

If you will not be boarding a domestic flight or visiting a secure federal facility or military base, you are not required to obtain a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or identification card.

You aren’t required to have a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or identification card to perform any of the following actions:

  • Vote
  • Drive
  • Apply for or receive federal benefits (Social Security Administration (SSA), Veterans Affairs, etc.)
  • Enter a federal facility that does not require ID (such as a post office)
  • Visit a hospital or receive life-saving services

How Do You Prepare to Apply for a REAL ID Card?

There are different steps you must take to apply for a REAL ID card in the state of California. Although these types of ID cards are not required, it’s good to have in many situations.

To successfully apply for a REAL ID card, you must take the following steps:

  • Provide proof of identity (certified birth certificate or passport)
  • Provide 2 California residency documents
  • Present proof of your SSN, if eligible (you can request a replacement social security card online here)

Applying for a Commercial Driver’s License In California

If you’re considering becoming a truck driver for hire, whether it’s as a career or just for a short term, you will require a California commercial driver’s license (CDL). There are strict state and federal requirements for operating a commercial vehicle that requires drivers to take certain steps in order to be eligible for a California commercial driver’s license.

CDLs and CMVs In the State of California

Commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs), allow you to legally operate a commercial vehicle. The Federal Motor Carriere Safety Administration regulates CDLs for all states. If you’re interested in obtaining a California commercial driver’s license, you are required to pass a written and road exam to qualify.

Commercial Vehicles

The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) defines a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) as a motor vehicle that is hired for transportation of either people or goods. Other specifics that identify a commercial motor vehicle include:

  • Weight: the vehicle must have a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of at least 26,001 pounds
  • Size: the vehicle must have the capacity to safely hold more than 10 passengers, including the driver
  • Towing ability: you can tow either a trailer or other vehicle with a GVWR of at least 10,001 pounds
  • Materials hauled: the products are legally certified through signage to carry hazardous materials

California CDL Eligibility Requirements

According to federal regulations, you must be at least 18 years of age before you can apply for a commercial license. You’ll need to be at least 21 years old if you intend to drive across state lines and/or transport HAZMAT materials.

Applying for a CDL in California

When you’re applying for a CDL in the state of California, there are different steps you’re required to take.

Commercial Instruction Permit

In order to get your CDLs, you must first apply for a commercial instruction permit. The steps you must follow in this part of obtaining a CDL is as follows:

  • You must submit:
    • A California Commercial Driver License Application (click here)
    • A 10 Year History Check (Form DL 939), if applicable (this step is only required if you’ve had a driver’s license in any other state within the past 10 years, whether under your current name or any other name)
    • A Medical Examiner Report (Form MCSA-5876) that has been completed by a qualified medical professional
    • A Self-Certification Form (Form DL 694) declares the type of commercial driving you intend to do.
    • Acceptable proof of your social security number (social security card or U.S. Armed Forces ID), birth date, and legal presence.
  • Provide your thumbprint
  • Have your photo taken
  • Pass both the CA vision exam and the written exam that is applicable to the class of CDL you are applying. You can attempt to pass the CA written CDL exam a total of three times.
  • Pay the required fee(s) for your license class

Once the above steps are completed, the CA DMV will issue a commercial instruction permit. When you obtain this permit, you can drive with another driver who possesses a valid California driver’s license in the same class.

Commercial Driver’s License

Once you’ve obtained your commercial permit, you need to apply for your full CDL by passing the skills and driving test.

In order to apply for a CDL, you must:

  • Schedule an appointment at your local CDL office
  • Take the appropriate class of vehicle you intend to operate (the vehicle you use must pass a pre-trip inspection that will be conducted by the CA DMV, and you have three attempts to pass)
  • You must either pass the driving skills test (you have three attempts to pass) or submit a Certificate of Driving Skill (Form DL 170 ETP) that is signed by you and your employer. Only an authorized employer of the DMV can conduct a driving skills test and complete the Driving Skill form.

When you pass the skills test and submitted the necessary documents, you will receive an interim commercial driver’s license that expires after 60 days or once your valid CDL arrives in the mail. Once you have your photo CDL, you can begin your commercial vehicle driving adventure.

Federal Self-Certification Requirements

You are required to self-certify your type of vehicle operating with the CA DMV, which means you must self-certify one of the following driving categories:

  • Non-Excepted Interstate
  • Excepted Interstate
  • Non-Excepted Intrastate
  • Excepted Intrastate

Applying for a California Motorcycle License

The state of California offers two classes of motorcycle licenses: M1 and M2. With an M1 license, you can ride any type of motorcycle with an attached motor, or any motorized scooter.

With an M2 license, you will only be permitted to operate a motorized bicycle, a moped, a bicycle with an attached motor, or a motorized scooter.

California Motorcycle Learner’s Permit

Regardless of age, you will have to obtain a learner’s permit to practice driving your motorcycle before you can take the driving test. If you’re under the age of 21, you are required to hold a CA motorcycle learner’s permit for six months before you can attempt the driving test.

Eligibility Requirements

In order to receive a motorcycle permit in the state of California, you must:

  • Be at least 16 years old
  • You must either already have a CA driver’s license or submit proof that you have completed both the driver’s education and driver’s training courses.
  • Complete a California Motorcyclist Safety Program (CMSP), if you are under 21 years old

California Motorcycle Permit Restrictions

When you obtain your CA motorcycle learner’s permit, you are allowed to practice driving a motorcycle. However, your CA motorcycle permit does not allow you to:

  • Drive your motorcycle at night
  • Driver your motorcycle on the highway
  • Carry any passengers on your motorcycle

Getting Your California Motorcycle License

The process you must follow to apply for a California motorcycle license differs slightly depending on your age.

Under 21 Years Old

If you are under the age of 21, you can apply for a CA motorcycle license if you:

  • Are at least 16 years old
  • Have held a motorcycle learner’s permit for at least six months
  • Successfully completed a California motorcycle training program that is approved by the California Highway Patrol and received a Certificate of Completion of Motorcycle Training (DL389) You will receive this certificate once you complete the training program.

If the above-stated information is true in your case, schedule an appointment with your local CA DMV office and submit your motorcycle learner’s permit. You will also need to hand over your motorcycle class completion certificate (Form DL39), which allows the CA DMV to waive your skills exam. If you have misplaced your motorcycle class completion certificate, you must take an on-bike skills test before you’re issued a CA motorcycle license.

The CA DMV will issue you an interim license that is valid for 60 days, until you receive your permanent CA photo license in the mail.

Transferring an Out-of-State Motorcycle License

You can visit any California DMV to transfer your out-of-state motorcycle license. You should schedule an appointment to save time. You must take a written exam.

When you arrive at the CA DMV to take your exam, you are required to:

California DMV Locations

There are different DMV locations across the state of California where you can obtain a CA driver’s license. Here are a handful of CA DMV office locations.

California Department of Motor Vehicles – San Francisco Office
1377 Fell St.
San Francisco, CA 94117

(800) 777-0133
Monday – Friday (8 AM to 5 PM)
Saturday and Sunday (Closed)

California Department of Motor Vehicles – Riverside Office
6280 Brockton Ave
Riverside, CA 92506
(800) 777-0133
Call for office hours

California Department of Motor Vehicles – San Bernardino Office
1310 N Waterman Ave
San Bernardino, CA 92404
(800) 777-0133

Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday (8 AM to 5 PM)
Wednesday (9 AM to 5 PM)
Saturday and Sunday (Closed)

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