Converting/transferring my California driver's license to DC?
April 14, 2019 1:14 PM   Subscribe

I've been living in DC since college (7+ years). Still have a CA driver's license. Is it recommended to transfer/covert?

I have been working and living in DC over 7+ years, after graduating from college. During that time, I still held on my CA driver's license, and renewed it using my parents' address once, because I wasn't sure if I was going to stay in DC or not at that time, and that's what my parents recommended I do. Otherwise, I have been a DC resident, working and paying tax here. My only interaction with CA's government was the driver's license part, that's it. I'm (I think) registered in CA, to vote, but I didn't get a chance to vote in the past few years. I've rented too, so I do have proof of DC residency (leases), should it ever become an issue. I did get a jury notice from my local county, a few years ago, but my parents told them I no longer lived there.

I am seriously considering finally transferring my license to DC (the license is set to expire next year). A few caveats, though.

a) I'm still not sure if I'll be living in DC next year. I'm renewing my lease, but I'm still uncertain. My entire family is in California, and I'm the only one in DC, so that's very difficult for me at times. However, my job is here, my friends are (mostly) here, so more likely, yes.
b) Would I have to take the driving test again? I'm a bit unclear with how that works.
c) What if I do transfer here, then I end up unexpectedly moving back to CA? It'd be a pain to have to re-transfer.

Also, I noticed on DC's DMV site that seems it's a requirement to get the DC ID/driver's license 30 days after becoming a resident. Obviously, I'm way past that, but nobody told me to do that, or asked anything, and I've filed DC taxes without a problem, gotten a jury duty notice from the DC government a couple of years ago, so I'm just checking -- did anyone else have a problem getting/transferring their driver's license if it's been (way) more than 30 days? I just wanted to make sure I'm OK/on the good side of the law, which can be very confusing at times. Many of my friends are in similar situations, having graduated but keeping their CA licenses (one even has had a CA license despite living in DC for 14+ years!).

My life in this decade, post-graduation, was/is full of confusion and uncertainty, which is why I'm trying to tidy everything up and get everything unified in one place, but I just wanted to make sure I didn't miss everything and am on the up and up. Would it be worth it transferring? Any other thoughts to consider?

Thanks so much!
posted by dubious_dude to Law & Government (13 answers total)
Do you have a car? If so, where is it registered, and how is it insured? The answers to these questions can make a big difference as to the possible consequences of not transferring your driver's license.
posted by Johnny Assay at 1:26 PM on April 14

No, no car. Never owned a car.
posted by dubious_dude at 1:28 PM on April 14

If it helps, if you ever need to switch back to California, it is just a matter of making an appointment, taking the written test (study for an hour and you will be fine) and you are done - slightly annoying but not that bad. You don't need to take a driving test if you have a license from another state.

Also, California is switching to REAL ID, after October of next year you will need an updated driver's license (which will involve an in-person visit) if you want to use your license to board an airplane.
posted by metahawk at 1:38 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]

It took me a few years to get a DC license, and I don't recall paying a penalty for the delay. This was quite a long time ago, though.
posted by pykrete jungle at 1:38 PM on April 14

The within-30-days driver's license requirement is for people actually driving cars. If you don't drive, you're not required to have any license at all.
posted by praemunire at 1:55 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]

Looking at the application (, it does not seem like the application asks for year(s) of residency in DC. Also, no penalties are listed here: To verify residency in DC, it asks for a lease, utility bill, bank statement with my current address, etc., and I already have the two pieces of verification. I also have the other proof requested (passport, old DL, W-2/tax return with my SSN).

Where I found the 30 day requirement: Specific text: If you reside in the District for more than 30 days, you must convert your out-of-state driver license or provisional license to either a DC DMV REAL ID driver license or a REAL ID provisional license.

But, as I don't drive/have a car, it doesn't seem like a problem? The reason I want a driver's license is if I rent a car or drive a friend's car, as "insurance" in case I do drive. So, based on my understanding, I should be OK and have nothing to worry about?

Worst comes to worst, I could just get a State ID and let my DL expire, but it'd be nice to have a DL in case.
posted by dubious_dude at 2:03 PM on April 14

Do not get rid of your Cal license. Keep it. It took me q0 hours at the DMV to get mine. Get a desk copy of the Cal license, claim to have lost it, when you get your DC.
posted by Oyéah at 2:56 PM on April 14

I moved to Texas for a year from NJ and got a new license while I was there. I drove but the insurance was paid by my parents and they owned the car still. It took little to no time to get a new one and was a little helpful with things like voting and tbh getting a library card. If you don’t drive you’re over thinking this. It’s really easy (if you have the money, time and id’s) to get a new license. When I moved back to NJ they didn’t even retake my photo, they still had my old one on file and printed out a new license for me.
posted by raccoon409 at 3:18 PM on April 14

I have done exactly this.
I lived in DC with a CA driver's license for several years, renewing it as at my parents home in CA. I did not have a car in DC. Eventually, my CA license was going to expire soon and I decided to get a DC license. No one said a word about the length of time I had lived in DC without a DC license. No one cared. Whether you choose to get DC license or not, don't worry about this timing issue.
posted by atomicstone at 3:31 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]

I have known people who've gotten a ticket for not having changed their license when they've been pulled over for something else. (I can't remember how it was figured out they hadn't done it.)

I'm someone who drives only rarely but updates their license when they move (it kind of baffles me that people don't, to be honest, especially people who do drive). Some places make you take the written test, others don't. It's occasionally mildly useful to have proof of residency in your wallet (admittedly, mostly at the library and you either don't use the library or DC doesn't require you prove you still liver there every couple of years; there's probably some stuff that's free for DC residents). I would not trade your license for a non-driver ID--even not owning a car, I end up driving at least once a year.
posted by hoyland at 4:06 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]

Keep the CA license at least until November of next year, so you can vote for a senator and a congressperson. Of course, you may not care, or the California district in which you vote may be a foregone conclusion, but 2020 will be a hot federal election year, and you might want in on it.
posted by ubiquity at 11:45 AM on April 15

If your CA license hasn't expired, you shouldn't need to take a driver's test again. And even if it's been past 30 days, it's not like they care or are going to yell at you. They probably won't even know how long you've lived in DC, unless you decide to tell them, and even then they will not care. If you think you aren't going to stay in DC, I'm not clear on why you are considering doing this at all though.
posted by AppleTurnover at 3:49 PM on April 15

There's not going to be a penalty. There's a ton of free stuff for DC residents though, including the pools and the dump and etc.

If you're paying taxes and working in DC there's no real reason your main form of ID shouldn't match that, and several advantages. I would go ahead and do it so you can get your REALID.
posted by aspersioncast at 4:59 AM on April 17

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