How to get a Learner’s Permit in California

What is a Provisional Instruction Permit?

Before you can get your California driver’s license (DL), you need to get a provisional instruction permit, also known as a learner’s permit. This type of permit is specifically for drivers under 18. An instruction permit is meant for drivers over 18.

Both permits are for people who are learning how to drive and working towards the requirements to get their driver’s license. To start the process of getting your provisional instruction permit, you must be at least 15½ years old, and you must keep your learner’s permit for at least six months before getting your driver’s license, regardless of when you turn 16.

Exception If You Are 17½ Years

If you are at least 17 ½ years old, you can obtain an instruction permit without completing driver education or driver training. However, to get a DL, you must prove that you have completed driver education and training or wait until you are 18 to apply.

california provisional instruction permit

Step 1: Take a DMV-Approved Driver Education Course

You’ve probably heard of Driver’s Ed — but gone are the days of spending Saturdays in a stuffy classroom learning rules of the road.

Nowadays, you can take a DMV-approved Driver Education Course online, on your own phone, tablet, or computer. This course can be completed at your own pace and convenience. After you pass the course and pay the fee, you will receive your DMV Certificate of Completion of Driver Education – DL400C by mail, and you’re ready for the next step.

Step 2: Schedule an Appointment with Your Nearest DMV

Depending on where you live, some DMV locations require you to have an appointment (and won’t even let you in unless you book in advance!). But even if an appointment isn’t required, it will help you save time. Scheduling your appointment on the California DMV website is fast and easy. Keep in mind that test areas won’t administer written driving tests after 4:30 p.m., so grab an appointment time earlier in the day!

Step 3: Practice, Practice, Practice

Before you go to the DMV for your written learner’s permit test, take some DMV Sample Practice Tests or purchase our 200 Question Permit Practice Test Guide so you’ll be as prepared as possible. The DMV practice tests are free and available in English, Spanish, and American Sign Language.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offers an online knowledge test, accessible in 35 different languages. This online test is available from Monday to Friday, starting at 8 a.m. and ending at 4 p.m. To take the test, a webcam is required, and it is important to note that the test cannot be taken using a smartphone or tablet.

Prior to beginning the test, individuals must complete an identity verification process, which will be observed throughout the test’s duration. For those under 18, consent from a parent or guardian is required. Each individual is allowed two attempts at the online test. If both attempts are unsuccessful, the next step is to visit a DMV office for a third attempt.

Both online and in-person knowledge tests are conducted during the DMV’s regular business hours. For online tests, initiation must occur before 4:00 p.m., whereas in-office tests must start before 4:30 p.m.

Step 4: Go to Your Appointment and Get Your Learner's Permit

Head to the DMV on the day of your appointment, and make sure you have all the right documents! You’ll need:

  • Your DMV Certificate of Completion of Driver Education – DL400C.
  • A completed DL44 application form, signed by both your parents or guardians. You can download it online ahead of time.
  • Your birth certificate or legal presence papers (original or certified copies only).
  • Your social security number (see a list of documents for showing proof of SSN).
  • One form of proof of residency, or two forms if you’re applying for a REAL ID.
  • $31 for the DMV application fee.
  • You will also have a photo taken.

If you have questions about what to bring with you to the DMV, check the DMV website or call 1-800-777-0133.

Step 5: Pass a Vision Test

If you wear glasses or contacts, bring them to the DMV on the day of your test.

Step 6: Take Your Written Knowledge Test

Time for your DMV written knowledge test! Don’t worry — you’ve been preparing for this.

You have three chances to pass the test within a year, but if you fail, you’ll need to wait seven days (not including the day you failed the test) before trying again. If you fail all three times, you’ll have to start over by filling out a new DL44 application form and paying the application fee again. You’ll need to get at least 80% to pass.

Remember, all the questions for the knowledge test come from the California Driver Handbook.

Once you pass the written test, you’ll receive your learner’s permit! Then it’s time to start working toward getting your driver’s license. Remember that with a learner’s permit, you can only drive when a parent, guardian, spouse or adult 25 years of age or older, who has a valid California driver license, is in the vehicle with you. It’s illegal for you to drive alone at any time.

Once you’ve gotten your provisional instruction permit, read our guide on getting a California drivers license for next steps.

California Provisional Instruction Permit: 3 Tips

California Provisional Instruction Permit
  1. Make an appointment for your permit test. Wait times at DMVs can average 4-8 hours if you show up without an appointment.
  2. Book your road test ASAP. Road tests can have months-long waiting lists. Book your test as soon as you get your learner’s permit so you won’t have to wait long once your six months of practice are up.
  3. Study for your written knowledge test. 55% of people fail the first time. Purchase our 200 Q&A DMV Study Guide to prepare.

Frequently Asked Questions About Getting a Learner's Permit in California

  1. How Much Does it Cost to Get a Learner's Permit in California?

    The cost for a Class C driver’s license in California is $41. This covers the cost of your physical license and your knowledge exam. If you pass your knowledge exam within your first three tries and bring all the right documents to the DMV for your appointment, you’ll only need to pay this fee one time.

    Other types of driver’s licenses have different fees. You can learn more at the DMV website.

  2. Do You Need a Learner's Permit Before You Can Apply for a Driver's License?

    Yes! California’s Graduated Driver’s License Program requires all new drivers to have a learner’s permit for six months before they can apply for a driver’s license, regardless of their age.

  3. What Driving Restrictions Come With a Learner's Permit?

    When you have your learner’s permit, you must follow these restrictions:

    • You can only drive between 5 a.m. and 11 p.m.
    • If you’re a minor, you can only 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. If you’re over 18, you can only drive with a licensed driver 18 or older.
    • You cannot consume any alcohol if you’re under 21 years of age. Getting caught doing so could mean having your permit suspended.
    • If you’re under 18, you can’t drive while using a cellphone or other communication device, even in hands-free mode.
    • Your permit will only be valid if you’re in a certified driver training program, unless you’re 17½ or older.
  4. What Happens If Your Learner's Permit Expires Before You Get Your Driver's License?

    Your learner’s permit is valid for 12 months. After six months, you can apply for your driver’s license. If you wait too long and your learner’s permit expires before you take your driving test to get your driver’s license, you’ll need to reapply for a new permit at the DMV and pay the application fee again.

    You’ll get credit for the time you had your first permit, so you won’t need to wait another six months to apply for your driver’s license.