It’s finally time! You’re ready to get your California driver’s permit! You’re excited, and your parents are wishing you were still 10 years old so they wouldn’t have to sweat this for a few more years. Yeah, this is true, even if you’re getting it as an adult, which you have to do before you can get a full license unless you’ve already got a driver’s license in another state. The good news is the procedure to get a permit is pretty straightforward. The bad news is your parents are still gonna be freaked out that you’ve been unleashed on the road!
Getting a California driver’s permit differs based on if you’re a minor or a legal adult. If you’re an adult - over 18 years old - the requirements are lower. You don’t need to take Driver’s Education, and you obviously don’t need your parents to sign off. But you still need to get that permit before you’re eligible for a full driver’s license, unless you already have a driver’s license from another state.
To get that permit as an adult, you’ll need identification with your full legal name on it, unless you already have a California ID registered. A U.S. Passport is a good option, but if you don’t have that, bring either the original or a certified copy of your birth certificate. You’ll also need to give them your Social Security number, which they’ll verify while you’re there.
You’ll also need proof of California residency, which you can provide with a number of different documents including utility bills, a vehicle title, or a property tax bill. There are nearly 2 dozen acceptable kinds of proof of residency documents. You can see a full list of them here. Note that if you’re going to apply for a REAL ID driver’s license, you’ll need two of those documents, not just one.
Once you’ve proven who you are and where you live, you’ll need to be thumb printed, then pass an eye test. Assuming you pass that, they’ll ask for a non-refundable application fee, after which they’ll take your thumb print again and take your mugshot ID photo and send you in to take a test.
You have to get 30 questions right out of 36 to pass. If you fail, you can take it again right away, up to three times. If you fail all three tries, they’ll make you fill out a new application and pay the fee again. But you’ve studied, so you’re gonna pass, right? As soon as you do, you’ll get your shiny new permit.
People under 18 who want a California permit have to jump through a few more hoops. The first step is to turn 15½. Once you’ve managed that, you’ll need to fill out the California Driver’s License or Identification Card Application, and have your folks or legal guardians sign it.
If you don’t already have a California ID card, you’ll need a document that has your full legal name on it, like a passport or your birth certificate. You’ll also need your Social Security number so they can verify who you are.
And you’ll need to prove you’re a legal resident, which you can do by having your parents bring one of several documents that show their address, and then vouch that you live at the same address. If you’ll be getting a REAL ID driver’s license, your parents will need to bring two of those documents, not just one.
Then you’ll need proof that you’ve either completed or are now taking a driver’s education course that’s been approved by the state. The only exception is if you’re 17½ years old. Since you’ll turn 18 before you get your full license, the driver’s education requirement gets waived.
Once you’ve proven you’re you and that you have, or are getting, the right education, they’ll take your thumb print, give you an eye test, and take a nonrefundable application fee. Then you’ll get thumb printed again, they’ll take your signature for your license, and snap your picture. Don’t forget to smile.
Now it’s time to take the knowledge test, which is a little longer than the one for the adults. You have to get 38 questions right out of 46. You can retake the test up to 3 times if you fail, but you have to wait for 7 days after the day you failed before you can take it again. If you fail it three times, you have to fill out a new application and pay the fee again. So don’t fail!
But the state wants you to pass. They’ve put the driver handbook online, and they’ve even got samples of the test you’ll take, so that you can work with it before you go in. A little studying and you’ll do just fine. It’s gotta be easier than that calc test, right?
Once you pass, you’ll get your California permit. You’ll need to have it for at least 6 months before you’re eligible to take the test for your full driver’s license. And you’ve got to remember not to drive if an adult isn’t in the car. That adult needs to be licensed themselves, and be at least 25 years old. Also, your parents need to make sure their insurance covers you when you’re driving, even when they’re in the car.
There are lots of places where you can take driver’s ed online to qualify for your California permit. We’ve got a few of them here, but we always recommend doing your own research. Check reviews from former students, and even more importantly check to make sure you’re signing up for a class that the California DMV will accept. It wouldn’t be fun to take a class and then find out you have to take another one to meet legal requirements! Here are a few options for you.
Read more on Car Talk's tips and recommendations for the Best Online Drivers Education Courses.
You don’t! You need to be 15½ to get a permit in California. You can, however, start your driver training at 15 so you’re ready as soon as you’re old enough.
You have to drive with a licensed adult who’s at least 25 - you can’t ever drive alone, even to your license test. There are other rules, available here.
You can’t even get a permit at 15! You have to be 15½. Once you’re old enough, you can drive with a permit, but you have to have a licensed driver who’s at least 25 years old with you.
You can take courses online, but you’ll have to go to a DMV office to get the actual permit. Find out more about the Best Online Drivers Education Courses here.
Yes, if you have a license from another state. If you’ve never had a license, you need to get an instruction permit first.
If you’re under 17½, you do. People who will be 18 when they apply for their driver license don’t need to take driver’s ed, but it might be a good idea anyway.
Taking classes online is often faster and cheaper than the classroom.