Illinois 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?

To drive in Illinois, you are required to hold a valid initial or full IL driver’s license. This is your full step-by-step guide that will help you get, renew or transfer your driver’s license fast and easy.

Get an Instruction Permit

Allows you to practice driving under supervision.

Get an Initial (Teen) license

Allows you to drive unsupervised with restrictions.

Get a Full (Adult) License

Allows you to drive with no restrictions.

Types of Driver's Licenses in Illinois

For each license type there's a corresponding type of instruction permit
Illinois Class D Driver's License
Class D
It's a regular license that allows you to operate any motor vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) that does not exceed 16,000 pounds and does not require a commercial driver's license. Read the IL Rules of the Road Manual or take a free IL DMV practice test.
Illinois Class A/B/C Driver's License
Class A/B/C (Commercial)
Class A allows you to drive a combination of vehicles with a GCWR of 26,001 or more pounds, providing the GVWR of the vehicle being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds. Class B is for driving a single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 or more pounds, or any such vehicle towing another not in excess of 10,000 pounds. Class C is for single vehicles with a GVWR of at least 16,001 pounds but less than 26,001 pounds. Read the IL CDL Study Guide or take a free CDL practice test.
Illinois Motorcycle Driver's License
Class L/M
It is a motorcycle classification on your driver's license. Class L is used for riding motor-driven cycles with less than 150 cc and Class M is for motorcycles. Read the IL Motorcycle Operator Manual or take a free IL motorcycle practice test.

How to Apply for Your Class D Driver License

To get your IL Driver’s License you should first collect the documentation required, pass your vision screening, written and driving tests. This is your complete plan of action depending on your age.

How to Apply for Your IL Instruction Permit

The instruction permit is the first stage of Illinois's Graduated Driver Licensing program for everyone under the age of 18. It allows you to practice driving while supervised at all times by a responsible adult at least 21 years of age who is licensed and has at least one year of driving experience.

If you are a foreign national who is not eligible for a Social Security Number, you may still qualify for a Temporary Visitor Driver's License (TVDL). In this case you may apply for the same kind of instruction permit.

1APPLY IN PERSON

You must apply for the instruction permit in person at a Secretary of State Facility.

Note that the only Facilities that issue instruction permits to residents who are eligible for a Temporary Visitor Driver's License (TVDL) are the following: Bloomington, Carbondale, Champaign, Chicago North, Chicago West, Des Plaines, Macomb, Rockford Central, and Springfield (Dirksen Parkway).

2BRING DOCUMENTATION

You should verify the following:

  • Your legal name
  • Your signature
  • Your date of birth
  • Your Social Security number (if you intend to apply for a TVDL, sign a declaration on your application that you are ineligible for a SSN)
  • Your residential address in Illinois

To choose the documentation correctly use this list when applying for a regular instruction permit or this list while seeking a TVDL.

3COMPLETE THE APPLICATION FORM

This form is not available online; you will have to pick one up at a Secretary of State Facility.

4OBTAIN YOUR PARENT/GUARDIAN CONCENT

Your parent or guardian must accompany you to the Secretary of State Facility and give consent to your obtaining a permit.

5VERIFY YOUR DRIVER’S ED COURSE

Provide documentation that you are taking an approved driver's education course or will start to take one within the next 30 days at any public (not private) high school that offers it, or at a third-party provider. The course includes 30 hours of classroom instruction and 6 hours of driving practice.

If you already completed a driver's education course in another state, call the Secretary of State's office at (888) 261-5238 to find out whether you can get credit for your previous driver's education.

6PASS A VISION TEST

The minimum requirement for visual acuity is 20/40 with or without corrective lenses. Drivers with acuity between 20/41 and 20/70 are limited to daylight driving only.

7PAY THE FEE OF $20

The instruction permit fee is paid by cash, credit or debit card, personal check or money order. Note that if you obtain a driver's license before your instruction permit expires, you won't have to pay a fee for the driver's license later.

8PASS A WRITTEN EXAM

It is taken on a walk-in basis. Make sure you practice online before you go. You will have three chances to pass the test within the year from the date on which you pay the application fee for an instruction permit.

9HAVE YOUR PICTURE TAKEN AND RECEIVE A TEMPORARY PERMIT

Your permanent (plastic) permit should be mailed to you within 15 business days. If you don't receive it, you can check its status by calling (217) 782-7044.

With your instruction permit, you must log at least 50 hours of supervised driving practice (including 10 hours at night) before you may apply for an initial (teen) driver's license.

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How to Apply for Your Initial Driver’s License

The initial (teen) driver's license is the second stage of Illinois's Graduated Driver Licensing Program. It may be a Class D initial license or an initial Temporary Visitor Driver's License (TVDL). The initial license allows you to drive unsupervised at times, but with significant restrictions:

  • You may not drive unsupervised between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, or between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. Friday and Saturday. (Note: communities may impose their own local curfews as well.)
  • For the first twelve months or until you turn 18, you may not carry more than one passenger under 20 years of age who is not a member of your immediate family.
  • After the first year, you may not carry more than one passenger in the front seat.
  • Except in emergencies, you may not use any kind of cell phone or mobile device, even a hands-free one.
  • You must maintain a clean driving record for the six months prior to your turning 18. If you receive a conviction for a moving violation, these restrictions may be extended beyond your 18th birthday.
  1. HOLD YOUR INSTRUCTION PERMIT FOR AT LEAST 9 MONTHS

    You mustn’t have any driving violations during this time.

  2. COMPLETE AN APPOVED DRIVER’S ED COURSE

    You may take a driver's education course at any public (not private) high school that offers it, or at a third-party provider. The course includes 30 hours of classroom instruction and 6 hours of driving practice.

    Upon completion of the course, you will receive a Certificate of Completion. Provide it to the Driver Services Facility.

  3. APPLY IN PERSON

    You must apply for the initial license at a Secretary of State Facility. Note that not all the Facilities offer the same services. Check before you go.

  4. HAVE YOUR SUPERVISED DRIVING LOGGED

    Bring your parent or guardian to certify that you have practiced supervised driving for at least 50 hours, 10 hours of which were at night. If your parent or guardian is unable to go with you, submit a completed, notarized copy of an Affidavit/Consent for Minor to Drive form that was signed by him or her.

  5. BRING DOCUMENTATION

    You should verify the following:

    • Your legal name
    • Your signature
    • Your date of birth
    • Your Social Security number (if you intend to apply for a TVDL, sign a declaration on your application that you are ineligible for a SSN)
    • Your residential address in Illinois

    To choose the documentation correctly use this list for a class D initial license, or this list while seeking a TVDL.

  6. COMPLETE THE APPLICATION FORM

    This form is not available online; you will have to pick one up at a Secretary of State Facility.

  7. PASS A DRIVING EXAM

    You will take the driving exam at a Secretary of State Facility on a walk-in basis. You have three chances to pass the test within the year from the date that you pay the application fee for the driver's license.

    However, high school (not commercial) driver's education courses are allowed to give their own state-approved driving exams to their high-performing student drivers. If you pass such a driving exam and pass the driver's ed course itself with a grade of A or B, you may bring your Cooperative Driver Testing Certificate to the Secretary of State Facility, and they may allow you to skip the road test (note that Secretary of State's office selects about 10% of students at random to pass the official driving exam anyway.)

  8. SURRENDER YOUR INSTRUCTION PERMIT AND PAY THE FEE IF REQUIRED

    If you obtain an initial driver's license before your instruction permit expires, you won't have to pay the fee of $30.00 (paid by card, cash or check).

  9. RECEIVE YOUR TEMPORARY INITIAL LICENSE

    Your permanent (plastic) license should be mailed to you within 15 business days for a Class D license or 20 business days for a TVDL. If you don't receive it, you can check its status online or by calling (217) 782-7044.

When you turn 18, all restrictions on your unsupervised driving will end except for cell phone use. However, once you turn 19, that restriction will end too; you'll be able to use hands-free devices like any other adult driver. At that point, your initial license will grant you the same driving privileges as a full (adult) license.

How to Apply for Your Class D Adult Driver’s License

To apply for a Class D or Temporary Visitor full (adult) driver's license, you must pass a vision test, a written exam, and a driving exam. Since you are at least 18 years of age, you don't have to hold an instruction permit.

First timer? Start with Step 1.

Instruction permit holder? Go to step 6.

1COMPLETE AN ADULT DRIVER’S ED COURSE

It's required only for those under 21 years of age unless they already completed some driver's ed course once before. The course lasts 6 hours, and you may take it online or in a classroom. (No actual driving is involved.) A list of approved course providers is here.

Download your Certificate of Completion and provide it to the Secretary of State Facility.

2APPLY IN PERSON

You must apply for the license in person at a Secretary of State Facility. Note that not all the Facilities offer the same services. Check before you go.

3BRING DOCUMENTATION

You should verify the following:

  • Your legal name
  • Your signature
  • Your date of birth
  • Your Social Security number (if you intend to apply for a Temporary Visitor Driver's License (TVDL), sign a declaration on your application that you are ineligible for a SSN)
  • Your residential address in Illinois

To choose the documentation correctly use this list when applying for a regular license or this list while seeking a TVDL.

4COMPLETE THE APPLICATION FORM

This form is not available online; you will have to pick one up at a Secretary of State Facility.

5PASS A VISION TEST

The minimum requirement for visual acuity is 20/40 with or without corrective lenses. Drivers with acuity between 20/41 and 20/70 are limited to daylight driving only.

6PASS A WRITTEN EXAM

It is taken on a walk-in basis. Make sure you practice online before you go. You will have three chances to pass the test within the year from the date on which you pay the application fee for the driver's license.

7PAY THE DRIVER’S LICENSE FEE

  • $5 (18-20 and 69-80 years of age)
  • $30 ( 21-68 years of age)

The fee is paid by cash, credit or debit card, personal check or money order.

Note that if you have an unexpired instruction permit, you won't have to pay a fee for the driver's license.

8PASS A DRIVING EXAM

You will take the driving exam at a Secretary of State Facility on a walk-in basis. You have three chances to pass the test within the year from the date that you pay the application fee for the driver's license.

However, if you took a high school (not commercial) driver's education course and passed it with a grade A or B followed by the school's state-approved driving exam, you may bring your Cooperative Driver Testing Certificate to the Secretary of State Facility, and they may allow you to skip the road test (note that Secretary of State's office selects about 10 % of students at random to pass the official driving exam anyway.)

9SURRENDER YOUR INSTRUCTION PERMIT IF YOU HAD ONE

10HAVE YOUR PICTURE TAKEN

You are not required to have your picture taken if you have an instruction permit.

11GET YOUR TEMPORARY (PAPER) LICENSE

Your permanent (plastic) license should be mailed to you within 15 business days for a Class D license or 20 business days for a TVDL. If you don't receive it, you can check its status online or by calling (217) 782-7044.

How long your new Illinois driver's license will be valid depends on the type of license and your age when it's issued to you. If you're issued a Temporary Visitor Driver's License (TVDL), it will be valid for three years and expire on your birthday or when your stay in the US ends, whichever comes first. It cannot be renewed. If you still need driving privileges after it expires, you will have to apply for a new TVDL.

Illinois Written Test (aka Knowledge Test)

Every driver must take a written exam every 8 years, except a driver having no traffic convictions. You can take an IL written test at a Secretary of State facility on a walk-in basis.
Take a free practice test
What does the test include?
The test consists of 35 multiple-choice or true-false questions that cover the contents of Illinois Rules of the Road Manual. You should be able to identify traffic signs by shape, color or symbol, know signals and pavement markings, traffic laws, safety rules, crash prevention and vehicle equipment.
How will I know if I have passed?
You will be given your grade when you are finished. You must score 80% or above to pass, which means no more than 7 mistakes are allowed.
How can I prepare for the test?
Study Illinois Rules of the Road Manual and take free practice tests available here. When you feel comfortable with your score, you are ready!
What common mistakes should I avoid?
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 manual when taking the actual test?
No, it’s considered cheating. Moreover, you mustn’t use your phone or other wireless devices. Anybody found cheating on any portion of the written exam will be failed and prohibited from retaking the exam for 30 days.
Can I take the oral exam instead of the written one?
Yes. You can request an oral examination in person at any Secretary of State driver’s license facility, Monday through Thursday. The services are provided for those who may have a language barrier or any type of reading or learning disability.
What happens if I fail the test?
You will still have 2 more attempts to take the test within a one-year period starting from the date of your first try.

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Road Test

Step-by-Step Guide
What to expect during IL road test
Road Test FAQ

You will take the test at a Secretary of State Facility on a walk-in-basis. The test evaluates your knowledge of a motor vehicle's basic equipment and your ability to operate a vehicle safely while obeying traffic laws.

You must provide your own vehicle in good working order, complete with front and rear license plates, registration sticker, and proof of liability insurance. A licensed driver must drive the vehicle to the testing facility for you.

Before the test

The vehicle you bring for the test should have the following features in working order:

  • Brakes
  • Headlights, taillights, license plate and parking lights
  • Turn signals
  • Safety belts
  • Mirrors (one rearview mirror is required)
  • Windows (clean, no tint on the front windshield (A 6-inch strip of tinting is allowed along the entire length at the top of the front windshield.) All glass must be free of obstructions between the driver and front or rear windows.
  • Wipers and horn
  • Muffler on the exhaust system (preventing excessive noise and smoke)

Note that you should be ready to demonstrate how to use the equipment above.

During the test

The examiner will tell you what to do. Your job is to follow the instructions and demonstrate safe driving techniques. Only the examiner can be with you in the car during the driving exam. Children or pets are not allowed in the vehicle during the exam and cannot be left unattended in the facility.  

Before you start:

  • Make sure you and the examiner are wearing seatbelts.
  • Make all adjustments to seats, mirrors and other equipment before the vehicle is put into motion.
  • Start the vehicle by checking the vehicle controls, including the parking brake and mirrors.

Your examiner will grade your ability to perform several driving tasks and maneuvers including the following:

  • Backing the vehicle approximately 50 feet at a slow speed, straight and smoothly. (Turn your head to the right and watch to the rear.)
  • A turnabout using an alley on the left side of the street. (Turn your left signal on before turning into the alley, back the car out of the alley and stay on your side of the street.)
  • Parking uphill on the side of the road. (Turn the front wheels away from the curb)
  • Starting uphill/downhill from a parked position. (Release the parking/emergency brake, give the correct signal, check for oncoming traffic and proceed when it is safe to do so)
  • Parking downhill on the side of the road. (Turn the front wheels toward the curb so the vehicle will roll toward the curb.)
  • Obeying all traffic signs
  • Giving right of way appropriately
  • Obeying lane markings
  • Using turn signals
  • Stopping at stop signs
  • Switching lanes
  • Turing left and right
  • Obeying all speed limits
  • Using mirrors to observe traffic situations
After the test

    Upon your return to the driver’s license facility, you will be told if you pass or fail. You will be able to discuss your errors with the examiner.

    If you pass, you will be issued your temporary (paper) license. If you fail, you will still have two more chances to pass the test within the year from the date that you pay the application fee.

How to Renew Your Driver’s License in Illinois

  • The Secretary of State's office will mail you a renewal letter 60 to 90 days before your license expires to remind you to renew it. The letter will describe the renewal options available to you.

    You always have the option to renew your driver's license in person at any convenient Driver Services Facility.

    Plan of Action:

    1. Apply in person on a walk-in basis at a Secretary of State Facility.
    2. Complete an application form (available at a Facility).
    3. Pass a vision test.
    4. Present your current driver's license to verify your identity. If something about your identity has changed, verify the change with supporting documents.
    5. Have your picture taken.
    6. Pay the renewal fee based on your age:
      1. Ages 21–68: $30.00
      2. Ages 69–80: $5.00
      3. Ages 81–86: $2.00
      4. Ages 87 and older: Free

      The fee can be paid by card, check or cash.

    The Driver Services Facility will issue you a temporary (paper) driver's license, which will be valid for 90 days. Your permanent (plastic) license should be mailed to you within 15 business days. If you don't receive it, you can check its status online or by calling (217) 782-7044.

    You will also take a written test once in 8 years while renewing your license if you have any traffic convictions. If you have an accident recorded on your driving record, you may be required to take the road exam as well.

    If your license expired more than a year ago, you will have to pass vision, written and road tests.

  • You can renew by mail only if the renewal letter sent to you by the Secretary of State office says so. In this case, follow the instructions in the letter.

    After your renewal application is processed, the Secretary of State's office will mail your new license to you within 15 business days. You will not receive a temporary (paper) license in the meantime. Therefore, consider renewing at least 30 days before your existing license expires to ensure that your new license will arrive in time.

  • You are eligible to renew online or by phone only if you meet all the following requirements:

    1. The Secretary of State's office has deemed you a "Safe Driver".
    2. You have the renewal letter you were sent. It contains your renewal authorization number.
    3. You do not have to retake any tests.
    4. You're willing to pay the renewal fee and a nominal online payment processing fee online.

    To renew online, do the following:

    1. Visit the Safe Driver Renewal webpage of the Secretary of State's office.
    2. Enter the Renewal Authorization Number on the front of the renewal letter.
    3. Then follow the displayed instructions.
    4. Pay the online renewal fee by card or withdrawal from your checking account.

      The renewal fee will depend on your age when you renew:

      Ages 22–68: $30.00

      Ages 69–74: $5.00

      You must also pay an additional nominal fee for paying online.

    To renew by phone, do the following:

    1. Call the Secretary of State's Telephone Renewal System at (866) 545-9607. It's available anytime, 24 hours a day.
    2. When it asks you whether you want to renew a driver's license or a license plate, say "Driver's license."
    3. On the next prompt, say the Renewal Authorization Number that is on the front of the renewal letter.
    4. Then follow the rest of the instructions.

    After your renewal application is processed, the Secretary of State's office will mail your new license to you within 15 business days. You will not receive a temporary (paper) license in the meantime. Therefore, consider renewing at least 30 days before your existing license expires to ensure that your new license will arrive in time.

New Residents: How to Get the Illinois Driver's License

If you want to drive in Illinois, you must convert your existing license to an Illinois noncommercial driver's license within 90 days of becoming a resident.
Out-of-state license Foreign license
Not sure if you are a resident of Illinois?
Are you an Illinois resident?
Illinois considers you a resident of the state if you reside in it for other than a temporary or transitory purpose.

I’ve Got a Valid Out-of-State License

Moving from another US state or territory? Welcome to Illinois!
Moving from another state?

If your out-of-state license is currently valid (not expired), you'll still have to pass a vision test and a written exam. If your license has expired, you may be required to pass a driving exam.

Plan of Action
  1. APPLY IN PERSON

    You must apply for the license in person at a Secretary of State Facility. Note that not all the Facilities offer the same services. Check before you go.

  2. BRING DOCUMENTATION

    You should verify the following:

    • Your legal name
    • Your signature
    • Your date of birth
    • Your Social Security number
    • Your residential address in Illinois

    To choose the documentation correctly, use this list.

  3. COMPLETE THE APPLICATION FORM

    This form is not available online; you will have to pick one up at a Secretary of State Facility.

  4. PASS A VISION TEST

    The minimum requirement for visual acuity is 20/40 with or without corrective lenses. Drivers with acuity between 20/41 and 20/70 are limited to daylight driving only.

  5. PASS A WRITTEN EXAM

    It is taken on a walk-in basis. Make sure you practice online before you go. You will have three chances to pass the test within the year from the date on which you pay the application fee for an instruction permit or driver's license.

  6. SURRENDER YOUR OUT-OF-STATE DRIVER'S LICENSE

  7. PAY THE DRIVER'S LICENSE FEE

    $5 (18-20 and 69-80 years of age)

    $30 (21-68 years of age)

    The fee is paid by cash, credit or debit card, personal check or money order.

  8. HAVE YOUR PICTURE TAKEN
driver's license in Illinois

The Driver Services Facility will issue you a temporary (paper) Illinois Class D full (adult) driver's license, which will be valid for 90 days. Your permanent (plastic) license should be mailed to you within 15 business days. If you don't receive it, you can check its status online or by calling (217) 782-7044.

I've Got a Valid Foreign License

Moving from another country? Welcome to Illinois!

The procedure of converting your foreign license is similar to converting an out-of-state license. However, there are two differences:

  • You'll probably have to take a driving exam as well. You can call the Illinois Secretary of State's office at (888) 261-5238 to find out if your foreign license, driver's education, and driving experience are sufficient for you to waive the Illinois driving exam.
  • You won't be required to surrender your foreign driver's license unless you are a US citizen.

Check how to convert your out-of-state driver's license here.

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