Whether you must obtain a learner's permit before applying for a standard license largely depends on where you live and whether you have any driving experience. If you have never held a license before, some states require that you first obtain a learner's permit. If you're under 18 or 19, you may even have to pass a driver's education course as well. In other states, a learner's permit is not required, but you may have to complete more steps than a driver with a current or past license.
Learner's Permit Required
Learner's permits -- sometimes called provisional, temporary or instructional licenses -- are routinely issued to minors between ages 15 and 18. However, some states require first-time drivers, regardless of age, to possess a learner's permit for a certain amount of time before they can apply for a standard license. For example, first-time drivers over 18 in Delaware must hold a learner's permit for at least 10 days before they can take the road test for a standard license. In Virginia, first-time drivers 19 or older must either hold a learner's permit for at least 60 days or successfully pass a driver's education course before they are allowed to take the road skills test for a standard license. Virginia drivers under 19 must possess a learner's permit for at least nine months and pass a driver's education course before they can apply for one.
Many states don't require first-time drivers to first obtain a learner's permit. Instead, they must satisfy additional requirements. For example, all applicants in New Hampshire are required to submit an application, two forms of identification and proof of state residency, pay a fee and pass a vision test. Those who have never held a driver's license must also successfully complete a knowledge and road test. First-time drivers under 18 must successfully complete a driver's education course and log 40 hours of supervised driving time before they can apply for a standard license.
If a person already has a license and relocates to another state, he is usually not required to first obtain a learner's permit in the new state. Instead, he submits a license application at the local department of motor vehicles. Typically, he surrenders his previous license, provides his Social Security number and a fingerprint, poses for a photo, submits proof of identity, age, local address and citizenship status, and pays a fee. Depending on the state, additional requirements may include successfully completing a vision test, knowledge exam and road skills test.
Foreign citizens with a valid out-of-country driver's license are usually also not required to obtain a learner's permit before being granted a license in their U.S. state or territory of residence. For example, in the District of Columbia, foreign citizens are eligible for a D.C. license if they will be in the states for at least six months. They must submit an application, provide proof of residency and Social Security number, owe no debts to D.C. or unpaid traffic tickets to other jurisdictions, pay a fee and pass any required vision, knowledge and road tests. The Social Security Administration says non-citizens typically don't need a Social Security number to get a driver’s license, however.
- State of Delaware, Division of Motor Vehicles: Requirements For First-Time Drivers License Applicants Over Age 18
- Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles: Driver License Eligibility Requirements
- Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles: Applying for a Driver's License
- New Hampshire Department of Safety, Division of Motor Vehicles: Applying for Your First License
- New Hampshire Department of Safety, Division of Motor Vehicles: Under 18
- California Department of Motor Vehicles: Driver License and Identification Card Information, How to Apply for a Driver License if You Are Over 18
- Texas Department of Safety and Homeland Security: New Residents
- Arizona Department of Transportation: Obtaining a License
- District of Columbia Department of Motor Vehicles: Driver License for Non-U.S. Citizens
- Social Security Administration: Social Security Numbers For Noncitizens
- Photo Credit kzenon/iStock/Getty Images
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