California learners permit

How to Get a California Learner’s Permit in 2021 – A Complete Guide

by Zutobi · Updated Jun 28, 2021

Ready to start driving? Your Provisional instruction permit, also known as the California Learner’s permit, is the first place to start! Today will go over everything you need to know about getting your permit!

Do I Need a CA Learner’s Permit Before I Can Apply for my 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.

Do I Qualify For A California Learner’s Permit?

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.

Before You Go 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)

The Application Process

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.

The CA DMV makes the process fairly quick and simple.

  1. After submitting your paperwork, you take the Knowledge Test. 
  2. Once you pass your knowledge test, you will take a vision exam. If you need to wear correctional lenses, let your examiner know.
  3. Provide a thumbprint and have your picture taken
  4. Pay your fee. Your permit will become valid once you are enrolled in a behind-the-wheel training course!

What is the California Written Knowledge Test?

The California knowledge test is a 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.

If you fail the written exam, you can retake it seven days later. 

Check if you’re ready for your test with our free practice test!

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

Your permit is not valid until you are in a certified driver training program. Your instructor will sign the card to validate it.

  • All learner’s permit bearers, regardless of age, can only drive between 5 AM and 11 PM. You also need to drive with a certified driving instructor or a licensed driver over the age of 25 beside you, where they can take over in an emergency. 
  • In addition, 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.

How Do I 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. 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.

After this, you qualify to apply for your unrestricted license.

Getting your California driving 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

student image

Ace your DMV test, guaranteed