North Carolina Driver's License: A Step-by-Step 2018 Guide

Learn what to expect and how to get behind the wheel faster.
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On this page: Types of licenses How to apply Knowledge test Road test Replace or renew New residents

How Does It Work?

North Carolina boasts barrier-island beaches, charming cities and mountain ranges. You can reach them all if you learn to drive and get a North Carolina driver license. Follow this full step-by-step guide to get, renew or transfer your driver license without any hassle in The Tar Heel State.

Get a learner permit

Allows you to practice driving under supervision.

Get a provisional license

Allows you to drive unsupervised with restrictions.

Get a Full (Adult) License

Allows you to drive with no restrictions.

Types of Driver Licenses in North Carolina

For each license type there's a corresponding type of instruction permit
North Carolina Class C Driver's License
Class C Regular
It is the most common driver license that allows you to operate personal cars and small trucks. It includes all noncommercial single vehicles with a GVWR of less than 26,001 pounds; and towing a vehicle which has a combined GVWR of less than 26,001 pounds. Read the NC Driver Handbook or take a free NC DMV practice test.
North Carolina Class A/B Driver's License
Class A/B Regular
These licenses allow you to operate bigger vehicles that are exempt from CDL requirements. Class A is for driving a combination of vehicles when the towed unit has a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 10,001 pounds or more. Class B is used for driving a vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 pounds or more, and towing a vehicle with a GVWR not in excess of 10,000 pounds.
North Carolina Class A/B/C Driver's License
Class A/B/C Commercial
These are commercial driver licenses (CDL) that allow you to operate any combination of vehicles with gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 26,001 pounds or more provided the GVRW of the vehicle towed is more than 10,000 pounds (Class A); any vehicle with GVWR of 26,001 pounds or more or towing a vehicle with GVWR not in excess of 10,000 pounds (Class B); any single vehicle that transports 16 or more passengers (including the driver) or is placarded for transportation of hazardous materials (Class C). Read the NC CDL Manual or take a free NC CDL practice test.
North Carolina Motorcycle Driver's License
Class M
It is a motorcycle endorsement that allows you to operate motorcycles on public roads. You must possess a valid North Carolina driver license of any class to apply for a motorcycle endorsement. Read the NC Motorcyclists' Handbook or take a free NC motorcycle practice test.

How to Apply for Your Class C Driver License

To apply for your first driver license in North Carolina, you must gather documentation and pass a vision, knowledge, traffic signs and driving skill test. This is your complete plan of action depending on your age.
Apply for Learner's License I’m between 15 and 17
(First Timer)

Apply for Level 1 Limited Learner Permit
How to Start
Apply for Provisional License I’m between 16 and 17
(Limited Learner Permit Holder)
Apply for Level 2 Limited Provisional License
How to Start
Apply for Full (Adult) License 18+ I’m 18+ (First Timer)


Apply for Adult (Unrestricted) Driver License
How to Start

How to Apply for Limited Learner Permit in North Carolina

Getting a limited learner permit is the first step of NC Graduated Licensing Program for teenagers of 15 and above years of age. The permit allows you to practice driving under the supervision of a licensed driver who's been licensed for at least 5 years and who will be seating next to you at all times. During the first 6 months you may practice only between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m.

1COMPLETE AN APPROVED DRIVER EDUCATION COURSE AT A HIGH SCHOOL

You may enroll as soon as you turn 14 ½ years of age. The course must consist of a classroom portion (30 hours) and a driving portion (6 hours of behind the wheel practice). At the end of the course, you will get a Driver’s Education Certificate.

2GET A DRIVING ELIGIBILTY CERTIFICATE AT YOUR HIGH SCHOOL

Your school will issue you the certificate if you are enrolled in school and making progress towards a high school diploma or GED.

3APPLY IN PERSON AT A DMV OFFICE

You may find a convenient location using this map. You may get an appointment by contacting your local office.

4BRING REQUIRED DOCUMENTATION

You must bring proof of the following:

  • Your identity and date of birth
  • Your social security number or documentation indicating your legal presence in the U.S.
  • Your NC residency (2 documents)
  • Liability insurance

Here is the list of documents that are recognized by the NC DMV. Check it before you go.

5PASS THE ROAD SIGN RECOGNITION TEST

You should be able to identify these regulatory signs and warning signs by color and shape and explain what they mean.

6PASS THE VISION TEST

You must meet vision standards for driving in North Carolina. Your license will show if you need corrective lenses.

7PASS THE WRITTEN TEST

The test has 25 multiple-choice questions about North Carolina traffic laws and safe driving practices. If you fail the test, you may retake it on a later date. Read Frequently Asked Questions about the Written Test and practice with free NC DMV practice tests before you go.

8PAY THE PERMIT FEE

$ 20.00 paid by card, cash, money order or personal check.

9RECEIVE A DRIVING LOG

You will be completing it during the next 12 months (at least 60 hours of driving). You may get it at the DMV or download here.

10GET YOUR LIMITED LEARNER PERMIT AND START PRACTICING

Note that you will lose your driving privileges if you drop out of school. You will lose your license for 12 months or until you receive a Driving Eligibility Certificate or high school diploma, if you are suspended from school or assigned to an alternative education setting for 10 consecutive days as a result of disciplinary action.

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How to Apply for Level 2 Limited Provisional License in North Carolina

It is the second step of NC Graduated Licensing Program for teenagers of 16- 17 years of age. It allows you to drive unsupervised but only between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m. unless you drive for work, or volunteer fire, rescue or emergency medical service. While driving unsupervised, you may not have more than one passenger under 21 years of age unless they are part of your immediate family.

1HOLD YOUR LIMITED LEARNER PERMIT FOR AT LEAST 12 MONTHS

The last 6 months must be free of moving violations and seat belt/mobile phone infractions.

2COMPLETE DRIVING LOG

You must complete at least 60 hours of driving, but no more than 10 hours per week will count towards these 60 hours. Make sure that you include at least 10 hours of night time driving. Your supervisor (parent/guardian, grandparent or another person approved by your parent/guardian who has been licensed for at least 5 years) must sign your log.

3GET A DRIVING TEST APPOINTMENT OR WALK IN

You may get an appointment to take the test by calling the DMV office of your choice or wait in line at a DMV office. Make sure you bring

  • Your limited learner permit
  • Completed driving log
  • Proof of liability insurance coverage (car insurance policy or NC certificate of insurance)
  • Your parent/guardian to sign your application
  • A safe vehicle

4PASS THE ON-THE-ROAD DRIVING TEST

The test checks your ability to perform some driving patterns and drive safely. Read about the road test procedure and requirements here. If you fail, you will retake it on a later date.

5PAY THE FEE

$20.00 paid by card, cash, money order or personal check.

6GET YOUR TEMPORARY 60-DAY DRIVING CERTIFICATE

Your permanent level 2 license will arrive by mail. You will hold it for at least 6 months before applying for your full provisional driver license (level 3).
Note that you will lose your driving privileges if you drop out of school. You will lose your license for 12 months or until you receive a Driving Eligibility Certificate or high school diploma, if you are suspended from school or assigned to an alternative education setting for 10 consecutive days as a result of disciplinary action.

How to Apply for Full Provisional License in North Carolina

NC level 3 provisional driver license is the third and final step of NC Graduated Licensing Program for teenagers of 16- 17 years of age. All restrictions regarding time of driving and the number of passengers will be lifted but you are still not allowed to use cell phones while driving unless it's an emergency.
  1. HOLD YOUR LIMITED PROVISIONAL LICENSE FOR AT LEAST 6 MONTHS

    These 6 months must be free of moving violations and seat belt/mobile phone infractions.

  2. COMPLETE A NEW DRIVING LOG

    You must complete at least 12 hours of driving, 6 of which must be at night. Your supervisor (parent/guardian, grandparent or another person approved by your parent/guardian) must sign your log. You can get the log at the DMV office or download it here.

  3. APPLY IN PERSON AT A DMV OFFICE

    You may find a convenient location using this map. You may get an appointment by contacting your local office.

  4. BRING DOCUMENTATION FOR A REAL ID (OPTIONAL)

    You don't have to get a REAL ID license (with a yellow star in the top right corner), but it will be needed if you want to show your driver license as an I.D. to board the plane or visit a federal facility after October 2020.

    You must bring proof of the following:

    • Your identity and date of birth
    • Your social security number or documentation indicating your legal presence in the U.S.
    • Your NC residency (2 documents)
    • Liability insurance

    Here is the list of documents that are recognized by the NC DMV. Check it before you go.

  5. PAY THE FEE

    $5.00 per year paid by card, cash, money order or personal check.

  6. GET YOUR TEMPORARY 60-DAY DRIVING CERTIFICATE

    You will be sent your provisional license within 20 days.

Note that you will lose your driving privileges if you drop out of school. You will lose your license for 12 months or until you receive a Driving Eligibility Certificate or high school diploma, if you are suspended from school or assigned to an alternative education setting for 10 consecutive days as a result of disciplinary action.

How to Apply for Your Adult (Unrestricted) Driver License in North Carolina

If you have never been licensed in the US, you may apply for the adult driver license at the age of 18. You will be required to take vision, road sign recognition, knowledge and driving tests. You may first get a learner permit if you need one.

If you have never been licensed, start with step 1.

If you hold a learner permit, start with step 7.

1APPLY IN PERSON AT A DMV OFFICE

You may find a convenient location using this map. You may get an appointment by contacting your local office.

2BRING REQUIRED DOCUMENTATION

You must bring proof of the following:

  • Your identity and date of birth
  • Your social security number or documentation indicating your legal presence in the U.S.
  • Your NC residency (2 documents)
  • Liability insurance

Here is the list of documents that are recognized by the NC DMV. Check it before you go. These documents will allow you to get a REAL ID compliant license.

3PASS THE ROAD SIGN RECOGNITION TEST

You should be able to identify these regulatory signs and warning signs by color and shape and explain what they mean.

4PASS THE VISION TEST

You must meet vision standards for driving in North Carolina. Your license will show if you need corrective lenses.

5PASS THE WRITTEN TEST

The test has 25 multiple-choice questions about North Carolina traffic laws and safe driving practices. If you fail the test, you may retake it on a later date. Read Frequently Asked Questions about the Written Test and practice with free NC DMV practice tests before you go.

6GET LEARNER PERMIT (OPTIONAL)

You may need a permit if you need to practice supervised driving before taking the driving test. You may drive only supervised by a licensed driver seated beside you. The permit fee is $20.00.

7PASS THE ON-THE-ROAD DRIVING TEST

You may do it on the same day with vision and knowledge tests, or you may get an appointment to take the test by calling the DMV office of your choice or wait in line at a DMV office. Make sure you bring

  • Proof of liability insurance coverage (car insurance policy or NC certificate of insurance (FS-1))
  • A safe vehicle with registration
  • An I.D.
  • Your learner permit (if you have one)

The test checks your ability to perform some driving patterns and drive safely. Read about the road test procedure and requirements here. If you fail, you will retake it on a later date.

8PAY THE DRIVER LICENSE FEE

$5.00 per year paid by card, cash, money order or personal check.

9GET YOUR TEMPORARY 60-DAY DRIVING CERTIFICATE

You will be sent your permanent license within 20 days.

North Carolina Knowledge Test aka Written Test

Take a free practice test
What does the test include?
The test consists of 25 multiple-choice questions that cover NC traffic laws and safe-driving practices. To pass the test, you will have to answer at least 20 of the questions correctly and get the 80% passing score. You may have a look at the official sample test.
How to prepare for the test?
Study NC Driver Handbook as all questions are based on the information provided there. Then prepare with the help of our free practice tests available here. When you feel comfortable with your score, you are ready! You can also download our free DMV Genie app to study on the go. Get it on the App Store or on Google Play.
What common errors must I avoid when taking the NC knowledge test?
The most common mistake comes from not knowing enough information out of the handbook. This happens when people study solely with practice tests. Make sure you read the handbook first. Another problem is rushing through questions. Take your time and remember what you have studied.
Can I use the handbook when taking the actual test?
No, it’s considered cheating. Moreover, you mustn’t use your phone or other wireless devices.
Can I take the test in another language?
Yes. Additionally to English and Spanish, the test is also offered in Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Russian, and Vietnamese.
Can I take the test if I can’t read?
Yes. Oral tests are available upon your request.
What happens if I fail the test?
You can retake it when you are ready.

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Road Test

Step-by-Step Guide
What to expect during NC driving test
Road Test FAQ
You will be asked to demonstrate your ability to drive safely with the traffic and perform basic driving patterns. You may schedule a driving test appointment by calling the DMV office of your choice or walk in. If you are older than 18, you may take your road test on the same day with your knowledge, sign and vision tests.
Before the test

The car you bring for the test must be in good operating order. The examiner will check if your car is safe to drive before the actual test. Before you go, at least check

  • Your tires
  • Signals
  • Lights
  • Windshield (no cracks that disturb the view of the road)
  • Mirrors
  • Seat belts
  • Front doors open from inside

Make sure you also have

  • Car registration
  • Proof of liability insurance (current insurance policy issued in North Carolina or N C Certificate of Insurance (FS-1) showing the vehicle year, make, model and vehicle identification number)
During the test

The test will last about 10-15 minutes. You will drive over the designated route and return to the DMV office. The examiner will sit beside you and give you directions. Your job is to drive safely and follow the directions. The following maneuvers are usually included in the NC road test:

  • Starting the car (check that both you and the examiner have seatbelts on)
  • Backing (in a straight line looking back over your shoulder, your arm is over the passenger seat)
  • Quick stops (you must stop quickly when told to do so, but don't skid)
  • Right and left turns
  • Changing lanes
  • Approaching to intersections, stop signs and traffic signals
  • Parking (parallel parking is not required)
  • Following other vehicles
  • Three-point turn
  • Yielding the right-of-way to pedestrians and other cars
  • Passing and being passed

Keep in mind that

  • You mustn't go over the speed limit.
  • You are required to use signals and the horn when necessary.
  • You must check your surroundings frequently by checking your mirrors and blind spots when necessary.
At the End of the Test
You will return to the DMV office where the examiner will let you know if you pass or fail your test. If you pass, you will pay the fee and get your temporary license. If you fail, the examiner will explain your driving errors and tell you when you can retake the test.

How to Renew Your Driver License in North Carolina

  • The DMV will send you a reminder card around 60 days before your license expiration date. You may renew your license in person up to 180 days before your license expiration date or within 2 years of your license expiration.

    If you are not eligible to renew online, you must renew in person and pass vision and sign tests.

    1. Stop by any DMV office or schedule an appointment by calling (919) 715-7000.
    2. Bring required documentation. If you want to get a REAL ID ( recommended) provide proof of the following:
      1. Your identity and date of birth and legal presence (one document)
      2. Your social security number (one document)
      3. Your current NC address (2 documents)

      Check this list to choose your documents correctly.

      If you want to get a standard driver license, you will need to present your current license.

      If your current has been lost or stolen, present 2 documents to verify your identity and a Social Security Card.

    3. Pass the sign recognition test. You should be able to identify these regulatory signs and warning signs by color and shape and explain what they mean.
    4. Pass the vision test. You must meet vision standards for driving in North Carolina. Your license will show if you need corrective lenses.
    5. Pay the fee of $5.00 per year. You may get the license for 5-8 years depending on your age.
    6. Get your temporary license. Your permanent license will arrive in mail within 20 days.
  • You may renew by mail only if

    1. You are a resident of North Carolina but living outside the state for at least 30 continuous days. You may do it every other renewing cycle. (Note that your new license will be temporary and you will be required to renew it in person no later than 60 days after your return to North Carolina.) OR
    2. You are on active duty with the US Armed Forces.

    You mustn't be older than 72 years of age to be eligible for mail renewal. Provisional licenses cannot be renewed by mail.

    1. Download and complete this application following the instruction provided with it.
    2. Get a vision statement signed by a licensed physician or a driver license examiner in the state in which you temporarily reside.
    3. Sign and date Sex Offender Affidavit.
    4. Add a check or money order for the renewal fee ( $5.00 per year).
    5. Send the packet to the DMV.
  • You may renew online up to 6 months before your license expiration date or within 2 years of your license expiration.

    You may not renew online if

    1. You current driver license is a standard one, but you want to get a REAL ID.
    2. You are renewing a provisional license or learner's permit.
    3. You have a restriction other than "corrective lenses".
    4. You need to change your address.
    5. Your current license is suspended.
    6. You have an outstanding debt with DMV
    7. You have a U.S. government document indicating your legal presence.

    Plan of action

    1. Go to the DMV Renewal Service.
    2. Provide your current driver license number and the last 4 digits of your SSN.
    3. Provide your valid email address.
    4. Pay the fee of $5.00 per year by credit/debit card.
    5. Your receipt will be sent to your email.
    6. Get your new driver license within 20 days in your mail.

New Residents: How to Get the North Carolina Driver License

If you move to North Carolina and would like to keep driving here, you must transfer your license no later than 60 days after becoming a NC resident.
Out-of-state license Foreign license
Not sure if you are a resident of North Carolina?
Are you a North Carolina resident?
You’re considered resident for driver license purposes if you move to North Carolina and establish your permanent home here.
Residing temporarily? Good news!
Are you a visiting California

You don't have to transfer your out of state driver license if you are

  • An out-of-state college student whose permanent home is in another state
  • A member of the armed forces stationed in North Carolina or a spouse of such member who intend to return to your home state
  • A salesperson whose home is in another state but who travels through North Carolina

I’ve Got a Valid Out-of-State License

Moving from another US state? Welcome to North Carolina!
Moving from another state?

To transfer your out-of-state driver license, you will be required to collect documentation, pass a vision and sign recognition test. Knowledge and road tests will be waived in most cases if you hold a valid out-of-state driver license.

Plan of Action
  1. APPLY IN PERSON AT A DMV OFFICE

    You may find a convenient location using this map. You may get an appointment by contacting your local office.

  2. BRING REQUIRED DOCUMENTATION

    You must bring proof of the following:

    • Your identity and date of birth
    • Your social security number or documentation indicating your legal presence in the U.S.
    • Your NC residency (2 documents)

    Here is the list of documents that are recognized by the NC DMV. Check it before you go. These documents will allow you to get a REAL ID compliant license.

  3. PASS THE ROAD SIGN RECOGNITION TEST

    You should be able to identify these regulatory signs and warning signs by color and shape and explain what they mean.

  4. PASS THE VISION TEST

    You must meet vision standards for driving in North Carolina. Your license will show if you need corrective lenses.

  5. PAY THE DRIVER LICENSE FEE

    $5.00 per year paid by card, cash, money order or personal check.

  6. GET YOUR TEMPORARY 60-DAY DRIVING CERTIFICATE

    You will get your new license by mail within 20 days.

  7. DISCARD YOUR OLD LICENSE

    Alternatively you may surrender it to

    N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles
    Driver License Section
    3120 Mail Service Center
    Raleigh, NC 27697-3120
driver's license in North Carolina
Your North Carolina driver license will be valid for 5 to 8 years depending on your age. Licenses issued to driver age 18 to 65 are valid for 8 years; licenses issued to drivers age 66 and over are valid for 5 years.

I've Got a Valid Foreign License

Moving from another country? Welcome to North Carolina!
If you have a driver license from another country, you will have to take and pass a vision, sign recognition, knowledge and road test. Sometimes road tests may be waived. Check the Full Procedure of Getting a NC Driver License.

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