Nobody likes getting up early to face the never-ending lines at the Department of Motor Vehicles (or your state’s equivalent issuing office). But some situations warrant the trip, or at least a visit to the state’s Department of Transportation website. The specific regulations about when to get a new driver’s license vary from state to state, but here’s a basic guide to understanding when you need a new license and how to get it.
You’ll need a new driver’s license if:
You are a teen driver who has never had a driver’s license.
You will need a new driver’s license if you are a teen driver age 16 or older. Every state has some type of driver’s education program, and all teens are required to pass written and vision exams before obtaining their learner’s permits. In Alaska, Iowa and South Dakota, teens can get their permits as young as age 14, while teens in Connecticut, Kentucky and New York for example, have to wait until they turn 16. Some states, like Illinois and Colorado, mandate that teens under 18 take a driver’s education course, while such classes are optional in other states such as Alabama. A 2011 survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 29 states require teens to take driver’s education classes.
Before teens acquire their licenses, they are required to pass a driving skills test. Then they must bring some combination of the following documents to their state’s license-issuing office:
- Social Security card
- Identification (photo ID or passport)
- Proof of state residency (copy of lease, utility bill or mortgage)
- Proof of citizenship (birth certificate, passport, resident card, etc.)
The costs of new licenses vary widely. Sixteen-year-olds in New York must pay up to $90, which includes the application, license and document fees. In Iowa, a basic license only costs $4 a year and is valid for two to eight years.
You have recently immigrated to the U.S.
If you are an immigrant in the U.S., you can use an International Driving Permit (IDP) along with your non-U.S. license to drive legally when you first arrive (You must carry both of these documents together in order for each to be valid.). An IDP officially translates your foreign driver’s license into 10 languages and is good for one year. You must obtain an IDP in the country that issued your non-U.S. driver’s license before moving to the U.S.
Once you establish residency in a U.S. state, you’ll need to get an official driver’s license. Eleven states — California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Vermont and Washington) — Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia currently issue driver’s licenses to immigrants regardless of their legal status. The requirements for obtaining a license in these states and territories include passing a driving test, showing proof of residence and carrying auto insurance.
Some states have special agreements with certain nations that make it easier for immigrants from that country to get a U.S. license. For example, South Koreans are exempt from taking the written and road tests in Georgia as long as they also have an IDP.
Under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act, most states now allow individuals under age 31 who have lived in the U.S. for at least five years to obtain a legal driver’s license if they came to the U.S. before they turned 16. Arizona and Nebraska do not recognize immigrants affected by this law and do not grant them driver’s licenses.
You are a U.S. citizen who has recently relocated to a new state.
Because U.S. driver’s licenses are issued by each state independently, you’ll need a new one if you move to a new state. Many states have a deadline to renew your car registration and get a new license after you establish residency that state. It can be a few as 10 days in states such as California and as long as one year, as is the case in Wyoming.
If you have a valid license from your previous state, you can transfer it and get your new license more easily at a license-issuing office near your new home. Just bring in your old license, Social Security card, proof of residence and payment for the new card.
Your current driver’s license is lost or stolen.
If your license is missing for any reason, you’ll need to get a new one as soon as possible because it is illegal to drive without one. There are several ways to get a replacement license: All states issue them in-person at local license-issuing offices, and some states let you order by phone, online or by mail. You’ll need to bring the correct identification and payment to cover the replacement fee, which tends to be lower than initial license fee. For example, a Maine license costs $30 originally, but a replacement costs only $5.
Some states have policies requiring drivers to report stolen licenses. The Illinois Secretary of State’s office recommends residents with lost or stolen licenses contact the police. Washington drivers must file a report with the state’s License Integrity Unit, which investigates criminal activity related to licenses.
Your current driver’s license is expired or about to expire.
Your driver’s license will expire after a pre-determined amount of time, which can be anywhere from two to eight years in most states. Arizona licenses are valid the longest: until drivers turn 65. Before your license officially expires, you should receive a renewal notice alerting you of the deadline. You can renew online, by mail, by phone or in-person at your local licensing office. In some states including Ohio, you may need to take a driving test again before you can get a new valid license if your license has been expired for a certain amount of time without renewal.
Driver’s license regulations are decided on a state-by-state basis, so be sure to check with your state’s license-issuing office for specifics. But by following these guidelines, you should have a good idea of how and when to get a new license so you can get in and out of the license office more quickly or avoid going all together.
Driving student photo via Shutterstock.