How To Get A Motorcycle License In California?

A driver's license doesn't permit you to drive every type of vehicle there is. If you want to drive a two- or three-wheeled vehicle in California, you'll need to get something specifically for motorcycles. A motorcycle license allows you to drive two-wheel vehicles and is obtained separately from your driver's license. So, what are the steps to getting this type of license in California? We've done the research and can tell you what you have to do!

To get a motorcycle license in California, you must:

  1. Complete a California Highway Patrol approved Motorcyclist Safety Program training course to receive a DL 389 certificate.
  2. Complete an application for a license.
  3. Verify your identity, provide your social security number, and prove residency documents to the DMV.
  4. Pay the application fee.
  5. Pass a vision exam.
  6. Get fingerprinted and have your photo taken.
  7. Pass a knowledge test.
  8. Take a driving test.
  9. Receive a temporary license.

Keep reading to learn more about what to expect during the application process, how much the DMV and safety course fees are, and how long it takes to get a motorcycle license.

Young man in a helmet on the motorbike is showing driving license, How To Get A Motorcycle License In California?


Getting A Motorcycle License

In the state of California, anyone over the age of 16 can have a motorcycle license. You can apply for a motorcycle instruction permit once you're 15 and a half.

Motorcyclist Safety Program

A safety course approved by the California Highway Patrol is required for all riders under 21. Highway Patrol offers two different safety courses. The basic course is 15 total hours. You'll spend five hours in a classroom and ten hours riding. The premier course is 21 total hours.

This program has 7.5 hours in a class and 13.5 hours riding. The premier program is only available to riders over 21. You can sign up for both courses through the Motorcycle Safety website.

Once you complete the course, you'll receive a certificate of completion. This document, a DL 389, will allow you to skip the motorcycle driving test at the DMV. Those under the age of 21 will be allowed to apply for their instruction permit after completing the course.

Instruction Permit (Under 21)

If you are under the age of 21, then you need to hold a motorcycle instruction permit for a minimum of six months. After receiving your DL 389, you can go to a California DMV to apply for your permit. Complete a driver's license or identification application. Then, provide the DL 389, your full legal name, and your social security number.

From there, you'll have to pay a fee, be thumb printed, as well as pass a knowledge exam. You'll receive your permit only after you pass the knowledge test.

Apply For License

If you're over 21, you can immediately apply for your motorcycle license. To do so, you'll need to start by filling out either a driver's license or ID card application. Then, you will provide some documentation. These include:

  • Social security number
  • Proper identity verification documents
  • A current identification card.
  • Residency documents (for new California residents)

You'll need to have your picture taken and be fingerprinted. Finally, you'll have to pass a vision, knowledge, and skills test if you don't have a DL 389.

Knowledge Test

You have up to three tries to pass the skills and knowledge tests. The knowledge test has 25 questions. You must get at least 21 questions correctly to pass the test. If you happen to fail, you will have to retake the test. Applicants under 18 will have to wait seven days to retry. While applicants over 18 can take the examination the same day.

Skills Test

If you completed the motorcycle safety course, then you can skip the skills test at the DMV. You may still be required to pass the observation test. This is where a DMV examiner watches you handle a motorcycle.


If you haven't finished a motorcycle training course, you'll be required to take the skills test. Before you demonstrate your driving skills, you'll need to identify parts on your motorcycle. These parts can include:

  • Starter
  • Throttle
  • Kill Switch
  • Headlight dimmer
  • Brakes
  • Turn signals
  • Horn


Finally, you'll need to show you know how to drive a motorcycle. You'll be asked to show these skills:

  • Riding in tracking paths
  • Serpentine riding
  • Circle riding
  • Slow riding
  • Gear shift riding

Skills tests are done by appointment only. If you fail your test, you have to reschedule for a new day. You'll also pay a $7 retesting fee.

Temporary License

Once you have passed all the necessary tests, you will receive your temporary license. Your new motorcycle license will come in the mail at a later date.

How long does it take to get a motorcycle license in CA?

It typically takes two weeks to receive your new license in the mail. However, this time can vary. A temporary license is valid for 60 days. The California DMV recommends contacting them if you haven't received your new license within that time.

The actual process of being issued a motorcycle license varies mostly by age. Applicants under 21 can expect a minimum of six months until they can get a license. The process is faster for those 21 and over. In those cases, you'll have a license as soon as you can complete the application process and pass the tests.

How much money does a motorcycle license cost in CA?

The fee for either an original or renewed motorcycle license is $38. DMV application fees are non-refundable. There are additional fees for taking a motorcycle safety course. These fees are separate from DMV fees.

How much is the motorcycle safety course in CA?

Those under the age of 21 can expect to pay $295 for the California Highway Patrol safety course. People over 21 will pay up to $350.

Can you buy a motorcycle without a license in CA?

You won't need a motorcycle license to purchase this type of vehicle. However, a regular driver's license doesn't permit you to drive a motorcycle. If you're purchasing for yourself, you'll need a motorcycle license to drive legally.

For more information, check out, Can You Buy A Motorcycle Without A License?

What happens if you get pulled over without a motorcycle license in CA?

Driving without a license can be charged as either a misdemeanor or an infraction. Here a misdemeanor can result in up to six months jail time and a $1,000 fine. An infraction is a fine of up to $250.

In Closing

Getting a motorcycle license in California is similar to getting a regular driver's license. You'll have to prove your identity and pass a knowledge and vision test. While a safety course isn't always required, it is highly recommended. This course also allows you to skip the driving test and gives you the necessary skills. 

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