California Driver’s License Renewal

As most of us know, driving with an expired license is illegal. So it’s important to keep your driver’s license up to date. In California, you can renew your license up to 60 days before its expiration date, though there are a few exceptions for those who might be undergoing international travel, are in active military service, or have other extenuating circumstances. Renewing your license is relatively simple, but it’s important to know what is required and how you can go about getting your renewal handled easily.

Ways to Renew Your License in California

  • In Person: At any Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office during regular business hours.
  • By Mail: Via the mail-in form that will be sent to your current address (as registered with the DMV) about 60 days before expiration.
  • Online: In a manner similar to the way mail-in forms work, circumventing the manual forms entry and Post Office wait.

What You Need to Renew

The items needed for renewal will depend on your status of renewal. Extension renewals, which are those that happen in between major renewals, require only a few documents and verification. Major renewals require more substantial documentation in order to meet federal requirements for REAL ID. If you’ve received renewal paperwork in the mail, it will indicate the status of your renewal and whether you are required to renew in person at a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office. Major renewals happen every 15 years or when circumstances such as court orders, traffic violations, etc. are not present.

If renewing in person, it’s worth calling or going online and making an appointment to save wait times. Most DMV offices in California have an appointment system for renewals, taking tests, and so forth. Your in-person renewal will likely involve a photo, thumb print, vision test, and the potential for a written test.

Paperwork for extension renewals involves address verification. If you are renewing online, you cannot have an address change as part of the renewal. If you do, you’ll be required to renew by mail instead. If you have not received your renew-by-mail notice, you can fill out form DL 410 FO (available here).

If renewing in person, you will likely have to bring the following items:

  • California Drivers License or ID Card Application DL 44 or DL 44C (original, not a photocopy). These are available online or in paper form in any DMV office.
  • Application fee (cost depends on circumstance, usually $38)
  • Address verification paperwork such as utility bills, bank statements, etc. (originals, not copies)
  • A notarized birth certificate and (if needed) any verification of name change since that certificate was issued
  • Social Security Card or similar proof of U.S. citizenship or residency

You may also be required to undergo:

  • Photo for new ID card
  • Thumb print
  • Vision test
  • Written driver’s test, usually the first 18 questions from the full test, of which you will have to have at least 15 correct answers. You get 3 tries at exam time, so study up!

Upon successful completion of your renewal, you’ll receive a temporary license that is good for 90 days. Inside that timeframe, your new, full license should arrive by mail at your verified address. You’ll be instructed to call after 60 days if your new license has not arrived.

What Documents are Needed for Renewal?

Most renewals require no documentation beyond a current driver’s license you’re looking to renew. Renewals involving address changes may require proof of the new address, which could include:

  • Bank statements
  • Utility statements
  • Certified letter from a landlord

For a major renewal to comply with REAL ID requirements, the documentation required is much more extensive. This includes:

  • Proof of U.S. citizenship such as a Social Security Card or notarized birth certificate
    • Alternatively, proof of alien residence such as a passport with an I-94 that is not less than 2 months from renewal date.
  • Proof of address (as above)
  • Name change documents (should your SSN or birth certificate not match) such as a marriage certificate, court order for name change, adoption documentation, or divorce decree

A complete list of acceptable documents is given on the DMV’s website at www.dmv.ca.gov.

How Much Does it Cost to Renew Your License in California?

Fees range from $33 to $48, depending on the type of license and endorsements. There are some discounts for senior citizens (over age 62) and provisions for those who are financially disadvantaged.

Can I Renew My California Driver’s License Online?

If you have received a mail-in renewal form or have a DMV online account and a valid credit or debit card or checking account number to pay fees. Some other restrictions apply, however:

  • Those over the age of 70 must renew in person
  • Those with suspension or high points traffic violations must renew in person
  • Commercial driver’s licenses may require additional paperwork to renew online
  • Those with “promise to appear” violations from a court must renew in person
  • Those who have already received two consecutive renewal extensions by mail or online must appear in person to renew
  • Those holding drivers licenses from more than one jurisdiction must renew in person

Renewing an Expired License

If the license is not more than 60 days past its expiration, renewals are as normal. If the expiration date is beyond 60 days, you will be required to apply for and complete all driver’s testing as if you were a new driver.

A note for active duty military members: your license is automatically renewed until 30 days after your discharge from service. The above expiration requirements do not apply to you.

Renewing a Suspended License

If your driving privileges are reinstated, you may renew your license or reactivate it over the phone or online. Some circumstances may indicate that you are required to have a restricted permit, which requires in-person renewal. If your license expired while it was suspended, you will likely have to re-complete all driving tests to get a new license.

FAQ

Can I renew my CA driver’s license at AAA?

Yes. If you are eligible for online or mail-in renewal, you can renew at some AAA offices.

Can I renew my California driver’s license early?

Up to 60 days before expiration. Some extenuating circumstances can push that date to 90 days.

Can I renew my California driver’s license online?

If you are eligible for mail-in renewal and do not have an address change, you can likely perform your renewal online as well.

Can I renew my California driver's license and get a real ID?

If you do not already have a REAL ID via your California driver’s license, you can add this by submitting to full verification in person at any California DMV.

How do I make an appointment to renew my California driver's license?

Call the DMV directly at 1-800-777-0133 or go online to dmv.ca.gov.

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