Can I Get a Same-Day License in California?

If you’ve heard horror stories about waiting in line at the DMV to get a new driver’s license, you’re not alone: Four-hour waits are real. Is it possible to get a same-day license to minimize the pain of standing in line? In California, it pays to know the ins and outs of the licensing process before you go, so you can avoid problems with your application.

California Driver's License Basics

To get a driver’s license in California, you need the following items: 

  • The application fee.

  • Identification establishing your name and birth date.

  • Residency documentation.

  • Your valid license from another state, if applicable.

  • Your glasses or contact lenses.

If you’re applying for a driver’s license that also serves as a REAL ID, you’ll also need your original Social Security card or other documentation. REAL ID will be required at airports beginning October 1, 2020

Same-Day Driver’s Licenses in California

If you have already have a driver’s license from another state, you should be able to get your California license in one day. As long as you have your old license with you, you should be able to complete the following in one visit to the DMV:

  • Present all identification.

  • Pay the fee.

  • Have your fingerprint scanned.

  • Pass a vision screening.

  • Have your photo taken.

  • Take the knowledge test.

Once you pass the written or touchscreen test, you’ll be issued a temporary license that allows you to drive until your permanent license arrives in the mail, usually within two weeks.

Who Can’t Get a Same-Day License?

First-time drivers won’t be able to get a same-day license. That’s because you need to pass a road test to prove your skills. Unfortunately, you’re only eligible to schedule the driving test after you have passed the knowledge test. If you need a road test, you’ll be issued a driving permit that allows you to practice. 

For teens, the first visit to the DMV is a major step toward getting a license, but anyone younger than 17.5 must have their permit signed by an official driving instructor. That means signing up for California driving school to log hours behind the wheel with a trained professional. 

Tips for Getting Through the DMV Fast

Whether you get a same-day license or need to schedule a road test for a later date, you can save time by following a few tips from someone who really knows the system. Kim Fuller is a personal assistant who spent a year as a line sitter at the California DMV. That meant getting in line at the crack of dawn to hold a coveted spot in line for her clients. 

In her work, Fuller has been to DMV offices all over Los Angeles and the Valley, from Compton to Irvine to Laguna Beach. She recommends getting your license on the weekends for the shortest lines. On weekdays, she has an additional strategy. "I suggest people don’t go on the top of the hour. Everyone gets there at 9 a.m., 12 p.m., and 2 p.m. But if you arrive 20 minutes after, the line has gone down."

Fuller also sings the praises of the online application, which lets you skip a step once you arrive. For the shortest possible wait, Fuller says, "It is best to arrive about 6:50 a.m. You will be within the first 20 people. They will let the first 20 in before 8 a.m. and give you a number. You will be one of the first at the clerk at 8 a.m., and then you will be done by 8:20."

For first-time drivers, California driver’s ed makes all the difference in being ready for that road test so you don’t have to take it again. To learn tips for passing the test, check out the blog