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Golden State License: What You Need to Know About the New California Driver’s License

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you should know by now that the California DMV released a new line of driver’s licenses back in 2018. It sports a new look, with an updated design and a few new anti-forgery countermeasures.

The best part about the update is the option for travelers to get either a standard ID or a REAL ID-compliant card (that is, a card that can be used as a primary identification document when traveling through airport security) when renewing their license.

In general, it’s always best to go for a REAL ID-compliant license or identification card, especially for people who travel regularly. This can be accomplished at any California Department of Motor Vehicle, or DMV, offices in the state. It costs the same amount to get a REAL ID-compliant license as getting a regular driver’s license and/or ID card.

Here are some questions about the new California driver’s license that we answer:

What is REAL ID Compliance?

In 2005, Congress passed the REAL ID Act, a law that enables the Federal Government to set specific standards for all identification cards, including driver’s licenses. The REAL ID Act establishes security standards for all government-issued ID’s. These guidelines are set and maintained by the Department of Homeland Security.

All REAL ID-compliant ID’s must meet DHS standards in terms of design, anti-forgery measures, and security standards. REAL ID-compliant cards will be accepted as official ID’s starting in October 1, 2020. For cards to be REAL ID-compliant, they must meet the standards set by the Department of Homeland Security.

When Does My New California Driver’s License Expire?

Just like the old license, your California driver’s license expires after 5 years on your birthday. The new California Driver’s Licenses must be renewed 6 months before expiration and up to 2 months after it expires. Prior to expiration, the California DMV will send you a notice by mail, reminding you to go for renewal.

Where is My Issue Date on the new California Driver’s License?

The Issue Field of the new California driver’s license is located at the bottom right corner. This is also where you should look if you want to check if your license is expired. This detail is under the letters ISS, or Issue Date.

The Issue Date is very important, as this lets the DMV know when the license card was issued and lets you know how long you card is valid for.

What are the new Design Features?

The California driver’s license changes include new design features like a Golden Bear with a white star in the upper-right corner. The white star is a symbol for the DHS to know that it is a REAL ID-compliant ID card.

On the right side of the card, there’s a pale color image of a “Forty-niner” miner along with mountains and a fruit orchard. On the lower left side of the card, under your photo, there should be images of the state flower (golden poppies) and sailboats. The background is now different, sporting a large image of the California state in the background. The card also features a new font for the California header.

A new anti-forgery countermeasure enacted in the new California license is an image of the Coit Tower and the Golden Gate bridge, visible only under ultraviolet light.

Is the New California Driver’s License REAL-ID Compliant?

Yes. As for old driver’s licenses (i.e. those issued pre-2018), they can still be used as a primary identification document in airports until October 1, 2020. After that, you’ll need a REAL ID-compliant card to get through airport security.

How Do I Get My New, REAL ID-compliant California Driver’s License?

To get a new California driver’s license, you’ll have to make an appointment with your local DMV office. Remember to bring at least two proof of identity documents, including, but not limited to:

  • S. birth certificate
  • S. passport
  • Permanent Resident Card
  • Employment Authorization Documents

Foreign passport can also be used, provided they have an approved I-94 form.

You’ll also need to show some form of California residency document and your Social Security number. Name change documents, such as divorce decrees or marriage certificates, might also be needed if you changed your name from the last time you renewed your license.

Do I Need to Go Down to My Local DMV for my New California Driver’s License?

It depends. For people with great driving records, you can just fill out forms online, mail a renewal form, or speak to a DMV representative over the phone, and the DMV will simply mail you a new license with 5-year validity. However, online, mail or phone renewal is only available if you meet any of these requirements:

  • Your old license is expiring within 60 days
  • You have a California state driver’s license
  • You are under the age of 70
  • You have no misdemeanors
  • You have no negative marks on your driving record
  • You have a non-suspended license
  • You are not under probation
  • You did not change address since your last license renewal

If your license has been expired for over 2 years, however, you’ll have to go down to your local DMV office and go through the process of renewal. Depending on your situation, they might ask you to retake your written driver’s test, along with fulfilling the following:

  • Complete the DL-44 form, or the Driver’s License/ID Card application
  • Pay the renewal fee
  • Pass the vision test
  • Retake the written driver’s test
  • Provide new thumb and fingerprints

Once you finish all of these, you’ll be issued a provisional temporary license that’s valid for up to 90 days. Your new, full driver’s license will be mailed to you within 60 days.

Active military personnel need not worry about license expiration, as licenses issued to members of the military (and their spouses) have no expiration dates. All California state licenses issued to military personnel remain valid while they’re in service, expiring only 30 days after they are discharged.

For lost or stolen licenses, you’ll have to contact the California Department of Motor Vehicles at (886) 658-5758. You can either request for a replacement, or opt for renewal if your lost/stolen license is close to expiring anyway.

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