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DMV License Renewal Straight From the Source

MAR 09, 2017

How I Faced a Problem of Driver License Renewal and Why It is Important

I faced the problem of renewing my driver’s license much earlier than I might expect, since I knew that in California (where I was living at the time) driver’s licenses were issued for 5 years. But the fact is that I obtained the driver’s license while being an international student who was studying at a local university. Thus, when applying for the driver’s license in a local DMV office, I brought my international passport with I-94 form, I-20 form from the university and other verifying documents, which stated that I was eligible to stay in the USA for 2 years. So, since I obtained the driver’s license almost a year after my arrival in the United States, it was issued for a year – until the date when my visa would expire.

Sure, when my documents were processed in the DMV, I was told that DMV drivers license renewal would be required in case I got visa extension. But I was so devoured by anxiety about passing my driver’s license tests and then I was so proud about obtaining my DL that I forgot about the expiry date completely. I am sure that I wouldn’t remember about DMV license renewal until some cops stopped me and checked the DL, but fortunately, I got a renewal notice sent by CA DMV. It said that I needed to renew the driver license in DMV within 2 months; otherwise my DL would expire and I wouldn’t be eligible to drive a vehicle on California public roads anymore.

As I found out, there are no special penalties for driving with an expired driver’s license in California, but driving without a valid license may fall under either infractions or misdemeanor penalties: in the first case you can be fined a maximum of $250, while in the second case you will face up to 6 months in county jail or a $1,000 fine. And there is no grace period for an expired driver’s license in California! I am not quite sure, but on the Internet I stumbled across the information about grace periods in Hawaii and Louisiana and a friend of mine told that DPS drivers license renewal in Alabama provided for grace period of 60 days after the expiration date. But California turned out to be rather strict on driving without a valid license and in my case the problem was complicated by the need to provide my visa extension, since I had applied for a permanent resident card. As you might expect, I got rather anxious about my DMV drivers license renewal.

Renewal of Driver's License in California

California DMV provides 4 methods of driver’s license renewal:

  • Online

This is the fastest and easiest way, but online renewal is available only for those drivers who are registered as a certified user with CA DMV. For the registration you need to provide your DL/ID card number and the issue date, date of birth, SSN and valid e-mail address. Since I didn’t have a SSN at the time, this option wasn’t available for me. You will be able to use this option if you receive a Renewal By Mail Notice with a Renewal Identification Number, you don’t need updating the drivers license because of changing your address or other personal information (or no fresh photo is needed) and you have your SSN and credit card verified. As far as I know, DPS drivers license renewal in Texas and New York also provides for online option, so I believe it is available in many states if certain conditions are met.

  • By mail

This option is rather convenient, too, but it is available only for those drivers, who bother to apply for the renewal prior to the DL expiration date or within 2 months after it. Renewal by mail is also unavailable for senior drivers, who is older than 70 or will be older by the expiration date. If you renewed the DL twice using mail (I mean, 2 times in succession), you can’t use this method again. Besides, you are not allowed to renew the California DL by mail in case you have a DL issued in any other state or jurisdiction. And you need to have no Vehicle Code moving violations within the past 2 years.

To be brief, the available method is usually specified in your notice about DMV or DPS drivers license renewal, but if you haven’t got such a notice and do think that you meet the "by mail" requirements, you can download, print and complete a special form from the CA official web-site and then send it along with a check for the renewal fee (the address is specified on the web-site). Since by mail method doesn’t stipulate for sending any other documents, I had to visit a local DMV office in order to renew my Dl in person.

  • In person

I started with making an appointment and I recommend you to schedule your visit in advance, as there may be no free time available for several weeks. I tried to make an appointment in the nearest office, but the earliest appointment they had available was a week prior to the expiration date. I didn’t want to take chances and so I found another office with more comfortable date. I went there having my DMV renewal notice, existing driver’s license and papers verifying that I had a year extension for lawful presence in the USA. I paid a $33 renewal fee, had my photo taken and my thumb print scanned, as well as my vision screened (yes, once again, just the same as when I had obtained the driver’s license). But fortunately, I didn’t have to pass my knowledge test; though I had read that an applicant might be required to take it again, in light version (only 18 test questions are asked with 15 correct answers to pass). I think that those drivers who have any Vehicle Code violations need to take the exam again, but I am not sure.

So, I got my interim license valid for 3 months, while my renewed license was supposed to come by mail in 2 months. I received it in a month or so, and it was issued for a year, since my visa extension was valid for a year. But by the time I had went to another state and as a result I had to obtain a new driver license in New York.   

Updating Drivers License

I would like to say a few words about updating drivers license, as it became apparent to me that many people confuse renewing with updating. The renewal is needed when your driver’s license expires, while the updating is required in those cases when it is necessary to introduce valid information - like when you change your address or your photo needs to be updated. Sometimes, you can renew and update your DL in one go, as I did: when I went to CA DMV for DL renewal, I wrote in my new address, as I was just going to move. As far as I know, you can update your driver’s license by mail, but not via the Internet. And you won’t be able to update your photo by mail – you need to visit a DMV office and have your new picture taken there.