California learners permit

How to Get a California Learner’s Permit: A Complete Guide

by Zutobi · Updated Jan 06, 2022

Your California provisional instruction permit, or learner’s permit, is the place to start if you’re looking to become a driver. Today, we will go over everything you need to know about getting your permit so know what to do and what to expect.

Do You Need a CA Learner’s Permit Before You Can Apply for a License?

Yes! Under California’s Graduated Driver’s License Program, every first-time driver needs to drive under a provisional permit for at least six months, regardless of age.

Just moved here? If you already have a valid driver’s license from another state, you can turn it in for your California Driver’s License. You will not have to start with a permit.

California Learner’s Permit Requirements

If you are at least 15 1/2, you qualify to submit your application for a California driver’s permit. There are additional requirements depending on your age as well.

  • Permit rules if you are between 15 ½ and 17 ½ – You need to complete an approved driver’s education course licensed by the California DMV or be currently enrolled in an integrated driver’s ed and driver training program.

You will need to fill out the California Permit Application DL-44 and have your parents or legal guardians sign it. When they sign, they are pledging that they will take financial responsibility for you on their auto insurance.

***Important Note. While you are not required to be actively enrolled in a behind-the-wheel driver’s training course prior to applying, it is recommended. Your permit will not be valid until you enroll in a behind-the-wheel driver training program OR turn 17 ½.

  • Permit rules if you are between 17 ½ and 18 – You may get your permit without your Driver’s Ed Certificate or driver’s training, but you can not take your road test for your driver’s license until you turn 18.
  • Permit rules if you are over 18 – You do not need to take driver’s education or driver’s training, but you still need to drive with a permit for six months before you can apply for your license.

What Documents Do You Need Before Going to the DMV?

Once you meet the requirements listed above, you’ll need to collect the following documents to take with you to the CA DMV. All proof documents MUST be readable original copies. Photocopies, or originals that cannot be read due to damage, will not be accepted.

  • Form DL-44. If you are between 15 ½ and 17 ½, you will need your parents or legal guardians to sign it.
  • Proof of Age and Identity.
  • Proof of Residence (if you are over 18).
  • The application fee. You can find the most current fees here.
  • Social Security Number
  • Proof of completion of Driver’s Education or active enrollment in an integrated Driver’s education and behind the wheel training program (if you are under 17 ½)

How to Get a Learner’s Permit in California

  1. Schedule an appointment at the CA DMV. We recommend booking an appointment with your nearest California DMV office. Some locations won’t let you in if you don’t book in advance. It’s also a huge time saver at other locations! Test areas will not administer the written test after 4:30 pm, so it pays to have an appointment ahead of time. You can also read our guide on the best time(s) to go to the DMV.
  2. Submit your paperwork.
  3. Pass the vision screening. You’re allowed to wear glasses or contacts if you need them – be sure to let your examiner know so that your permit will have the correct restriction.
  4. Provide a thumbprint and have your picture taken.
  5. Pass the written knowledge test. The California knowledge test is a multiple-choice written exam that tests your knowledge of driving laws, driver’s safety, and the ability to identify street signs. It consists of 46 questions, and you must answer at least 38 questions correctly to pass. Minors who fail the written exam can retake it seven days later. Applicants over the age of 18 can retake the test immediately. If you fail the test three times, you’ll need to start the application process over and pay the fees a second time. Check if you’re ready for your test with our free practice test!
  6. Pay the required fees. Cash, credit/debit cards, checks, or money orders are all acceptable options.
  7. Validate your permit. Your permit won’t be valid until it’s signed by a driving instructor or you turn 17 ½.

Note that your application is valid for 12 months. If you don’t activate your permit with enough time to complete the required six months of driving experience, you’ll need to apply a second time.

What are the Restrictions on a California Driver’s Permit?

  • All learner’s permit bearers, regardless of age, can only drive between 5 AM and 11 PM.
  • Minors need to drive with a certified driving instructor or a licensed driver over the age of 25 sitting in the front passenger seat, where they can take over in an emergency. Drivers aged 18 or older must drive with a licensed driver aged 18 or older.
  • There is a zero-tolerance law for consuming alcohol under the age of 21. Getting caught can lead to fines, penalties, and suspension of your permit.
  • If you are under 18, you are not permitted to use a cellphone (with or without a hands-free device) when you drive. The same goes for tablets, laptops, and other communication devices.

Your permit is not valid until you are in a certified driver training program. Your instructor will sign the card to validate it. However, a driver training program is not required if you’re age 17 ½ or older.

How Do You Get an Unrestricted License?

First, you have to practice under your California provisional instruction permit. This gives you time to practice behind the wheel before you apply for an unrestricted license.

You need to meet the following requirements before you can apply for your unrestricted license:

  • Your driver’s permit must be valid for six months
  • You need six hours (6) of driver’s training with a licensed instructor
  • You need fifty hours (50) of driving practice, with ten (10) of those being at night.

That’s It!

Getting your California driver’s permit is an exciting milestone. Don’t get held up by re-tests! Check out our easy-to-understand California DMV manual and practice tests.

Take our full course with tests and theory

550+ exam-like questions

All you need to ace your test

Perfect for first-timers, renewals and senior citizens

Ace your DMV test, guaranteed