The Quest to get a Mexican Driver’s License

When we arrived in Puerto Vallarta to start the quest of finding a house that would be suitable to turn into Casa Madera Bed & Breakfast we were driving a brand new Toyota Rav 4.  We loved that vehicle.  It was great to drive, good on gas and the air conditioning worked which was a BIG plus for those of us trying to get accustomed to warmer weather.

Unfortunately the fact that a good many of the roads are cobblestone caused us to think that this was not the place to have a new vehicle so we decided to drive it back to Canada in August 2009 and sell it while we were visiting family.  It hurt to sell it but it was for the best.

When we returned to Puerto Vallarta at the beginning of September we set about looking for a vehicle.  That was lots of fun as the main car dealers do not sell a lot of Semi-Nuevos as they call them here.  This meant that we were forced to go to the used car lots which was always so much fun in Canada.  Well its double the fun here when your Spanish is limited.

We did eventually find 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee that we could live with at a reasonable price and did the deal.  The car dealer was gracious enough to send his wife with us when we went to go register it and that was a good thing as the original bill of sale was written on a form that was 2 days past its valid dates of use.  This meant they had to procure another bill of sale that was valid before the state would transfer ownership of the car.  Without the sellers wife, we would have had nothing but frustration.

While there we saw that the driver’s license bureau was right across the hall.  Now we had noticed that driving in Mexico was unique at best but we figured they all had to have driver’s licenses, didn’t they?  So we asked our helper about getting Mexican driver’s licenses.

We wandered across the hall and spoke to the receptionist who said to come back at 4:00 that afternoon for the test.  Our helper said that we would take a written test and then an actual driving test!  Cripes, I had not taken a practical drivers test since I was 16, neither had Heather.  Well that will be fun.  Sure hope the examiner speaks english!

We arrived at 4:00 and were ushered into the room at the back and told to take seats.  We did and more people arrived so soon we were sitting with about 20 other people, all Mexicans, of ages from 16 to 35.

The instruction welcomed us and then proceeded to lecture us in Spanish for 90 minutes on the rules of road.  Heather and I looked at each other and laughed silently…RULES!  Get out-of-town.  There are no rules.  The only rule we could see that when the light phase was about to change from red to green someone was going to be honking at the front vehicles to get their collective butts in gear and get moving.

Apparently though, there are rules.  The driver must wear a seat belt.  You must not follow the vehicle ahead of you too close.  Speeding kills. etc.  All rules we knew from driving for 35 years.

This lecture took place in Spanish, of course, but we both found that we were able to understand a good part of what the officer was saying.  It became totally apparent that we did because he looked at Heather and asked her how long she had been driving.  35 years she responded and he looked to me for an answer to the same question.  I repeated the same answer and on he went through the room getting answers like 1, 2 or 5 years throughout most of the room.  He then said that because of the two people in the front row, gesturing to Heather and I, that no one would have to take the practical driving test because we brought the class average up to 15 years driving experience!  You have to be kidding me!  It was a little shocking but neither one of us was upset about not having to take a practical exam.

It was then he told us to come back tomorrow after 9:30 and do the written test.

We arrived right at the appointed time and got checked in.  The instructor from the night before motioned me over to the computer and gave me a demonstration on how the system works.  I had 20 questions to answer.  He did not tell me what the fail mark was  but during the course of the demonstration he answered the first question for me.  I wondered if it was my sparkling blue eyes or the fact that sitting in my hands was a Spanish/English dictionary.

We had been told that the test was in Spanish but we would be allowed a translation dictionary for help.  So there I was, facing my first real question that I had to answer and looking up words like there was no tomorrow.  We had taken 3 semesters of Spanish but you only learn so much and we found that out in spades.

After about 3 minutes I thought I had a grasp on what the question was about and then looked at the answers.  I caught a break as the answer was obvious even in a different language.  On to question 3.  I was rifling through the dictionary like my life depended on it.  And really it did.  What good are you at 51 when you cannot pass a drivers test after driving for 35 years?

After answering question 3 I was reading question 4 when I sensed a presence beside me.  It was a security guard.  I looked up at him and he said in English, “Do you understand Spanish?”  I replied that I could understand a little and words I did not know I was looking up and so far things were going ok.  I thought that was a little odd that he would come in and talk to me while I was working on the exam but quickly forgot about it.

For 35 minutes I flipped pages, tried to figure out words and gave what I could not get my best guess.  The people there were quite amused with the gringo trying to do this test.

I finished the test and called the instructor over who came over and scored the exam.  The look on his face when 90% came up was priceless.  Of course I could not stop beaming!

At that point it was quick, he took my picture and printed off my secure license right there.  No need to wait 15 days for it show up like in a Canadian province that I know.

They had a lot of people waiting to take this test and they had two computers.  After they got Heather sat down at the one I had been working on they put a 16-year-old boy at the other computer.  Heather was working diligently at her test and completed it faster than me and passed it as well.  It was a happy day for both of us!

And then we ran into a glitch.  The computer they were printing Heather’s license on froze.  The license would not print so they told us to wait while they called someone.  We were hanging around the door waiting when the sister of the boy at the other computer asked Heather what she put for this particular question.  WTF??  You don’t ask someone what they put for an answer on an exam question???

Heather went over and looked at the question figuring what the hell, the woman who acted as a proctor was sitting right there and did not bat an eye when the woman asked Heather for help.  Heather said “I put C”.  It was then that the proctor piped and said (without a word of a lie), “That is not the right answer, it is B”.  huh….You mean we could have asked you for help!  Give me a break!

I cannot speak for Heather but for 35 minutes I sweated over that test.  The Old Spice was working hard keeping me fresh during that time and my brain was tired.  What really irritates me is it did not need to be!  For a small fee, it turns out the security guard would have written test for both of us and we would have walked away as fresh as a daisy with no problems what so ever.  And from what we understand now many people we know have taken the small fee route which worked for them but I can tell all of you this.  They don’t have the sense of pride and accomplishment that Heather and I did walking out of the Motor Vehicles office, getting into our car and driving to Victor’s for a Corona and a shot to celebrate.

2 thoughts on “The Quest to get a Mexican Driver’s License”

  1. I loved your description. Dealing with authorities and desk clerks is a lot of fun here. We recently moved to Puerto Vallarta, I hope my husband reads your article -he is english/southafrican. I’m sure he will find it encouraging.

    1. There is never a dull moment here is there! Puerto Vallarta is great place to be and you get used to dealing with the authorities. Welcome! And thank you for the comment

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