In this article, we will discuss how to get your North Carolina driver’s license, commercial driver’s license, and motorcycle license.

Continue reading to learn how to get your driver’s license in North Carolina!

Types of North Carolina Driver’s Licenses

Welcome to the Tarheel state! There are 6 driver’s license classifications in North Carolina, which are:

  • Standard Class A
  • Standard Class B
  • Standard Class C
  • CDL (Class A)
  • CDL (Class B)
  • CDL (Class C)

To legally operate a passenger vehicle in NC, you must obtain a standard Class C driver’s license. Driver’s licenses in this state are issued for the type of vehicle that is being driven.

A standard driver’s license is issued for operating a non-commercial vehicle. A commercial driver’s license (CDL) is issued to operate commercial motor vehicles.

Standard Class A – this class of NC driver’s license is allowed to operate any Class A vehicle for personal use or regular operation, or any single or combination Class A motor vehicle that has a combined gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) that does not exceed 26,001 pounds, given that the vehicle’s GVWR of the towed vehicle is at least 10,001 pounds.

Standard Class B – this class of NC driver’s license is a non-commercial license that allows drivers to operate any Class B vehicle for regular operation, such as work or recreational use.

Standard Class C – this non-commercial license allows drivers to operate any Class C vehicle for personal or regular operation, or a Class A or B fire-fighting, rescue, or EMS, given that it is operated by a fire department volunteer, rescue team, or EMS. It can also be a combination of non-commercial vehicles that have a GVWR that exceeds 10,000 lbs. but less than 26,001 lbs.

North Carolina Driver’s License Requirements

Before you make your way to your local North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (NC DMV), you need to determine whether you need to apply for a new NC driver’s license.

You must obtain an NC driver’s license if:

  • You are a North Carolina resident who’s never had a license
  • You are new to NC and want to apply for a North Carolina driver’s license or transfer your out-of-state driver’s license
  • You plan on operating any of the non-commercial Class A, B, or C vehicles (described above)
  • You have legal presence in NC and the US (you don’t need to obtain an NC driver’s license if you have a diplomatic driver’s license that is issued by the US Department of State).
  • You don’t have any outstanding suspensions, revocations, or cancellations
  • You haven’t been deemed unfit or unsafe to drive by the NC DMV or a court

You are not required to obtain a North Carolina driver’s license if:

  • You’re 18 years old or older and visiting NC with a valid out-of-state driver’s license
  • You’re an active military member or dependent that is stationed in North Carolina if you obtain a valid out-of-state driver’s license, and you have not established residency in NC
  • You operate vehicles for farming purposes off public highways
  • You only operate registered off-highway vehicles and snowmobiles without accessing public roads (other than crossing the roads)

Applying for Your North Carolina Driver’s License

The steps you take to apply for your NC driver’s license depend on whether you obtained a learner’s permit.

Permit Holders

If you have a learner’s permit, follow these steps:

  • Contact your local NC DMV office and schedule a driving test
  • Present the appropriate documentation
  • Complete and pass the NC driving test (you’ll need to have your own registered and insured vehicle to complete this test)
  • Pay the necessary NC driver’s license fees

Non-Permit Holders

If you don’t have a learner’s permit, you will be required to take additional steps to obtain your official NC driver’s license. You will need to:

  • Contact your local NC DMV office and schedule an appointment
  • Visit the DMV office with the required documentation
  • Pass the vision exam
  • Pass the written exam
  • Complete and pass the NC driving test (contact your local NC DMV for appointment information)
  • Pay all applicable NC driver’s license fees

After passing the NC driver’s test, you will be given a temporary driving permit. Your permanent NC driver’s license will arrive in approximately 20 days in the mail.

Document Requirements

Whether you are applying for an NC permit or an official NC driver’s license, you must provide proof of your:

  • Age and identity (1 document)
  • Social security number (1 document)
  • NC residency (2 documents to obtain a REAL-ID-compliant license, 1 document to obtain a non-compliant license)
  • Legal presence in the U.S.

Use this DMV document list to learn more about acceptable documentation for REAL ID and non-compliant NC licenses.

Age-Specific Licenses and Permits in NC

There are age-specific licenses and permits in the state of North Carolina.

  • Driver’s Ed – enrollment 14 ½ years old
  • Learner’s permit – 15 years old
  • Limited provisional license – 16 years old
  • Full provisional license – eligible 6 months after obtaining your limited provisional license
  • Regular driver’s license – 18 years old

Acceptable Identification Documents in North Carolina

There are specific documents that you are required to submit to receive your NC permit or driver’s license. These documents include, but are not limited to:

  • Age and Identity
    • Birth certificate (certified and provided by a County Register of Deeds or stat Vital Records office)
    • U.S. passport (valid and unexpired)
    • Foreign passport (valid and unexpired)
    • School documents (NC school transcripts or registration signed by a school official or Diploma/GED from an NC school, community college, or university)
    • U.S. military ID (valid and unexpired)
    • U.S. government documents (valid and unexpired documents issued by the U.S.)
    • Court documents (official divorce decree, court order for change of name or gender, adoption papers, certified court order for child support)
  • Proof of Legal Presence in the U.S.
    • Consular Report of Birth Abroad
    • Permanent resident card (valid and unexpired)
    • Foreign passport (valid and unexpired)
    • Certificate of Naturalization
  • Acceptable Residency Documents
    • NC vehicle registration card
    • NC voter precinct card
    • Military orders or military documents
    • Utility bill or cable bill

Obtaining a North Carolina Driver’s License Under the Age of 18

In the state of North Carolina, driving eligibility certificates are issued to students in high school who are currently enrolled and passing their classes or to students who have successfully completed Driver’s Ed. Before you can apply for your permit, you need to decide whether you want to apply for a REAL-ID-compliant permit.

To apply for your NC permit, you need to visit your local NC DMV branch and present:

  • Your driving eligibility certificate
  • Proof of your
    • Identity and birth date (1 document)
    • Social security number (1 document)
    • North Carolina residency:
      • 2 documents for a REAL ID- compliant NC permit
      • 1 document for a non-compliant NC permit
      • 1 document proving citizenship or legal presence (if you were NOT born in the U.S.)
  • Parent or guardian signature (if you are a minor)
  • Payment for the $21.50 NC learner’s permit fee (cash, money, personal check)
  • Pass the written knowledge test
  • Pass the road sign test
  • Pass the vision test

Learner’s Permit Driving Restrictions

While you are driving with your NC learner’s permit, you are required to adhere to the following driving restrictions:

  • You are only permitted to drive while being supervised by your parent, guardian, or an adult approved by your parent or guardian. (The supervising adult must have held a valid driver’s license for at least 5 years, and they must be seated in the front passenger seat)
  • You are only allowed to operate a motor vehicle between 5 AM and 9 PM for the first 6 months
  • All passengers must be wearing their seat belts

You are NOT permitted to use a mobile phone or similar technology while you are driving UNLESS you have an emergency and need to call your:

  • Parent or guardian
  • A hospital or doctor
  • 911, the police, ambulance, or fire department

Behind-the-Wheel Driving Practice

You are required to obtain your NC learner’s permit for at least 6 months before you can proceed to the next stage of the Graduated Driver’s License (GDL) program. You can use the 6 months to practice driving under supervision.

During the 6-month time, you must:

  • Log 60 hours of supervised driving practice, which includes 10 hours of night driving. Make sure you log no more than 10 hours per week towards the required total and keep a record of your practice hours on the Driving Log to Advance to NC Level 2 Limited Provisional Driver License (Form DL-4A).
  • Maintain a clean driving record for the 6 months prior to applying for your provisional driver’s license. You can’t have any:
    • Moving violations
    • Seat belt violations
    • Mobile phone violations

Once you’ve obtained your NC permit for at least 6 months, logged the required hours, and had no violations in the last 6 months, you are allowed to apply for your limited NC provisional driver’s license.

Limited Provisional Driver’s License

The next step in the NC GDL process is to obtain your limited provisional driver’s license. This license gives you more freedom, such as the opportunity to drive without supervision.

To apply for a limited NC provisional driver’s license, you must:

  • Be at least 16 years old
  • Have obtained your learner’s permit for at least 6 months
  • Have no moving violations, seat belt violations, or mobile phone violations in the last 6 months
  • Have completed 60 hours of driving practice (including 10 hours of night driving)
  • Bring a parent to sign the application
  • Have proof of a valid NC auto insurance policy
  • Payment for the $21.50 fee (money order, cash, personal check)

Getting Your Driver’s License or Permit as a New Resident of North Carolina

As a new resident of the Tar Heel state, you must transfer your out-of-state permit or driver’s license to North Carolina within 60 days of establishing residency. If you are 15 years of age but younger than 18 years old, you must contact your local NC DMV to determine your permit eligibility.

You are required to visit your local NC DMV. Here, you may be required to:

  • Pass the NC written test
  • Pass the NC road sign recognition test
  • Pass the NC vision exam
  • Provide proof of school enrollment, diploma, or equivalent
  • Provide proof showing your completion of the driver’s education course

Once you complete these steps, you will receive your NC learner’s permit or driver’s license within 20 days in the mail. You will be given a temporary driving certificate until your permanent permit or license arrives in the mail.

The North Carolina Written Exam and Road Test

Taking the North Carolina Written Exam

The North Carolina written exam consists of 25 questions, 20 of which you must answer correctly to receive a minimum passing score of 80%. The minimum age to apply to take the NC written test is 15.

Taking the North Carolina Road Test

North Carolina also has a road exam that NC drivers must pass. This road exam is used to determine how well you can safely operate a motor vehicle. You will be tested on following the traffic laws, parking, switching lanes, the proper use of turn signals, stopping, reversing, and more.

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

In the state of North Carolina, Class A and Class B driver’s licenses are required if you are operating a vehicle that is not a traditional vehicle, such as not-for-hire travel trailers, RVs, or motor homes.

If you do not obtain a Class B or Class C driver’s license and need to apply for one, you will follow the same steps you would if you were applying for a Class C North Carolina driver’s license with a few exceptions.

You must complete a Medical Examination Report (Form MCSA – 5875) and a North Carolina Commercial Driver’s License Application. The fees associated with a commercial driver’s license in NC will vary.

Once you meet these requirements, the NC DMV will issue your non-commercial Class A or Class B permit. These same restrictions will apply when you are operating a traditional motor vehicle apply in this situation, except the accompanying driver must have a full non-commercial Class A or Class B NC license.

If you want to upgrade your non-commercial Class A or Class B NC permit to a full license, you must:

  • Schedule an appointment with the CDL office
  • Complete the non-commercial Class A or Class B vehicle with you
  • Pass the pre-trip safety inspections
  • Pass the North Carolina skills and driving exams

When you pass these exams, the NC DMV will provide you with an interim license until you receive your permanent NC driver’s license in the mail within 4 weeks.

Married, Divorced, or Name Change?

You may be required to provide name change documentation in the state of North Carolina if you are applying for a new NC driver’s license or ID card. Keep in mind 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 is different from the name you provided on your application, you must submit a document that establishes your true full name. Examples of documentation that establishes your true full name can include:

  • A marriage certificate
  • Adoption documents that contain the legal names as a result of the adoption
  • Name change documentation 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 North Carolina Residents

Starting May 3, 2023, federal agencies will enforce the REAL ID Act, which means a REAL ID, U.S. passport, or another federally approved type of identification to board commercial flights and enter secure federal buildings.

The North Carolina REAL ID is a REAL ID Act-compliant driver’s license that is similar to a traditional license or ID, but it will include a star at the top of the license. NC driver’s licenses and IDs that do not contain a gold star are noted as “Not for Federal Identification”.

Is Obtaining a REAL ID Mandatory in North Carolina

You are not required to obtain a REAL ID driver’s license or identification card to do any of the following:

  • Vote
  • Drive
  • Apply for or receive federal benefits (such as Social Security Administration, Veterans Affairs, etc.)
  • Enter a federal facility that does not require an ID (post office)
  • Access a hospital or receive life-saving services
  • Participate in law enforcement proceedings or investigations (such as serving on a federal jury, testifying in federal court, etc.)

A REAL ID might be helpful for individuals who frequently:

  • Board a commercial airplane
  • Visit nuclear sites
  • Visits military bases
  • Visit federal courthouses, federal prisons, or other federal facilities

Individuals who do not have a REAL ID or U.S. passport may still be able to board flights or make visits to the facilities mentioned above, but they may have to provide additional documentation with their traditional license or ID.

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

You must take different steps to apply for a REAL ID card in North Carolina. Although these ID types are not required in this state, it’s great to have them in different situations.

Although the federal law is not effective until May 3, 2023, anyone can obtain a REAL ID right now. You need to visit your local NC DMV with the following documentation:

  • 1 document that contains your full name (proving your identity and date of birth)
  • 1 document with your full name and full social security number (confirming your social security number)
  • 2 documents that contain your current physical address (proving your NC residency)
  • For NON-U.S. CITIZENS – 1 document with your full name (proving legal presence/lawful status)
  • 1 or more documents that verify a name change (if applicable)

Applying for a Commercial Driver’s License in North Carolina

Federal law requires all commercial drivers to pass the knowledge tests for the appropriate driver’s license, which includes assessments, to obtain an NC commercial learner’s permit.

A commercial learner’s permit is valid for 180 days and is eligible for one renewal, which will also be valid for 180 days. All applicants must also obtain a commercial learner’s permit for 14 days before taking the commercial driver’s license skills test.

Permit holders are required to:

  • Be at least 18 years old (21 for operations in interstate commerce or hazardous material endorsement)
  • Possess a valid Class A, B, or C driver’s license
  • Be accompanied in the front seat by a licensed commercial driver’s license operator of the same class, or higher, including endorsements

The NC Commercial Driver’s License Manual describes the minimum state and federal requirements and testing information that is necessary to obtain an NC commercial learner’s permit or NC commercial driver’s license.

North Carolina CDL Eligibility Requirements

Qualified applicants are required to successfully complete the required tests and take the necessary documentation to NC DMV. These documents include:

  • 1 document that verifies your age and identity
  • A social security card or 1 document proving you have a social security number
  • U.S. Citizens – 1 document issued by the U.S. government indicating your legal presence
  • Non-U.S. Citizens – 1 document issued by the U.S. government indicating your legal presence
  • 1 document proving liability insurance coverage from a provider that is licensed to do business in North Carolina

Be advised that NC issues commercial learner’s permits and licenses from a central location and mails them to applicants within 20 days. All applicants will receive a temporary driving certificate to use until their permit arrives.

Proof of a Clear Driving Record

At the time of application, you must certify that:

  • Your license is not suspended, revoked, or disqualified
  • You do not hold more than one driver’s license

The NC DMV automatically runs a background check against the Problem Driver Pointer System and the Commercial Driver’s License Information System databases to check the applicant’s driving history in other states.

Commercial Instruction Permit

A North Carolina Commercial Learner’s Permit (NC CLP) is a permit that allows you to practice operating a commercial vehicle on public roads with a qualified NC CDL holder sitting next to you. Obtaining the permit requires more than passing all the knowledge testing for the type of driving you want to do.

To ensure that you are eligible to receive a commercial instruction permit, your driving record is checked for the last 10 years in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. You must bring proof that you are medically qualified. Many types of commercial driving required a DOT medical card that requires a DOT physical.

You must obtain your NC CLP for 14 days before you can complete the skills test. Use this checklist to ensure you have everything you need:

  • You need to possess a current and valid driver’s license in NC
  • Provide proof of your social security number (SS card, payroll check stub, W-2 form)
  • For interstate driving, you need to submit proof of a DOT medical certificate. For intrastate driving, you must complete an application that includes a statement certifying that you meet medical and driver qualifications. (If there are any changes in your physical condition since your last driver’s license renewal that may affect your ability to drive, you may be required to obtain a special form from the branch office from your physician to complete before you are allowed to apply for your license).
  • Meet the driver record eligibility requirements as determined by your NC DMV office personnel
  • Pass the required knowledge and vision tests (all tests must be passed to obtain an NC CDL temporary instruction permit (TIP)
  • Pay the NC CDL fees
  • Schedule your NC CDL skills test
  • Upon successful completion and passing the skills test, return to the NC DMV office and receive your NC CDL

Commercial Driver’s License

Once you have obtained your NC commercial permit, you must apply for your full CDL by passing the skills and driving test.

To apply for a CDL, you need to:

  • Schedule an appointment at your local CDL office
  • Take the appropriate class of vehicle you intend on operating (this vehicle must pass a pre-trip inspection that is conducted by NC DMV. You have three attempts to pass).
  • You are required to either pass the NC driving skills test (you have three attempts to pass) or submit a Certificate of Driving Skill that is signed by you and your employer.

Keep in mind that only an authorized employer of the NC DMV can conduct a driving skills test and complete the driving skill form. Once you pass the skills test and submitted the required documentation, you will receive an interim commercial driver’s license that expires after 60 days or once your valid CDL arrives in the mail.

Federal Self-Certification Requirements

You must self-certify your type of vehicle operating with the NC DMV, meaning you are required to self-certify one of the following categories:

  • Non-excepted interstate
  • Excepted interstate
  • Non-excepted intrastate
  • Excepted intrastate

Applying for a North Carolina Motorcycle License

If you are a new resident of North Carolina and you currently obtain motorcycle credentials from a different state, you may be eligible to transfer these credentials.

You must transfer your motorcycle license within 60 days of establishing residency in NC. To transfer your out-of-state license, you need to visit your local NC DMV branch and:

  • Provide proof of your:
    • Full name and date of birth
    • North Carolina residency
    • Legal presence in the United States
    • Social Security Number (SSN)
    • Surrender your out-of-state license
    • Take a vision screening
    • Pass the required written and road exams (these testing requirements may be waived if your license is still valid)
    • Pay the $2.55 motorcycle endorsement fee for each 1 year the endorsement is valid

North Carolina Motorcycle Endorsement Eligibility

To be eligible to apply for an NC motorcycle endorsement, you must:

  • Be at least 16 years old
  • Already obtain any of the following:
    • NC full provisional license
    • Standard, NC driver’s license
    • North Carolina commercial driver’s license
  • Pass the following motorcycle tests:
    • Written knowledge
    • On-road motorcycle skills
  • Pay the $2.55 motorcycle endorsement fee for each 1 year the endorsement is valid

Additionally, if you are between the ages of 16 and 18, you are also required to:

  • Earn a motorcycle permit
  • Complete a motorcycle education course through either the Motorcycle Safety Foundation or the NC Motorcycle Safety Education Program

MC Motorcycle Permits

If you want to apply for an NC motorcycle learner’s permit, you must meet the following eligibility requirements:

  • Be between 16 and 18 years old
  • Already obtain a full provisional NC license or a standard NC driver’s license
  • Have your parent or legal guardian provide their signature of approval

Once you have these documents and your parent or guardian. Visit your local NC DMV office and:

  • Provide proof of your:
    • Name and date of birth
    • NC residency
    • Legal presence in the U.S.
    • Pass the written knowledge tests for:
      • Traffic sign identification
      • Motorcycle license
  • Take a vision screening
  • Pay the $21.50 motorcycle permit fee

After you complete these steps, you will receive your NC motorcycle learner’s permit. Your permit will be valid for 12 months and can be renewed once for an additional 12 months. Be advised that while you are practicing riding with a motorcycle permit, you may NOT transport passengers.

Getting Your Motorcycle Endorsement

To earn your NC motorcycle endorsement, you will need to visit your local NC DMV office and:

  • Present a certificate of motorcycle education course completion if you’re under 18 years old
  • Provide proof of your:
    • Legal name and birthday
    • NC residency
    • Legal presence in the U.S.
    • Social security number
  • If you were not required to obtain a motorcycle permit, you must pass the following knowledge tests:
    • Traffic signs
    • Motorcycle license
  • Pass the on-road motorcycle skills test
  • Pay the motorcycle endorsement fee of $2.55 for each 1 year the endorsement is valid

Congratulations! Once you complete these steps, you will receive your North Carolina motorcycle endorsement.

Fees for NC Motorcycle Licensing

The fees that are associated with obtaining your NC motorcycle endorsement are as follows:

  • NC motorcycle learner’s permit: $21.50
  • NC motorcycle endorsement: $2.55 for each 1 year the endorsement is valid

North Carolina DMV Locations

North Carolina has multiple DMV locations across the state where you can obtain an NC driver’s license. Here are a few NC DMV office locations.

North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles – Winston-Salem Branch
2001 Silas Creek Pkwy
Winston-Salem, NC 27103
(336) 761-2258

Monday-Friday (7 AM – 5 PM)
Saturday and Sunday (Closed)

North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles – Charlotte Branch
201 W Arrowood Rd
Ste H
Charlotte, NC 28217
(704) 527-2562

Monday – Friday (8 AM – 4:30 PM)
Saturday and Sunday (Closed)

North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles – Raleigh Branch
1100 New Bern Ave
Raleigh, NC 27697
(919) 715-7000

Monday – Friday (8 AM – 5 PM)
Saturday and Sunday (Closed)

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