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How to get your driver’s license

The process is as straightforward as passing a few tests and bringing the right documents.

If you want to drive, you need a current driver’s license specific to the state you live in, no matter what. Because licenses are issued by individual states, the steps to securing one can differ. But the process is smooth once you learn which forms of identification to bring and which tests you need for your license.

Get your driver’s license in 6 steps.

The process varies between states and license classes, but expect to go through these steps:

  1. Figure out which license you need. You can read through the license categories below, but generally, your license will fall into Class A, B, C, D, DJ, E, M or MJ. The average adult gets a Class D license. If you’re younger than 18, you’ll need to apply for a learner’s permit at your local DMV when you hit age 14 to 16, and typically hold it for six to 12 months before upgrading to a full license.
  2. Provide documents. To apply for a license, you’ll need to visit your local DMV. The first things they’ll ask for are proof of your identity and residency.
  3. Pass a written test. Drivers of all ages have to take a written test. It’s a multiple-choice test, but the number and type of questions vary depending on where you live and the type of license you’re applying for. In New York, for example, the learner’s permit test has 20 questions and you must get 14 correct to pass. In Florida, the class D written test is made up of 50 questions.
  4. Pass a driving test. All learner drivers need to schedule and pass a driving test — also known as a road test — before their permit expires. Most states require new drivers older than 18 to take a road test, too. The test assesses your ability to safely operate your car and obey traffic laws. You may be asked to park, pass another car and perform a three-point turn, among other moves.
  5. Pass additional DMV tests. Driving aside, your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will test your vision and hearing to confirm that you won’t be a risk on the road. Some states, such as California, also need you to complete a driver’s education course before applying for a learner’s permit. In some states, like Florida, your hearing, written and driving tests may be waived if you have a valid driver’s license from another US state or territory.
  6. Pay fees. The fees depend on your age, license, location and the tests you’ve taken.

What info do I need to get my driver’s license?

You’ll need to provide proof of your identity and residency. The documents vary between states, but you may be asked for the following:

Proof of identity

  • State ID
  • Voter registration card
  • Passport
  • Social security card
  • Birth certificate

Proof of residency — Most states require two forms

  • Utility bill with your home address
  • Bank statement with your home address
  • A school transcript or letter, if you’re younger than 18

Can I transfer my license from another state?

Good news: You can trade in a license from another US state, territory or district for a license in your new state. Generally, you have to do this within 30 days of becoming a resident. In most states, you’ll have to go to a DMV office to submit documents, pass the necessary tests (i.e. vision, hearing and written) and surrender your out-of-state license. The testing is done at the discretion of the DMV and may be waived.

Note that if your permanent residence is still in your home state if, say, you went off to college in another state, you can keep your old license.

Do I need car insurance to get my license?

No. However, the car you bring to your driving test must meet state safety standards, which means it has to be insured. Remember, car insurance typically follows the car, so you’ll still be insured for your test. Once you pass the test, you’ll need to purchase a policy unless these scenarios apply to you:

  • You’re not driving. If you just want to keep your license current, say, to use as a form of ID, there’s no need to buy car insurance.
  • You plan to drive someone else’s car. If you don’t own a car, you don’t need to take out a policy. However, the owner of the car you’re driving, whether it’s your parents, employer or spouse, will need to add you to their policy.
  • You plan to drive rental cars from time to time. Say you live in New York City and you have no desire to own a car and only want to rent one for long weekends. When you do, the rental company’s insurance will kick in to cover you.

What about nonowner car insurance?

If you don’t own a car but drive one often, you might want to look into a nonowner car insurance policy. This covers liability and any damages or injuries you cause while driving someone else’s ride.

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Driver’s license requirements by state

Alabama15 years oldAfter 6 months of drivingAfter 6 months of driving or turning 17 years old17 years old and drive for six months
Alaska14 – 16 years old16 – 18 years old18 years old
Arizona15 years old16 – 18 years old21 years old
Arkansas14 – 15 years old16 – 17 years old (No serious traffic violations or at-fault accidents during the previous six months)18 – 21 years old21 years old
California15 1/2 – 18 years old18 years old
Colorado15 – 16 years old (Complete a 30-hour driver education course or 4-hour driver awareness class.)16 – 17 years old18 to 21 years old21 years old
Connecticut16 – 17 years oldComplete the 8-hour safe driving practices class.18 years old
Delaware16 – 17 years old or under 22 years old if receiving special education services18 years old
District of Columbia16 years old to get a DC DMV learner permit, and you must pass a vision screening and knowledge test16 – 21 years old21 years old
Florida15 years old16 years old21 years old
Georgia15 years old16 – 18 years old (A minimum of 40 hours of supervised driving experience with at least 6 hours of driving at night)18 years old
Hawaii16 – 18 years old18 years old
Idaho14 1/2 – 17 1/2 years old18 years old
Illinois15 years old (Must practice driving a minimum of 50 hours, including 10 hours at night, supervised by a parent or adult age 21 or older with a valid driver’s license.)16 – 17 years old (Parent/legal guardian must certify that a minimum of 50 hours of practice driving, including 10 hours at night, has been completed)18 – 20 years old21 years old
Indiana15 years old (Must be enrolled in an approved behind-the-wheel training course.)16 years and 3 months old21 years old
Iowa14 years old16 years old (Complete an Iowa-approved driver education course and hold a valid instruction permit for a total of one year)17 years old
Kansas14 – 16 years old17 years old17 years old
Kentucky16 years oldAfter holding the permit for 180 days, the driver may apply for an intermediate license and take the driving skills test.18 years old and must have completed the driver education course requirement and held the intermediate license for at least 180 days to apply for a full unrestricted license18 years old
Louisiana15 – 16 years old16 years old17 years old
Maine15 – 17 years old (Must complete an approved driver education course, road test and 70 hours of practice driving, which must include 10 hours of night driving, and have held your learner’s permit for at least six months.)18 – 20 years old (Hold the permit for six months before applying for a road test and are prohibited from using a handheld electronic device or mobile telephone while operating with a permit)18 years old
Maryland18 years old or under18 years old19 – 24 years old25 years old
Massachusetts16 years old18 years old
Michigan14 years and 9 months old16 years old (limits passengers and the unsupervised nighttime driving for teen drivers)17 years old18 years old
Minnesota15 years old (Must have completed the required amount of classroom instruction and be enrolled in behind-the-wheel instruction.)16 years old (Have completed the classroom and behind-the-wheel phases of driver education)18 years old or have held a provisional license for at least one year with no convictions for alcohol/controlled substance violations or crash-related moving violations and no more than one conviction for a moving violation that is not crash-related18 years old
Mississippi14 years old15 years old (You must hold a valid learner’s permit for at one year before you can apply for an intermediate license)16 years old (Must pass the driving skills test)18 years old
Missouri15 years old (Must pass the vision, road sign recognition and written tests at a Missouri State Highway Patrol driver examination station.)16 – 18 years old (You must hold the instruction permit for at least 182 days)18 years old (You must satisfy the requirements for an intermediate license, including having no alcohol-related offenses or traffic convictions in the last one year)21 years old
Montana14 1/2 years old15 – 18 years old (Must hold a learner license for a minimum of six months before applying for a first-year restricted license)First-year restricted license restrictions automatically end on the date indicated on the back of the driver license, or when the individual turns 18 years old, whichever occurs first18 years old
Nebraska16 years old17 years old
Nevada15 1/2 years old16 years old18 years old
New Hampshire16 years old18 years old
New Jersey16 years old (Must complete high school driver education course or enroll with a licensed driving school.)Pass a road test and practice supervised driving for at least six months.Obtain your probationary license, then practice unsupervised driving for at least one year
New Mexico15 – 20 years old (Must pass a vision test and the MVD knowledge exam.)15 1/2 years old (Must complete stage 1 and have no convictions of a traffic violation in the 90 days preceding application)To get a full-unrestricted license, the teen and the parent/guardian must complete and sign a driver license application18 – 24 years old, you must complete the “None for the Road” self-study DWI awareness class
New York16 – 17 years old18 years old, or 17 years old with driver education
North Carolina15 – 17 years old16 to 17 years old (Have a limited learner permit for one year and log at least 60 hours of driving)16 – 17 years old (Must have a limited provisional license for at least six months, no convictions of a motor vehicle moving violation or seat belt/mobile telephone infractions within the last six months)
North Dakota15 years old16 years old
Ohio15 1/2 years old18 years old
Oklahoma15 1/2 years old (Must be currently receiving instruction in or have completed driver education, passed written driving exam and vision exam.Must have a Learner Permit for at least six months, 50 hrs (10 hrs at night) of behind-the-wheel training from two years licensed driver at least 21 years old, have no traffic convictions and pass a driving skills exam.Must have an intermediate license for at least six months, no traffic convictions on driving record, or be at least 18 years old and pass all driving and vision exams.18 years old
Oregon15 – 17 years old16 – 17 years old (Take the safe practices knowledge test and have an instruction permit​ for six months)18 years old
Pennsylvania16 years old18 years old
Rhode Island16 – 18 years old (Must complete the 33 hour driver education course.)18 years old or older if never been issued a Rhode Island driver’s license or if the license has been expired for more than five years, must apply for a driving instruction permit by taking the computerized knowledge exam18 years old
South Carolina15 years old18 years old to apply for class E or F18 years old
South Dakota14 years oldHold permit for a minimum of 180 days or 90 days if an approved driver’s education class has been successfully completed. With your instruction permit, you will need to drive under the supervision of a licensed adult.16 years old (Meet all conditions of the instruction permit, driven conviction-free for six months and have your parent or guardian’s written approval)18 years old
Tennessee15 years old16 years old (Must have held a valid learner permit for a minimum of 180 days)18 years old
Texas15 – 17 years old16 – 17 years old18 years old
Utah15 years old15 – 17 years old to get a learner’s permit18 years old
Vermont15 years old16 – 17 years old18 years old
Virginia15 1/2 years old 16 years and 3 months – 18 years old18 years old
Washington15 years old16 years old (Get an instruction permit and have it for at least six months)18 years old
West Virginia15 years old16 years old17 years old18 years old
Wisconsin15 1/2 years old18 years old
Wyoming14 – 15 years old15 – 16 years old16 years old (Must hold a learner’s permit for at least 10 days and have completed 50 actual driving hours behind the wheel of a vehicle, including 10 hours of night driving)18 years old

What happens if I fail my driving test?

Again, it varies between states, but you’ll generally be given another chance. No matter where you live, you won’t be refunded for the fees paid.

For example, in California, learner drivers can take the driving test up to three times. They have to pay $7 for each retake, and wait two weeks before the next test. If they fail a third time, they have to apply for a new learner’s permit. Drivers older than 18 also have three chances to pass, but they don’t need to wait between retakes. They can schedule a new test immediately.

What about my written test?

As for the written test, that comes down to your state too. In Ohio, you have to wait seven days before trying again, while California lets you take the test three times in one day. In Tennessee, the waiting period depends on your score and can go up to 30 days.

How much does it cost to get my driver’s license?

Fees typically total less than $100, but — you guessed it, your cost is governed by your state. Commercial licenses are the most expensive types of licenses.

Fees may include:

  • Written test
  • Road test
  • Vision and hearing test
  • Learner’s permit
  • Provisional driver’s license
  • Driver’s license
  • Retake or cancellation

What other costs will I pay after I get my license?

Once you have your license, you’ll probably need to purchase car insurance if you’re going to be driving regularly.

It’s legally mandated in all states except New Hampshire and Virginia, and almost all states require you to carry liability protection. If you’re financing or leasing your car, you may have to buy collision and comprehensive coverage as part of your finance agreement.

The cost of car insurance varies depending on your provider, driver profile, level of coverage and location. It’s usually cheaper in states like Maine, and notoriously expensive in New Jersey, Minnesota and Georgia.

What restrictions should I declare on my license application?

If you have special conditions attached to your driving, you may need a restricted driver’s license. These conditions will get listed on your license, and you’ll face suspension if you’re caught breaking them.

The restrictions could include:

  • Eyesight. If your vision is impaired, you may be legally required to wear glasses or contacts to drive, or drive in daylight only.
  • Hearing. If you’re deaf or experiencing hearing loss, you may need to use hearing aids and assistive mirrors.
  • Special equipment. If you have a prosthetic or a medical condition that affects your driving, you might need to install a spinner knob, left foot gas pedal or dual driving controls.
  • Commercial learner’s permit. Typically, learners aren’t allowed to drive with cargo in the tank or any other passengers besides their trainer or test examiner.

What are the different kinds of licenses?

The names and rules may be different in your state, but most licenses fall into these categories:

ClassMinimum ageWhat you can drive
A – Commercial21Tractor-trailers, truck and trailer combinations, tanker vehicles, livestock carriers and flatbeds
B – Commercial18Standard trucks, tourist, city or school buses, box trucks (e.g. furniture delivery and couriers)
C – Commercial18Passenger vans, small HAZMAT vehicles, small truck and trailer combinations
D – Operator17 if you’ve completed a Driver Education Course, 18 if notAll noncommercial cars
DJ – Junior Operator16 or 17All noncommercial cars, with restrictions
E – For Hire: Taxi, Livery, Limo18The same as Class D, plus for-hire vehicles carrying 14 passengers or less
M – Motorcycle18Motorcycles
MJ – Junior Motorcycle16 or 17 with driver educationMotorcycles, with restrictions
Learner’s permit14 to 16The same as Class D, but you must have a licensed driver aged 21 or older supervising and sitting in the front seat
International driver’s permit (IDP)18This allows you to legally drive in 174 countries with a valid US driver’s license

What is a REAL ID driver’s license?

A REAL ID driver’s license is a license for driving legally in your state that meets new identification standards from the REAL ID ACT of 2005. After the 9/11 tragedy, a commission recommended these extra measures to heighten security in the US, particularly for federal buildings and flights. For drivers, this means your state is required to set higher standards for proving your identity to get your driver’s license.

Starting October 1, 2020, pending additional extensions to the deadline, you’ll need a REAL ID or enhanced driver’s license to get on a flight or even pass security checkpoints in the airport, including for domestic flights.

How do I get a REAL ID or an enhanced driver’s license?

You can convert your existing license to a REAL ID at your local DMV, or you might be able to upgrade to a REAL ID online. If additional proof of identity is required, some states let you email or provide documents through a secure system. You can look for your DMV’s REAL ID section on its website for detailed instructions and online licensing.

To get a REAL ID, you need specific documentation and, in some states, a special appointment. For US citizens, that list of documents looks similar to the previous process in most states, though a few require more documents to prove your identity than you might be used to. However, non-citizens have to bring documents proving their identity, address, social security number and legal immigration status. Some states add other requirements like providing a name change history.

Is a REAL ID the same as an enhanced driver’s license?

No, but an enhanced driver’s license will qualify you for domestic air travel. It also has an added bonus — you can travel to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean by land or sea with it. The downside is you have to be a resident of Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont or Washington to get an enhanced driver’s license.

Bottom line

While pretty straightforward, the steps to getting a driver’s license depend on how old you are, where you live and the type of license you need. Some states have stricter rules and longer processes than others, so contact your local DMV if you’re ever in doubt.

Once you have your license, start comparing car insurance providers to get covered on the road.

Frequently asked questions about driver’s licenses

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