Do You Need a Motorcycle License?

In most states, you must have a motorcycle license or endorsement to operate a bike legally. Additionally, you're often required to have a motorcycle license to drive mopeds and scooters above a certain engine size. Not following your state's motorcycle license requirements may lead to fines or even jail time.

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Depending on where you live, you must be 15 or 16 to get a permit to drive a motorcycle. Once you turn 18, you might be able to get a motorcycle license without having had a permit. State law varies depending on where you live, but a motorcycle license is usually inexpensive and only takes a few weeks for older drivers to get.

Do you need a motorcycle license to drive a motorcycle?

You have to to have a motorcycle license, endorsement or permit to drive a motorcycle, no matter which state you live in.

In most states, anyone under 18 has to carry a motorcycle permit before they can apply for a motorcycle license. Like a learner's permit for an automobile, riders with permits have to demonstrate their competence by driving a required number of hours accompanied by a licensed driver before getting their own license.

Drivers over 18 are often eligible for motorcycle licenses or endorsements without getting a permit first. Motorcycle licenses are stand-alone certifications for operating motorcycles, while endorsements are affixed to regular licenses but grant the same privileges as a motorcycle license.

How to get a motorcycle license

In order to get a motorcycle license, you must take a road test, supervised by an official from your local BMV or DMV. If you don't have a regular license, you might have to take a written road rules exam before your course test. Your motorcycle license is yours once you pay your fee — usually less than $20.

In some cases, you might be able to get a motorcycle license without taking a road test. Typically, this exception applies to experienced drivers. For instance, if you're an adult rider who already has a motorcycle permit, you could skip the road test if you pass a skills test on a closed course that's approved by your state's regulators.

Taking a skills test could pay off: Many motorcycle insurers offer a discount if you complete a closed-course safety test.

How long does it take to get a motorcycle license?

The time it takes to get a motorcycle license depends on a number of factors, such as your age and prior riding experience. If you're a seasoned motorcycle driver who has a permit, you could have a motorcycle license shortly after you pass your road test.

It could take longer for inexperienced drivers to get their motorcycle licenses. Riders who are under 18 are required in most states to carry a learner's permit before they can get a motorcycle license. Riders may have to carry learner's permits until they accrue a set number of hours on-road, or for a set number of months, before they can earn a full license of endorsement.

How much is a motorcycle license?

The price you pay for a motorcycle license depends on your experience, age and license type.

Because each state has different application fees and cost structures, you could have to pay $25 to over $100 for a motorcycle license. If you get a permit before a license, you'll have to pay a separate application fee from that, which is required for a full motorcycle license.

The cost of a permit and a motorcycle license can vary depending on the age of the applicant. Younger drivers tend to pay more for certification than older riders. We found that in some states, younger applicants could pay $30 more for certification than older motorcyclists.

It tends to be cheaper to pay for a motorcycle endorsement than a motorcycle license, since you're only paying for a modification to your existing license in the former case. It commonly costs about $10 to $20 to update an existing auto license.

The table below shows the cost of a motorcycle license or endorsement in three states.

StateNew licenseRenewalEndorsement
Texas$25.00$33.00$16.00
California$37.00$37.00$37.00
New York$82.50 - $107.50$17.50$12.50

Do you need a motorcycle license to drive mopeds or scooters?

Depending on which state you live in, you may need a motorcycle license to drive a scooter or moped.

The regulations that govern scooters and mopeds vary depending on where you live. Scooters almost always require registration and a motorcycle license. These vehicles often have engines that are 150 cubic centimeters (cc) or smaller. Conversely, mopeds with engine sizes smaller than 50cc don't require a special motorcycle license or registration.

If your moped or scooter has an engine that is 50cc or smaller, laws in California and other states only require you to have a standard driver's license or learner's permit. Other states don't require any license but do impose age limits on riders — in North Carolina and elsewhere, riders must be at least 16.

If your moped or scooter has an engine that is larger than 50cc, most states require that you have a motorcycle license or a driver's license with a motorcycle endorsement. For instance, a Vespa is considered a scooter in most states. If your Vespa is over 50cc, then you will need a motorcycle license to drive it in most cases.

Can you register a motorcycle without a license?

You don't technically need a motorcycle license to register a motorcycle, but you do need motorcycle insurance. And because most insurance companies require that you have a license in order to get coverage, it's harder to register your bike without a license.

To make matters more complicated, minors can have a hard time finding insurers who will sell them coverage. For example, 16-year-old motorcycle drivers have fewer options for insurance than 18-year-olds and may need to add their bikes onto a parent's policy to receive any coverage — license or not.

Though there are insurers that will sell you coverage without a license, they will probably charge you a higher premium. If you're a younger driver or someone who doesn't have a motorcycle license, you should compare prices from different providers before purchasing coverage to get the cheapest prices in your area.

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Penalties for driving a motorcycle without a license

In most states, driving a motorcycle without the right license can result in fines and even jail time. For instance, driving a motorcycle in California without a motorcycle license could result in a fine of up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail.

While some states have more lax penalties for unlicensed drivers, ultimately it's never a good idea to drive any vehicle without the appropriate license. As repeating offenders usually face penalties that accumulate with each offense, avoiding a $50 license fee could eventually result in hundreds of dollars in citations.

Joe Resendiz

Joe Resendiz is a former investment banking analyst for Goldman Sachs, where he covered public sector and infrastructure financing. During his time on Wall Street, Joe worked closely with the debt capital markets team, which allowed him to gain unique insights into the credit market. Joe is currently a research analyst who covers credit cards and the payments industry. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin, where he majored in finance.

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