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How to Get a Driver License in Washington DC: Your Simple Guide

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You are moving to the nation’s capital in the near future and don’t know the specifics about how to get a driver license in Washington, DC? Or maybe you are already based here, but need information on how to renew your driver license. Here is our guide to help you out.

When do I need a DC driver’s license?

For staying in Washington, DC for less than 60 days, the law does not require you to obtain a driver license from the DC Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in order to drive your vehicle around.

You also don’t need it, if you are a student, diplomat, active military member, part-time resident, member of Congress, or presidential appointee. Because in that case, you would be eligible to benefit from “driving privilege reciprocity” with your home state.

If you are planning to live in the District of Columbia for 60 days or longer, however, you are required to apply for a driver license from the DC DMV to be able to drive your vehicle.

How many types of driver licenses are there in DC?

There are two types of driver licenses in the District:

REAL ID driver license:

It is a federally compliant driver license and ID card that is valid for up to eight years if you are a citizen. And if you are not, the duration of validity depends on the length of residence in the US.

Keep in mind that it gives you access to some federal facilities, but it is not a national ID card. You can also board domestic flights with it.

To apply for a REAL ID driver license, you need to provide these source documents to the DC DMV office:

  • Proof of identity and age: You must be at least 16 years old. For the types of documents accepted as “proof of identity,” click here.
  • Proof of lawful presence: Both US citizens and non-US citizens must provide proof of lawful presence. For the types of documents accepted as “proof of lawful presence,” click here.
  • Proof of your Social Security Number
  • Two documents that prove you live in DC: For the types of documents that prove residency in the District, click here.
  • Proof of parental approval: This is needed if you are 16 or 17 years old. For the parental consent form, click here.
  • Proof of ability to drive: For information on proof of ability to drive, click here.
  • Medical/Eye form: This is needed if you have a medical condition listed in the “medical fitness” section of the Driver License Application. It must be completed by your physician. You can find the Medical/Eye form here.
  • If you are 70 years or older, you are required to complete the mature certification section on the Driver License Application.

You also need to turn over your valid driver license issued by another US state or jurisdiction to the DC DMV if you have one.

Limited Purpose ID driver license:

The DC DMV Limited Purpose driver license is an option for those who are not eligible for getting a REAL ID license.

To apply for a Limited Purpose driver license, you must:

  • Be a resident of the District of Columbia for at least six months
  • Not currently hold a social security number (If you have a previously issued social security number, you must be no longer eligible.)

You must also provide:

  • Proof of identity and age: You need to be at least 16 years old. Provide one source document or two secondary source documents from this list.
  • Two documents that prove you reside in the District: You can prove DC residency with documents listed here.
  • Two documents that prove you have lived in the District for six months: For the list of documents that prove DC residency, click here.
  • Proof of your Social Security ineligibility: Information on the Social Security ineligibility form can be found here.
  • Proof of parental approval: This is needed if you are 16 or 17 years old. The parental consent form is available here.

You may not be eligible for this type of driver license if you have a large amount of debt to the city or unpaid fines for traffic violations elsewhere in the country.

Note that the Limited Purpose ID driver license may not be used for federal purposes.

In addition, DC DMV offers driver permits, provisional and conditional licenses, commercial licenses, and motorcycle endorsements to residents.

What are the steps to get a driver license from the DC DMV?

1. Application:

First of all, you need to print and fill out the driver license/identification card application form that you can find at this link. (Upon completing your application, you will automatically be opted in to register to vote unless you select to decline.)

The completed form must be taken to a DC DMV service center.

2. Documentation:

Collect the documents listed above and bring them to the DC DMV along with your application form.

3. Vision Screening:

You must take a vision screening test at the DC DMV office, after you provide the required documents and your application form. For details on the vision screening, click here.

4. Knowledge Test:

You must also take and pass a knowledge test while you are at the DC DMV office. You can find details on the test here.

5. Road Test:

You must make an appointment to take the road skills test, if you do not have a valid driver license from another jurisdiction, after you pass the knowledge test and are issued a REAL ID learner permit. For further information, click here.

6. Photograph:

A new photograph is needed for you after every driver license, knowledge test, or ID card transaction at the DC DMV. It must be a full frontal digital photo showing either the ears, or up to the hairline without showing the hair.

7. Fees:

You need to pay a fee for your license to be issued. You can find information on DC DMV driver license fees here.

8. Mailing:

Following the payment of the fees, you will receive a temporary driver license that is valid for 45 days. The actual driver license will be mailed to you within 10 business days.

How to Renew My Driver License in DC:

First of all, you will be notified via an email or text message, 60 days before your driver license expires. The DC DMV offers residents three ways to renew their driver licenses: online, by mail, and in-person.

Online Renewals:

For an online renewal, you may use the online services and pay with a credit card, using the browsers Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Edge or Apple Safari.

If you can’t meet the requirements listed at this link, you must renew your license in person, instead of online.

By-Mail Renewals:

Renewal by mail is available, if you have a DC DMV REAL ID driver license that bears a star in the upper right corner or a Limited Purpose driver license, or a REAL ID provisional license.

The DC DMV will send you a notice 60 days before the expiration of your driver license if you are eligible to renew it by mail. You will find the instructions about the process in the notice. If you choose this option, your license will be renewed within 7–10 business days.

In-Person Renewals:

You are required to renew your license in-person, if you are not eligible for online or by-mail renewals. You must bring proof of identity, proof of residency in DC (two documents), and your Social Security number, along with your current DC driver license. You also need to pay the applicable fees.

If it has been more than 365 days since your license expired, you will have to take the knowledge test or take the District’s online traffic school course to waive taking the test.

What if I have a driver license from another state?

DC law requires you to convert your out-of-state driver license or provisional license to a DC DMV REAL ID driver license or a REAL ID provisional license, if you live in the District for more than 60 days.

Normally, you don’t have to take the DC DMV knowledge and road skills tests. But if your out-of-state driver license has been expired for more than 90 days, you must take and pass both tests. For further information on the knowledge test, click here, and for the road skills test, click here.

Note that if you have large amounts of debts to the District of Columbia or unpaid fines for moving violations in other jurisdictions, you may not be eligible for this process.

Also keep in mind that applying for a DC ID card instead of converting your out-of-state driver license results in the cancellation of your out-of-state driver license.

View the DC DMV’s related page for more details on how to convert your out-of-state driver license to a District license.

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