How To Get Your Texas Driver License If You’re Moving From Another State

Or: The True Story of How I Failed Hard at Getting My Texas Driver License

Hi. My name is Avery, and this is my little blue car, Bedelia. (Yes, my car has a name, yours doesn’t?) Bedelia and I have been through a lot together over the years, including driving 14 hours from my hometown in Tennessee to Austin, Texas, where I currently reside.

Fact: When you first move to Texas you have 30 days to register your car in the state and 90 days to obtain a Texas driver license. I waited a little longer than 30 days before I decided to do all that  — but the point is that I finally got around to it and I’m here to tell you about the whole ordeal now.

If you’re moving to Texas and are worried about the process of getting your license and registration — don’t be. It only took me a week, and yeah, I know that sounds bad, but I also made a lot of mistakes. Call me Jon Snow, cause I know nothing.

Getting your driver license in Texas as a new resident requires three main steps:

  1. Get an official state vehicle safety inspection — at one of these places.
  2. Get your car registered in Texas — at your county tax office.
  3. Surrender your old driver license and apply for a Texas license — at your local DPS.

Here’s how that process went for me and what you can do to make it better.

Day 1 (Saturday) — Vehicle Safety Inspection

Time: 2 hours

Cost: $18.50

What I needed: Proof of insurance

It was a beautiful Saturday morning when I finally felt inspired to start the process of registering my car in Texas. Maybe it was because my migas at brunch were extra delicious that day, who can say. Anyway, I pulled into the nearest Jiffy Lube and was told it would take 45 minutes before my car (Bedelia, if you forgot) would be ready. The J. Lube is apparently a hoppin’ place on Saturday.

No problemo — there was sunshine and I was happy. An attendant took down my phone number and said he would call when it was time to pick up Bedelia. I gave Bedelia a pat on her bumper and went for a walk in Hyde Park. Here’s the thing: It actually took over two hours before J.L. called. Now you know my first mistake.

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Pro Tip #1

Get your car inspected during the workweek, if at all possible. Most local places are closed on the weekend, so you’re gonna find yourself at a Jiffy Lube and the wait will be long. Your lunch break might not be the most fun, but you could save a lot of time.

Day 3 (Monday)  — Texas Vehicle Registration

Time: 30 minutes

Cost: $203.43

What I needed: Driver license, Proof of insurance, car title, proof of safety inspection, application to register (got at the tax office)

I woke up early on Monday morning and headed to the Travis County Tax Office at opening time to get my vehicle registered. The tax office sounds like a scary place, but it’s not so bad. In fact, the office next door is where you go to pick up marriage licenses. Awww. And here I thought that all you needed for marriage was a guy down on one knee asking: “Will you accept this rose?”

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The woman at the front desk gave me a ticket to wait in line. Uh, oh. I got there at like 7:37! How long would this take? Fortunately for me, my number was called within 10 minutes of arrival. Nice, Travis County Tax Office. Why did I ever doubt you?

Everything else went smoothly until I learned how much it costs to register your vehicle for the first time in Travis County  … TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS. Ouch, right?

Later in the day, my mom texted me to say that it costs $28 to register a car in Franklin County, Tennessee. Either she takes pleasure in my misfortune or she wants me to move home.

Pro Tip #2

Get to the tax office as soon as it opens so you don’t have to wait in line. Also, make sure you have a couple hundred-dollar bills to spare. And I mean that literally. I got charged a 3 percent fee for paying with a card. Much like Tony Soprano, Texas prefers to do business in cash.

Day 4 (Tuesday) — Texas Driver License: An Epic Fail

Time: 10 minutes

Cost: N/A

What I needed: I obviously didn’t know

The club was going up on a Tuesday. Not really, but I was feeling fierce because I was on the third and final step: getting my license. I woke up extra early to perfect my hair and makeup because — call me vain — but I need to look Derek-Zoolander good on the ID I plan on using for the next several years.

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If you read the headline, you knew that my trip to the DPS did not go well. But I did learn some things. And as my mother always says, mistakes are okay if you learn from them.

Pro Tip #3

Here’s what I did right: Get in line online. Yes, that’s exactly what it sounds like. If you live in Austin, San Antonio, Houston or Dallas you can get in line at the DPS virtually. Basically, you input your phone number on the DPS website and the system will send you a text message letting you know how long your wait is. So instead of sitting at the DPS for hours, you can go about your day until your turn approaches. Pretty sweet, right?

Like an aggressive Adele fan waiting to buy concert tickets, I continuously refreshed my web browser until the virtual line opened around 7:30 a.m. The physical DPS doesn’t open until 8, so my wait time was two minutes. I ended up running behind schedule, so I just texted back “M” for more time, and the system moved me to the back of the line. You can also text back “M” plus the number of minutes you want to be pushed back. It’s amazing. Good job, government.

Pro Tip #4

Here’s what I did wrong: Brought a photocopy of my birth certificate. You might be thinking, duh, of course you can’t use photocopies. Well I didn’t see that teensy part when I was looking up what documents to bring — excuse me for not having hawk eyes. For some reason I brought only a copy of my birth certificate as my proof of ID instead of another acceptable document I already have: my passport. Face palm. I was turned away at the DPS and told to return the next day. Moral of the story: no photocopies!

P.S. Apparently your old driver license doesn’t count as a form of ID … don’t ask me why.

Day 5 (Wednesday) — Bedelia Won’t Start

I won’t bore you with the details, but just when I absolutely needed my car, Bedelia wouldn’t start. Curses.

Day 6 (Thursday) — Texas Driver License: A Success Story

Time: 15 minutes

Cost: $25

What I needed: Driver license, passport, W-2, proof of insurance, proof of vehicle registration, application for license (got at the DPS)

I got in line online again and waited at the DPS for approximately three minutes before my number was called. This time I was fully prepared with the right documents, and was out the door in 15 minutes. Best DPS experience ever.

I now have a temporary paper license that has my name spelled wrong — don’t worry, the DPS employee assured me it would be fixed on the real thing. (My middle name is Virginia. Guess what word it looks like when missing a couple letters.) Fingers crossed, guys.

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There you have it: I made it through this process and lived to tell the tale. Ok, I’ll stop being so dramatic.

Have more questions about getting your driver license in Texas? Learn more here.