Tips on going to the DMV in California

May 23 , 2007

Once upon a time…

I moved to California and had to transfer over my driver’s license and my vehicle registration. I was not looking forward to going to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). You’ve all heard the stories and this was no exception. I went with my forms in hand and even checked out the “New to California” page that the DMV site put together. I was there for 2.5 hours for the first day and the second day was about an hour. I arrived at 3pm and didn’t leave til 5pm. The DMV does not give the written test after 4:30pm. My name ended up Sandy S. Li on my license but on the vehicle registration it was Cindy S. Li. Please learn from my mistakes.

Tips before you even step foot in the DMV:

  • Prior to going to the DMV go get a smog test from a local gas station or auto shop.
  • Get a copy of the DMV handbook for CA. You have to take a test.
  • Take the DMV California practice tests online. Previously, I didn’t when I moved to Virginia from Florida, so I wasn’t expecting a written test.
  • Make an appointment online. It’ll help speed you through the line. I heard if you made an appointment online you get a faster number.
  • If you want a personalized license plate, check to see if its available

Things to bring or rather what I brought:

  • 1. bring your current license from the state you just came from
  • 2. passport
  • 3. get inspection for your vehicle at the DMV
  • 4. car registration from last state
  • 5. Bring a book

Things to check out:

  • 1. when you get your registration and your paper work for your license make sure it is correct.
  • 2. make sure all your information is correct
  • 3. Did I mention CHECK ALL YOUR INFO? (Otherwise you could end up Sandy instead of Cindy and have to fill out yet another form)

Wed May 23, 2007 at 07.28 am

James Craig

Things to bring #6. Your passport as ID, not your previous license. If you bring your previous driver license, they punch a hole in it. Grrr. Don’t give it to them.

Also, if you are re-registering a vehicle in California (from out of state) do it within 2 or 3 weeks of when you drive it into the state. If not, fib and tell them you drove it into the state two weeks ago. There is a hefty fine for not registering the vehicle immediately, even if you are spending that time looking for a non-temporary place to live so that you don’t have to back to the DMV to pay for a change of address update to your license and registration. Run on. :p


Wed May 23, 2007 at 07.45 am


James, that was #2. :P


Wed May 23, 2007 at 08.49 am

James Craig

Heh. I’m pretty.

Anyway, the point was, if you don’t bring your license, they can’t punch a hole in it.


Tue May 29, 2007 at 03.15 am

Mark Trammell

Thanks for posting this, Cindy!  My car arrives tomorrow and I am *dreading* this.


Tue May 29, 2007 at 08.29 pm

Sean Clancy

Also, be sure to fill out the back side of the written test!  ;)


Thu May 31, 2007 at 05.18 am

daniela barbosa

Great tips. Oh yeah and try not to do what i did when i walked up to the counter to hand in my paper work and said"Eh heh heh… That is like a picture of the GOVernator behind you…heh heh cool. Do i have to swear myself in to him?”

They didn’t think i was funny just some weirdo from Jersey.


Mon Jan 21, 2008 at 08.16 am


Don’t listen to James Craig. It’s people like him that give wrong information which causes even more of a headache. If you don’t bring your license w/ you from outta state, you’ll not only have to take a written test, but a DRIVING TEST as well…please someone respond using your common sense as to why. I know why but I don’t wanna say.

I’ve found that alotta people don’t have common sense.


Wed Feb 6, 2008 at 03.03 am

James Craig

Damn raidersdiehard, have a bad day? Sounds like you’ve been at the DMV or something. You’re headache sounds familiar.

The truth is that the DMV is a clusterfcuk. Different ones claim to require different things, and different people at the desk tell you different things. They gave Courtney her registration then wrote her to tell her she wasn’t registered. She ended up going back in five times before getting all her paperwork sorted, yet they still claim she’s not registered.

Like many offices in the public sector, it’s a bureaucracy maintained by mediocre, underpaid workers who have no incentive to streamline the process. That, coupled with the fact that California has one of the highest population growths in the country, make for the catastrophe that is our DMV.

Welcome to California.

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