When do I need to show up at the San Francisco DMV?
July 1, 2019 2:27 PM   Subscribe

I find myself in need of a replacement driver's license and would like to obtain it tomorrow (Tuesday) morning in San Francisco. I have another appointment downtown at 10 am and the DMV opens at 7 am. What time do I need to get to the DMV to safely obtain my license and get to my appointment a half hour away? Is getting there at 6 good enough or overkill?

Note: I don't need to be there so early that I am absolutely guaranteed to be finished by 10 am. If push comes to shove, I can try again another day. Also, though other locations may have shorter wait times, driving elsewhere isn't feasible as the license is missing. The next available appointment isn't till September, so that's not a feasible option.

Bonus question: I would like to get a REAL ID. I just moved and few of my documents have been updated yet (so no bills, bank statements, etc.) I have my lease, but need one more. Do you think a screen shot of my health insurance's web page or a Stanford personal information page showing the new address would suffice as the second proof of address that's needed?
posted by reren to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (8 answers total)
I live nearby; I've always walked down at 6:30 and gotten in line and been among the first in the door, and done by 8 or 8:15 - but that's been for a registration the past few times, not a DL. I'd aim to get there at 6/6:15 to be early in the line.

Also: pay attention to which line you are in; last time I was there the configuration had changed yet again, and the registration line was at the South (Oak St. side) entrance, while the DL line was at the North (Fell St. side) entrance. There are signs on the walls indicating what line is for what but it's not as clear as it could be.

Real ID checklist here. Real ID is a fed thing so screen shots probably won't cut it, unfortunately.
posted by niicholas at 3:12 PM on July 1, 2019

If you are there before the line forms, you've got a good shot of being out by ten; if you are there after the line forms, you are totally dependent on everyone ahead of you being in the right line, having the right forms, etc. I think you've got the right idea getting there at 6.

You won't be able to get the REAL ID with a screenshot; my colleague had to bring extra mail with her full name on it and her nickname because her driver's license has her full legal name and most of her bills are with the nickname. They are pretty strict!
posted by assenav at 3:15 PM on July 1, 2019

The Daly City DMV is a 15 min walk from the Colma BART stop and usually has shorter lines. Ymmv, but it might be more convenient depending on where you live/where your appointment is.

For REAL ID I just took a pile of 5-7 documents that I thought covered my bases and let the person at the desk decide which ones were most appropriate. I think they chose all the non-printed-at-home ones that I brought.
posted by asphericalcow at 3:15 PM on July 1, 2019

When I go my license at the SF DMV in May, I joined the line 30 minutes before they opened. I didn't leave until 3 hours later.
posted by wryly at 3:37 PM on July 1, 2019

Response by poster: Thanks so much for all these helpful answers! It sounds like I need to get to the DMV around 6. To supplement the documents I already have, I've gotten a letter from my employer stating my address (which is listed as one potential verification document -- "A letter on letterhead from a homeless shelter, shelter for abused women, nonprofit entity, faith-based organization, employer or government agency within the United States attesting that the applicant resides in California.")

A final follow-up question: It just occurred to me that I might be required to repeat the written knowledge test. The CA DMV web site is vague on this point, referring the applicant to their renewal notice (which I, of course, don't have). Could any of you tell me whether I'm likely to need to take another written test? Need to prepare, if so!
posted by reren at 4:21 PM on July 1, 2019

You will need to pass the written “knowledge test”.

Make sure you read the motorcycle laws closely, they’re actually somewhat different than in other states (lane splitting is legal).
posted by asphericalcow at 5:29 PM on July 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

On the REAL ID: you can usually get bank statements immediately; I find that if I change my address on my bank’s website and then immediately go to download a back statement, the current address is the one printed. Worth a shot.
posted by mosst at 6:29 PM on July 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

This question was so perfectly timed; I needed to renew my license and get a RealID, and wasn't sure if I should steel myself for an all-day wait. Fortunately it was super-straightforward and easy since I had easy access to all the documents I needed, and just had to assemble them. For anecdata purposes and in case it's helpful to anyone else, I'll recount it in all its banal bureaucratic glory for the bards of the future:

I showed up at the El Cerrito DMV without an appointment at 8AM when the office opened. It was already open, and there were probably thirty people already seated in the waiting area inside. There was an initial line of 1-2 people at a table right inside the door where a clerk verified that I had the documentation I needed for a RealID, then sent me on to the usual intake counter. There were only 2 people in line when I got there (but in general it never seemed to be longer than 4-5), and I got a number. I'd filled out the driver's license / RealID application form online already, and had a screenshot of the locator number to give the clerk, otherwise I probably would have had to fill this out then.

My number was called in just about ten minutes (!), and I went to a third counter where I produced all my documents. The clerk scanned them all, took my thumbprint and gender change form, had me do the eye test, then sent me to get my picture taken. Also, it turned out that I needed to retake the written test, which I hadn't been sure about (though you typically need to when you're renewing a license, but not when you're replacing a lost/stolen one). By now it was probably 8:20 or so.

No one was in line at the picture-taking counter, so I got my picture taken (it was bad, though the clerk didn't bother to tell me). Then if I'd been ready to take my written test I could've just sat down at a computer there. Instead I studied for about half an hour, then took it, passed, and got a provisional replacement license until mine arrives in the mail in 3-4 weeks. I was out by 9:15, and it really only took so long because I studied for the written test much more than I'd needed to.

(The test: it's a 22-question multiple choice test. Each question has three potential answers to pick from, and in about half the cases one's obviously wrong. You can take it up to three times before you have to re-apply for your license and the $36 fee again. The test allows you to skip questions you're not sure about and revisit them at the end. It also allows you to get up to 3 wrong. If you fail the test, I think you can't re-take it on the same day, but I'm not sure? Also, with very few exceptions, all the questions are pretty intuitive, though might be a bit tricky if you don't review the manual at all since there were a couple questions that needed precise numerical answers re blood-alcohol content, stopping distance, etc.)

Anyway, this just to let folks know that it was chill and easy -- partly because I had all my administrative shit together, but also because the El Cerrito DMV seems to be relatively pleasant and well-run.
posted by tapir-whorf at 12:49 PM on July 2, 2019

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