Getting a Driver’s License in Greenville, SC

What some people refer to as the DMV I now refer to as the county reading room.  Let’s not kid ourselves.  It’s less a department and more a lounge.  It’s less about helping you drive your car legally in the state and more about keeping it in the parking lot.  Really, though, I suppose it’s a little too cliche to gripe about the efficiency of a DMV, but my did I enjoy sitting in my new office.  Here’s how you can enjoy it less than I did.

To start with, there are two places downtown where you’ll need to do business to get your driver’s license and license plate, the Greenville County Square and the DMV off University Ridge just south of Reedy Falls Park.  (Yes, I basically know my way around this city in relation to that glorious waterfall; I don’t see that changing any time soon.)  I list them in this order for you, because I went to the DMV first before finding out I had to go to the County Square to pay my vehicle taxes before getting my license plate. No worries, the line was only about 10 minutes long that first visit…

Also, another sidebar (because I’m good at that) – as I drove around trying to find these buildings, it struck me that some general contractor must have made a killing selling cheap, energy efficient, ugly brown brick buildings to the county government.  Really, everything about these buildings and other government offices I’ve seen in the area is ugly.  It’s not brown brick like a nice stately brick home in a dated neighborhood.  It’s certainly not the brownstone you’ll find in Brooklyn.  It’s brown brick like … I don’t know what like, but I’ll just say a prison, though I picture those being more concrete (or on fire / in various states of riot in South America).

But I digress. Before you go off to any office, first you must gather the necessary paperwork.  This is going to include your existing license and vehicle title, a social security card, a passport or birth certificate, a proof of insurance, and something else confirming your new address just in case (I used our mortgage because we had not received any bills yet).  With all this in hand, you’re ready to spend some time enjoying the hospitality of your county government accomplishing the following tasks:

  1. Pay your property tax.  First head to the County Square room 800 on the far left to grab your tax bill.  They’ll need to see your title and proof of your new address here.  My bill turned out to be less than $30 because my truck is nice and old with a blue book value I’m sure is reaching into the negatives.  I’m surprised they didn’t just give me money at the window.  In any event, you get your bill in room 800 and then pay up front on your way back to the parking lot.  Relatively quick and painless, though apparently no one cares enough to boot pan handlers out of the waiting line.
  2. Get your form on at the DMV.  Head across to the street to the DMV to get forms for your driver’s license and new motor vehicle registration.  If you have an out of state license, there are extra requirements for getting your driver’s license.  Don’t fret, though.  If you brought everything I said, you’ll be fine.  Unfortunately, I did not have a good enough proof of address then first (well, second) time I went to the DMV, so I went home and returned the following day.  Now, when I showed up, they gave me forms and I filled them out in advance so I wouldn’t be held up at the DMV, but this is far from a requirement.  I actually waited for about 2 hours to be served, so you’ll have plenty of time to fill out the two forms.  You may want to print them and fill them out in advance if you think you’ll have trouble coming up with the details, but it should be in all that paperwork I said to bring.
  3. Wait for that number.  This is the part where you need to pick a book or three magazines you’ve been waiting to read and tear through them.  You’ll be waiting a while for your sweet number to be called even after filling out those forms, and I don’t think anyone around you will be in the mood to strike up a conversation.  Remember, griping about the DMV is cliche, especially while you’re in the DMV.
  4. Hand it all in!  License first then license plate if you can.  I say if you can, because when I showed up, the license machines were down.  Now, I was told at the time it had something to do with Leap Day.  I was really trying to get my stuff sorted out ASAP, and I was a little geeked that I’d have a driver’s license issued on Feb. 29th, so I was more than a little disappointed when I found out they don’t do those on Leap Days.  Lo and behold, after two and a half hours in the office, the machine suddenly started working again.  I think it had less to do with Leap Day (most convenient excuse the receptionist could come up with?) and more about poorly maintained computer systems that literally took 25 minutes to reboot while we were all waiting to be served.  So I first had to go through the hassle of an out of state title transfer / registration before getting my driver’s license.  The good bit is that waiting in the DMV for over 3 hours one day saved me a fourth trip to the office the following day!  Man, if only that read as good as it felt at the time.
  5. Wait to take your picture.  Pinch your cheeks to rosy them up, toss your hair about a bit to give it volume (see picture above), suck that peppercorn out of your tooth, and wait to be called for your photo op.  I may know from personal experience that asking how your picture turned out is worth a flattering compliment from the camera lady.  May.  She also said smiling was optional, but personally I rarely think it is.  Smile wide!
  6. Stop by Reedy Falls Park on the way home.  I mean, really, you’re so close.

And that about sums it up!  The worst part for me was not knowing what paperwork I needed when.  The DMV website was mostly unhelpful, and their technical difficulties almost cost me a fourth trip.  Coming with more than the required paperwork simply can’t hurt you.  Just make sure you don’t pack it in something too dorky… you do want these people to feel confident with you on the road, so inspiring confidence it the name of the game.

And since we’re closing on the topic of confidence games… well, no, maybe next time.  Bon nuit!