My Recent Experience Renewing my Driver’s License and Getting a REAL ID Card

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Recently I received a driver’s license renewal notice from the California DMV. I received the renewal notice four months prior to the expiration date. The notice indicated that my last two renewals have been by mail and that the coming renewal required me to renew at a DMV office.

I wondered why they were requiring me to go into a DMV office to renew the license this time. According to the DMV, in order to renew by mail, you must provide your Social Security number and be under 70 years old when your current license expires, and answer “no” to all of the following questions:

  1. Have your last two licenses been renewed by mail?

  2. Has your license been expired for over one year?

  3. Does your license expire more than 60 days from today?

  4. Are you currently on any type of driving probation?

  5. Are you changing or correcting your name?

  6. Do you have a driver’s license from more than one state or jurisdiction?

  7. Within the past two years, were you convicted of any vehicle code moving violations, did you fail to appear in court for any vehicle code moving violation, were you suspended for DUI or refuse or fail to complete an alcohol screening test or have you been at fault in one or more collisions?

OK, no problem, it is what it is.

The renewal notice first required me to complete an application online at www.dmv.ca.gov.

To complete the application, you must create an Online Service account on the DMV website. They require a two-factor authentication to prove your digital identity, which means you’ll need an email address as well as a way to receive a text message or phone call for a six-digit confirmation code. If you do not want to do this at your phone or computer, you can do it on a terminal at a DMV office.

After you create the account, you will need to confirm your name, address, Social Security number (if applicable) and the type of card you are applying for. They will also ask if you want to register to vote and if you want to be a registered organ and tissue donor; however these will not be completed until you visit a field office to complete the registration process.

So after after completing the application, which was actually quite painless and quick, you will receive a confirmation code. Bring the code to the DMV office to continue the license renewal process.

The next stop is scheduling an appointment. For me, this was the broken step. There’s a link provided to make an appointment. You select an office and look for a time. I searched five different DMV offices and there were absolutely no times available. But as one might expect it to do, the appointment system did not give any hints as to other DMV offices with available openings, nor did it show the “next available” day and time available. For me, this was an exercise in futility. Truly a glitch in the system when you have to spend hours attempting to schedule an appointment online…to save time.

So instead, I drove to the Thousand Oaks DMV office at 8am on a Tuesday morning.

This was a great move. No line! No hassle!

Awaiting my turn at the Thousand Oaks DMV.

Awaiting my turn at the Thousand Oaks DMV.

I had all the documentation with me, including the renewal form and $36 renewal fee.

But I decided to up the ante and upgrade my license to the REAL ID card. The REAL ID card is a federally-mandated card that, unless you prefer to carry your passport with you, will be required to board domestic airline flights or access some federal facilities beginning October 1, 2020. So for example, on October 1, 2020 you have a flight from Burbank to Vegas. If all you have is your standard driver’s license, they won’t let you fly; you’ll need either the REAL ID or a U.S. passport even for a domestic flight. MORE ON REAL ID

The key is being prepared. I was prepared for REAL ID. There’s an online checklist at www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/realid/checklist that includes the following:

  1. Proof of identity – such as U.S. passport or passport card, certified, copy of U.S. birth certificate, etc.

  2. Full name^ – if your true full name is not listed on the identity document, you will need to provide a document that shows that.

  3. SSN – you need to prove your SSN by showing a Social Security card, W-2 or other items.

  4. Where do you live – you will need two different documents showing your current address, such as utility bills, medical documents, mortgage bill, etc.

With all of the above in hand, plus a backup document. I showed the documentation at the front counter after waiting briefly in a line. The clerk was impressed with my organizational skills. On to the next step in the process.

^ As additional clarification, if your current name is different than your maiden name, bring documentation showing your name change(s) - e.g. marriage certificates or other original or certified documentation showing the name change.

They gave me a number. The line was extremely short on a Tuesday morning (though when I was done around 9:15am, there were quite a few more people waiting). After about 10 minutes, my number was called.

I went to the counter and told the clerk that I was there to renew my license and to migrate to the REAL ID. She asked for all my documents and reviewed them, taking photos of most of them as I recall. She also had me provide a thumbprint. All digital. No ink involved.

After just a few minutes’ wait, the next step was a vision test. I passed!

Next up, photo time. She sent me to the photo guy and told me to come back when done. There was no line. Just a quick “stand there behind the line” and a quick smile and I was on my way back to the counter.

The final step was my only “fumble.” The renewal fees paid at the DMV office currently cannot be paid via credit card – choices arer cash, check, money order or debit cards. Doh! Luckily, I had visited the ATM recently and gave her cash. Credit cards can actually be used for internet based transactions – but not for in person and by mail transactions. At least not at this time.

That was it. Done! She printed my receipt and a temporary license, should for some reason I not receive the new license prior to the expiration date of my current license. Fingers crossed!


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THE EPILOGUE

It is Monday, August 26th. I came home to a REAL ID card in the mail., which was great news. The postmark on the envelope was August 22nd. So I’m happy!

But…getting this card took more effort than I originally thought. My license expired in mid-July but I was given a temporary license to carry with me until the new card was received. I waited and called and waited. No card.

I called and told them the situation. No card. Was it sent? No. Why? I was asked what document did I bring to show my proof of identity. I told them I brought my passport. DMV indicated the Department of Homeland Security was reviewing my documents to verify they were legitimate. Well, ok.

Two weeks later, not card. I called again and told them my temporary license was expiring soon. They told me I could call the DHS/DMV Legal Presence Unit to find out what the holdup was. This was getting a bit time consuming. Where the hell is my card?

But I called the number, and each call ended with “We are currently experiencing higher than average call volume. Please try your call later.” Higher than average, eh? Does that mean when call volume is lower than average they answer the phone immediately?

So, the day before my temporary license was to expire (and about a month after my actual license had expired), I had the pleasure of visiting the Thousand Oaks DMV again.

When I told the clerk my situation - that my REAL ID never came in the mail and my temporary license was about to expire, of course she sent me to a line to apply for a new driver’s license.

I was unsure of why I would have to do that. Do I start the whole process again? I was completely unprepared for that.

So I went back and stood in the line again, and this time, another woman understood the situation and issued me a new temporary license on the spot. She also told me the REAL ID would be mailed to me soon.

Success at last!

Most of the folks I dealt with at the DMV were nice and courteous. But it is glaringly apparent that the organization needs a complete re-do. The DMV needs to hire experts to review processes in place and how they can be improved. Processes currently seem so unnecessarily complicated and confusing that frustration is bound to happen.