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What you need to get a driver’s license

Fact-checked with HomeInsurance.com

Before getting in the car, most people run through a quick checklist—keys, phone, license. Other than your keys, your driver’s license is the most important thing you need to keep with you (besides proof of car insurance). 

If you lose your license or move to a new state, you’ll need to get a new license ASAP. Not only do you need to obtain a new license, you need to figure out what type of license to get. If you’re in need of a new license, keep reading to figure out how to get one, where to get one and what documents you’ll need.  

Different kinds of licenses

The first step to getting a new license is to determine what kind of license to get. There are three main options—standard, enhanced and Real ID. The biggest difference is that enhanced and Real ID licenses qualify as approved forms of federal identification, meaning they can be used like a U.S. passport. Here’s a quick overview of each type:

  • Standard license: A standard license is simply a regular driver’s license that all states can issue. You can use a standard license to drive, vote, purchase alcohol, and more.
  • Real ID license: A Real ID license allows you to board a domestic flight within the U.S. without a passport. As of October 2020, all domestic travelers will be required to show a Real ID license, or a standard license plus a passport, to travel within the U.S.
  • Enhanced license: An enhanced license is similar to a Real ID license, but with some added benefits. It allows you to fly anywhere in the U.S, Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean without a passport.

When to get a license

Frequent travelers who want to upgrade their standard license to a Real ID should do so before the October deadline. If you need to get a new license for any other reason, it’s best to get one as soon as possible. Remember—driving without a license is illegal, and it could land you in serious trouble if you get caught. 

Here are some cases when you should get a new license:

  • You’re a new driver: Provisional drivers who pass their on-road driving test will need to provide specific documentation to get their very first driver’s license. 
  • Your license was lost or stolen: If your driver’s license is lost or stolen, contact your state’s DMV as soon as possible to get a new replacement.
  • You recently moved to a new state: If you recently moved to a new state, you need to get a new license. However, most states offer a grace period between the time you move and when you legally have to transfer your license. 
  • Your license is expired: Before your license is set to expire, request a new one so you don’t risk driving without a valid license.

How to get a standard driver’s license

Getting a standard license is pretty simple, and it’s the easiest kind of license to get. You’ll need to provide some documentation, fill out an application form, and pay a small fee. Depending on your state, you may need to take a written and/or vision test before you can get a new license.

What documents are needed?

Here are the documents you’ll need to provide in order to apply for a new license:

  • Proof of residency (like a bill in your name or a lease agreement)
  • Proof of insurance
  • Second form of ID (passport or birth certificate)

Where to get a license

You can get a standard license at any DMV branch in your state. If you have never had a license before, you will need to go through the process in-person. However, if you need a replacement license, or need to renew it before it expires, you might be able to handle everything online or by mail. 

How to get an enhanced license

An enhanced license is a type of driver’s license that allows you to travel within the U.S., and from the U.S. to Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean without a passport. It’s a great option for frequent travelers who don’t want to carry around a passport when they fly. However, enhanced licenses have limited availability. Currently, only drivers in Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont and Washington can get an enhanced license. 

To get an enhanced license, you’ll need to visit your state’s DMV and provide the following documentation:

  • Proof of U.S. citizenship (passport or naturalization certificate)
  • Documents containing your legal name, birthday, and social security number
  • Two forms of proof of residency (like a loan statement or auto insurance card)

How to get a license with Real ID

Most states are issuing Real ID licenses by default, given the upcoming October deadline for travel. If you got a new license within the last year, it’s possible you already have a Real ID—it’s marked with a black or gold star in the top corner. If you don’t have one, you can visit your state’s DMV or licensing office to upgrade to a Real ID.

To apply for a Real ID, you’ll need to provide the same documentation needed for an enhanced license—proof of citizenship, proof of residency and documentation with your name, date of birth and social security number. It’s a good idea to contact your state’s DMV to see what the exact requirements are.

Typically, Real ID’s cost the same as standard licenses. But if you upgrade before your license is set to expire, most states will charge a license replacement fee, which is often cheaper than paying for a brand new license.

The takeaway

  • Every driver must have a valid license to legally operate a vehicle.
  • There are three main types of licenses—standard, enhanced, and Real ID.
  • Real IDs and enhanced licenses can be used like a U.S. passport for traveling.

Conclusion

If you are currently without a driver’s license, it’s important to get a new one as soon as possible. But before you head to the DMV, decide which type of license you want. Frequent fliers will appreciate the ease and convenience of a Real ID or enhanced license, even though it requires more documentation upfront. If you’re applying for a brand new license, chances are you’ll need to visit the states’ DMV in-person. For renewals or replacements, you can probably request a new license online.

Elizabeth Rivelli

Elizabeth is an insurance writer for coverage.com, where she covers insurance providers and reviews policies to help consumers find comprehensive and affordable coverage for every area of their life. She has more than three years of writing experience for top online insurance and finance publications.

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