How to Get a California Driver’s License

Posted by Frank Gogol

Moving to a new state can be the start of an exciting new adventure! But it also comes with some administrative tasks that need to be done before you can fully enjoy your new life.

As a new resident of California, one of the things you need to think about is how to get a California driver’s license. Your California driver’s license is a state-issued document that allows you to legally drive in the state. 

Any newly issued state driver’s license or ID card will have to comply with the requirements laid out in the REAL ID Act, though. Although this means you may need to jump through a few more hoops when you are considering how to get a California driver’s license, it also means your driver’s license will be usable for all official federal purposes.

In this article, we’ll explore the details of how to get a California driver’s license and what it means to comply with the REAL ID Act.

How the REAL ID Act Impacts Californians

The REAL ID Act of 2005 was passed in response to the events of 9/11. The Act modifies the U.S. federal laws that affect how states issue drivers’ licenses and ID cards. The REAL ID Act is aimed at improving the security, authentication, and issuance procedure standards for each state.

State-issued driver’s licenses and ID cards are considered REAL ID Compliant if they fulfill the requirements laid out in the REAL ID Act.

Your old California state driver’s license and ID card may not be REAL ID Compliant. In this case, you would have to apply for a REAL ID Card. You will also need to apply for a REAL ID Card if your name has changed. Your REAL ID Card must be issued in your true legal name.

Having a federal compliant REAL ID driver’s license or ID card is optional. But beginning May 3, 2023, you will need a REAL ID Compliant form of identification for official federal purposes. This includes air travel – every air traveler will need a REAL ID compliant driver’s license or identification card at airport security checkpoints for domestic air travel. You will also need a REAL ID Compliant form of identification to enter military bases and most federal facilities.

Federally issued forms of identification, like a US passport or military ID, will still be accepted for official federal purposes.

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Do I Need a REAL ID?

Having a federal compliant REAL ID driver’s license or ID card is optional. Federally issued forms of identification, like a U.S. passport or military ID, will still be accepted for official federal purposes.

Furthermore, your old California driver’s license or ID card will work just fine for any in-state activities. If you know you will not be boarding a domestic flight or visiting a secure federal facility or military base, you do not need a REAL ID Compliant driver’s license.

You do not need a REAL ID to do any of the following activities in the state:

  • Drive
  • Vote
  • Apply for or receive federal benefits
  • Visit a hospital or receive emergency services.

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

If you are looking to get your California driver’s license or ID card renewed, the new version will automatically be REAL ID Compliant.

If you want to know how to get a California Driver’s Licence or REAL ID card, you need to do the following:

  • Provide federally-approved proof of identity, such as a certified birth certificate or a passport
  • Provide two California residency documents
  • Present proof of your social security number, if applicable.

Married, Divorced, or Name Change?

Your legal name might change due to issues related to adoption, marriage, or domestic partnerships. In this case, you may need to provide a name change document to get a REAL ID compliant driver’s license or ID card in your true full name.

This is especially important if the name on your certified birth certificate or a passport is different from the name you provided on your application.

Name change documents could include any of the following:

  • Adoption documents that contain your legal names as a result of adoption
  • A name change document that contains your legal name both before and after the name change
  • A marriage certificate
  • A certificate, declaration, or registration document verifying the formation of a domestic partnership
  • Dissolution of a marriage/domestic partnership document that contains the legal name as a result of the court action.

How to Get a Driver’s License After Moving to California 

If you are already a licensed driver in another state, you don’t have to start from square one after moving to California. But you will need to get a REAL ID Compliant California driver’s license to drive legally in-state.

The first step in how to get a California driver’s license is to register as a California resident. You can do this by registering to vote, paying in-state college tuition, or filing for homeowner property tax exemptions. For a REAL ID compliant driver’s license, you will need to provide two California residency documents.

You can then apply for your California driver’s license. If your current driver’s license is still valid, you will not have to retake the driver’s test.

Applying for a new California driver’s license is a little more complicated. You will need to go through all of the steps leading up to taking the driver’s test, and then complete the driver’s test. If you pass, you will be issued with a California driver’s license. 

Conclusion

As a new resident of California, one of the things you need to think about is how to get a California driver’s license. Your California driver’s license is a state-issued document that allows you to legally drive in the state. 

Any newly issued state driver’s license or ID card will have to comply with the requirements laid out in the REAL ID Act. This means your application will need a few additional documents such as proof of your social security number and federally-approved proof of identity. 

Although you’ll have to jump through a few extra hoops when you are considering how to get a California driver’s license, it also means your driver’s license will be usable for all official federal purposes.

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