The CA DMV is overwhelmed with the level of response for the new federal compliant Real ID driver license and Identification Card. When you drive by one you’ll see the line snaking around the building and down the block during business hours. If you have the flexibility and can afford to wait, the DMV does offer appointment scheduling with the first availability routinely two months away. What if your driver license is due to expire and you don’t have the luxury of waiting? Your only option is walk-in service. There are two ways of approaching that course of action. You can wing it or be strategic. Those that don’t prepare may find themselves spending in excess of 5 hours at the DMV and if they are especially unlucky, they may find that the DMV has reached maximum capacity for the day and doesn’t have time to serve them. Then they are invited to return the next day. Life is too short. Be strategic.
I had an appointment for the Real ID driver license later in the month, but was hearing stories of long waits even with appointments. I decided to chose an earlier day and to see if I could minimize that aggravation with some strategic planning. The result was I left the local DMV this morning at 8:33am with a provisional driver license in hand and the promise that my new Real ID would arrive in the mail in the next 14 days.
This was my strategy:
1. Read the DMV checklist online. It specifies the supportive documents you must provide.
a. Prove Your Identity Your identity document must contain your true full name and date of birth (I chose my U.S. Passport)
b. Full Social Security Number Some sources: W-2, a Paystub with full SSN, SSA 1099 or a social security card (I chose my SS card)
c. California Residency A document that contains your name and residential address (I chose my utility bill)
2. Once your documents are organized, complete your application online. This will save you time. If you wait until you go to the DMV, you’ll be ushered to a row of computers to do it on-site. If you have prepared and done it ahead of time, you’ll have received a code that allows you to skip ahead of that line. The computers have been known to go down unexpectedly. Avoid that risk and complete the application ahead of time.
3. Go to the DMV early. They open at 8:00am. Be there by 6:30am and get in line because even at 6:30am, there is a line. It was a Friday and I was #10. Bring your documents and a pen, a book, a camp chair, your laptop, or coffee. Then wait patiently.
4. At 7:30am, you’ll sense movement. A security guard will come out to access the line. By 8:00am, there will be 150 people in the line. Be glad you came early and are #10. At 7:40am, DMV clerks will come out and will begin to screen those in the line. Why are you here? If it’s the Real ID, they’ll want to see your documents. The clerk will give you a yellow form where they have summarized your services to streamline the process once you’re inside. It has room for your name and phone number which you’ll be able to fill in if you remembered your pen.
5. At 8:00am, the doors open and those with appointments are herded inside ahead of the waiting masses. You will be ushered in behind them in order and if you are lucky enough to be in the first 10, you will immediately be directed to a window for processing. If you didn’t complete the Electronic Driver License and Identification Card (ID) Application before coming, you’ll be sent to the computers to do so. If you have the code, the clerk will access your application and process the supportive documentation you provide. Your right thumb will be scanned and you will pay your fee. My fee was $28 as I was merely exchanging my current driver license for the new Real ID driver license ( considered a duplicate fee).
6. The hard part is over! On to photo you will go. The process has taken 20 minutes and you still feel like smiling. It’ll likely be the best DMV picture you’ve ever taken.
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