How To Get a California Driver’s Permit

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!

How to Get a Permit

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.

Adults

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.

Non-Adults

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.

Requirements

Before Going To The DMV

  • Have a document with your full name on it, like your passport or birth certificate
  • Have proof of residency
  • If under 17½, have proof you’ve taken or are taking an approved driver’s education course

At the DMV

  • Bring money - you’ll have to pay the application fee
  • You’ll be fingerprinted and photographed
  • You’ll have to take a test. Check here for a list of resources to help you prep.
  • If you pass everything, you’ll be given a permit, which you need to keep with you whenever you’re driving. You can’t drive unless there’s a licensed driver at least 25 years old with you, and you need to be covered by minimum levels of insurance before you can drive.

Recommended Drivers Ed Classes in CA

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.

  • Aceable offers teen-specific online driver’s education courses in California for around 80 bucks. Sometimes they even run a price special.
  • IMPROV driving school offers driver’s ed to people seeking a California driver’s permit. Their classes come with a twist - from the beginning the company’s emphasized making classes funny, even going so far as to hire standup comedians to teach them.
  • Teen Driver Education has a 30 hour online course with text and video. The course includes a practice written test so you’ll be ready for the real thing.

Below are our Golden Wrench Winners for Drivers Education

4.9 of 5

Aceable is not only an excellent program in terms of content, it is incredibly user-friendly and engaging. Classes are available on any device, have accessible audio and video and manage to make the subject matter interesting and fun. The site itself is easy to use and intuitive.

4.8 of 5

Improv Traffic School is a great program geared towards keeping the student engaged in the materials. Classes are a mixture of text, audio and video and hold the attention of the user using comedy whenever possible. The site is user-friendly and engaging.

4.4 of 5

This solid program is less flashy than others in the industry, but is a good choice in terms of content. The site is easy to use and self explanatory. The program tracks your progress and helps you along with prompt questions throughout.

3.7 of 5

This program is filled with all the information you need to pass the tests. The site is a little slow and simple compared to others in the industry. This content is timed, and users are expected to get through the material at a set pace. An audio option is available for a price.

3.5 of 5

This program is the basic offering in terms of frills. IDriveSafely has all the information you need, and no extras or distractions. The user-experience is very basic, but the content is complete.

Read more on Car Talk's tips and recommendations for the Best Online Drivers Education Courses.

FAQ

How do I get my permit at 15 in California?

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.

What are the rules for having a permit in California?

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.

Can you drive at 15 with a permit in California?

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.

Can I get my CA Driving permit online?

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.

Can you get your license at 18 without a permit in California?

Yes, if you have a license from another state. If you’ve never had a license, you need to get an instruction permit first.

Do you have to take driver's ed to get your permit in California?

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.

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