California Driver’s License Renewal: Steps, Fees, and Tips[2024]


Renewing your driver’s license in California is critical to ensure you’re legally permitted to drive on the state’s roads. With the expiration date looming, understanding the process, eligibility, and requirements is essential. Whether you’re a new resident, a long-time driver, or facing exceptional circumstances like a lost or expired license, this guide will navigate the renewal process.

This comprehensive article will explore various aspects of California Driver’s License Renewal. We’ll cover the eligibility criteria, different renewal methods (online, by mail, by phone, and in person), fees, and special situations like renewing an expired or suspended license. We will also touch upon the process for non-U.S. citizens and residents temporarily out of state. This guide aims to make your license renewal process in California as smooth and hassle-free as possible.

Eligibility and Methods for Renewal

Understanding Your Eligibility for Renewal

Renewing your driver’s license in California requires meeting specific eligibility criteria. Firstly, your license should be nearing its expiration date, typically set on your birthday. The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) sends renewal notices before this date, indicating if any additional tests, like a vision or written exam, are required. You should be aware that certain conditions, like a suspended license or unresolved court appearances, may affect your eligibility for renewal.

Available Methods for Renewal

When renewing your California driver’s license, several options are available, each catering to different needs and circumstances.

Online Renewal

Online renewal is a convenient option for those who meet specific criteria. To renew online, you must not change your personal information, such as a name or address change, and not switch to a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license. You also shouldn’t be renewing a commercial driver’s license. The process involves logging into your DMV account, verifying your information, and paying the $39 renewal fee. Your renewed license will be mailed to you within 2-4 weeks​​.

Renewal by Mail

Mail renewal is another option if you are not eligible for online renewal or prefer a more traditional method. You can use the renewal notice sent by the DMV or complete the California Driver License Renewal by Mail Eligibility Information form. You must send a $39 check for the renewal fee along with the completed form. Remember, mail renewal is not an option if you apply for a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license​​​​.

Mail your completed application and check/money order for the $41 renewal fee for non-commercial Class A and B and $41 for Class C (write your license number on your payment) to:

  • Department of Motor Vehicles
  • ATTN: Renewal By Mail Unit
  • P.O. Box 942890
  • Sacramento, CA 94290

Renewal by Phone

For those who prefer verbal communication, renewing by phone is a viable option. This method requires you to call the number on your renewal notice and provide the Renewal Identification Number (RIN). The $41 renewal fee can be paid via credit/debit card during the call​​.

In-Person Renewal

In-person renewal at a DMV office is necessary under certain conditions, such as if you are over 70 years old, your last two renewals were not completed in person, you need to take a written test, or you’re upgrading to a REAL ID. The in-person process includes:

  • Completing an application.
  • Providing a thumbprint.
  • Taking a photo.
  • Passing a vision test and potentially a written exam.
  • Paying the renewal fee of $39 for non-commercial or $50 for commercial licenses​​​​.

Specific Situations and Fees

Renewal for Special Cases

Out-of-State Residents

If you’re a California resident but will be out of state when your license expires, the DMV allows you to request an extension. This involves writing a letter to the DMV, including your full name, license number, date of birth, California address, and out-of-state address. This ensures continuity in driving privileges even when you’re not physically present in California​​.

Non-U.S. Citizens

Specific renewal processes apply for non-U.S. citizens holding a temporary California driver’s license. It’s necessary to provide updated legal presence documents issued by the Department of Homeland Security. The DMV will mail extension instructions before your temporary license expires, detailing the steps you need to follow​​.

Understanding California Driver’s License Renewal Fees

The cost of renewing a driver’s license in California varies based on the license type. For non-commercial permits, the fee is $39, while commercial licenses require a $50 payment. Additionally, if you choose to pay using a credit or debit card, a processing fee of 2.1% is applied. These fees are crucial for the processing and issuance of your renewed license and must be paid at the time of renewal, irrespective of the method you choose for renewal​​.

Remember, these fees are integral to maintaining your driving privileges in California and should be factored into your renewal plan.

Renewal Timeframe and Post-Renewal Process

When to Renew Your License

Understanding the timeframe for renewing your California driver’s license is crucial. You can initiate the renewal process up to six months before your license expires. However, if you’re renewing online, this window is reduced to 120 days. Additionally, there’s a grace period of 90 days post-expiration, during which you can still renew your license. Beyond this period, you cannot renew your expired license and must apply for a new one at the DMV office​​​​.

After Renewal: What Next?

After you’ve completed the renewal process, whether online, by mail, phone, or in person, the DMV issues a temporary card valid for 60 days. This serves as your official driving document until your permanent license arrives. Suppose your permanent license doesn’t arrive within 60 days. In that case, it’s essential to contact the DMV at (800) 777-0133 to check the status of your renewal and ensure no unforeseen issues are delaying the process​​.

This step is essential to ensure you have a valid license while waiting for your new one to arrive.

Addressing Unique Situations

Handling Expired, Suspended, or Lost Licenses

Expired License

If your California driver’s license has expired and it’s been over 90 days, you cannot simply renew it. Instead, you must visit a CA DMV office and complete a new Driver’s License or Identification Card Application. It’s essential to take this step promptly to avoid legal issues while driving​​.

Suspended License

In cases where your driver’s license has been suspended, the first step is to reinstate your driving privileges. This process varies depending on the reason for suspension and may involve clearing any outstanding fines or completing required courses. Only after reinstatement can you proceed with renewing your license​​.

Lost, Stolen, or Damaged License

If your license is lost, stolen, or damaged, it must be reported to the DMV immediately. While a replacement card can be requested, if your license is due for renewal, you can opt to renew it instead. This can be a more efficient way to address the situation, as it solves the problem of the missing/damaged license and the need for renewal​​.

Handling these unique situations requires prompt and appropriate action to ensure that your driving privileges are maintained without interruption.

FAQs on Renewing a Driver’s License in California

When does my driver’s license expire in California?

  • Your California driver’s license expires on your birthday every 5 years. For example, if your license was issued on May 28, 2020, and your birthday is June 7, it will expire on June 7, 2025​​.

Is there a grace period for expired driver’s licenses in California?

  • Yes, a 60-day grace period from the expiration date to renew your license exists. Failing to renew within this period requires applying for a new license at the DMV office​​.

Do I need to take a test to renew my driver’s license in California?

  • You’re required to take a vision test when renewing in person. A knowledge exam is only necessary if your renewal notice from the DMV specifies it​​.

Can I renew my driver’s license online in California after it expires?

  • Yes, you can renew online even after your license expires, as long as it’s within the 60-day grace period. Beyond this period, you must apply for a new license at the DMV​​.

How much does it cost to renew my driver’s license in California?

  • The renewal fee is $39 for non-commercial licenses and $50 for commercial licenses. An additional 2.1% processing fee is applied for credit/debit card payments​​.

Do I need to file a police report if my license is lost or stolen?

  • While not required, it’s recommended to report a lost or stolen license to the authorities to reduce the risk of identity theft or fraud. If you bring the police report to the DMV, the replacement fee will be waived​​.

How do I renew my license if I am in the military and stationed elsewhere?

  • Military personnel stationed out of state or overseas can request a license extension for an additional year. It’s advised to send this request by mail before your license expires​​.

How do I replace my license if I am a non-U.S. citizen?

  • Non-U.S. citizens need to present proof of legal status in the country and proof of date of birth when applying for a replacement license​​.

How does the DMV check my vision?

  • The DMV checks your vision on-site during the renewal process. You must see 20/40 with both eyes together (with or without contact lenses) to pass. If you fail, you’ll need to see a vision specialist and may be eligible for a limited term or temporary license​​.

How early can I renew my driver’s license in California?

  • You can renew your driver’s license up to six months before its expiration date​​.


In conclusion, renewing your driver’s license in California is a process that varies depending on individual circumstances such as eligibility, method of renewal, and specific situations like lost or expired licenses. It’s important to be aware of the various options available for renewal, including online, by mail, in person, or by phone, and to understand the associated fees and timeframes. By following the guidelines and requirements outlined by the California DMV, you can ensure a smooth and efficient license renewal process, keeping you legally on the road without any interruptions.

Remember, staying informed and prepared is key to a hassle-free driver’s license renewal in California!

This concludes our comprehensive guide on renewing a driver’s license in California. If you have any more questions or need further assistance, feel free to ask!

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