Editor’s note: In this guest post by Linn Vermilion Smith (an American living near Quito in Pakakuna Gardens) you’ll read about how to start driving in Ecuador, including how she got her Ecuador drivers license, bought a car and registered it. This post gives the updated requirements.
Driving in Ecuador: How I Got My License, Bought a Car (and Registered it)
I have been living in Ecuador for 6 years and have never owned a car here, until now. The bus system in Ecuador is remarkable, both in the cities as well as cross country.
However, when we moved to Pakakuna Botanical Gardens, we decided we could use a car. Pakakuna is country living at its best, the key term here being country living. We are an hour from Quito by car and 1 ½ hours by bus, so we decided a car might be a good idea. Maybe yes, maybe no.
Becoming a Licensed Driver in Ecuador
In Ecuador, the average person has not been driving long. Cars are expensive here and there is no credit system to speak of. However, a few years back someone came up with the idea that they could use a person’s home as collateral (most people with homes own them outright.) All of a sudden there are thousands of people with cars who have never driven before and getting on the road with many of them gives new meaning to the term ‘defensive driving.’ To say that Ecuador does not quite have their system perfected yet is an understatement.
I have learned that living in Ecuador requires patience. The pace of life is much slower than in the states and nothing gets done quickly here. I have become fond of the laid-back way that Ecuadorians approach life and I have developed the patience and humor needed to thrive here. Even so, becoming a licensed driver has tried even my easy-going personality.
After going through the experience of shopping, registering, licensing, (both myself and the car) and insurance, I felt that I would be remiss in not discussing this process, and poking a bit of fun at a system that is very different from what one experiences in the USA. Nevertheless, I know many other expats who have cars and drive, so I figured, if they can do it I can do it.
Step 1: Getting My Ecuadorian Drivers License
I began with getting my driver’s license. I own a current license in the USA, which can typically allow one to forgo the driving school required by law in Ecuador. However, they want your driving record and my state requires one to appear in person to obtain the record. So, my second choice was to take a driving test at the school to prove I know what I am doing behind the wheel of a car.
It began with a coordination/reflexes test. Apparently, before a driving instructor gets in a car with you, they want to make sure they aren’t going to get killed. Fair enough. The test involved a simulated car, maneuvering through a short obstacle course a few times and braking and starting on a timer. I passed but the guy helped me with the maneuvering part.
The driving part was easy, and while I did everything the way I was supposed to, other drivers on the road were breaking the law all around me. Speeding, making turns from the wrong lane and flying through school zones caused us both (me and the instructor) to shake our heads in disbelief and the word loco (crazy) was mentioned a few times. I passed with flying colors, but got one point deducted because I did not open the hood and check the fluid levels in the car before I got in. Of course, this is something I used to do EVERY time before I drove my car back home. LOL!
Once I got my certificate and waited the mandatory 5 days for them to put me in the system, I was able to make an appointment for my written test. I was given a date a couple of days later, and a list of what I needed to bring with me.
Requirements for an Ecuadorian Drivers License
To begin driving in Ecuador, they require:
- receipt for the payment (you pay at a bank and bring the receipt)
- copy of cedula (country ID card)
- original cedula
- driving certificate from the driving school
- high school diploma
WHAT? I had to look twice because I could not believe it. Who has a copy of their high school diploma? I graduated from high school over 40 years ago. I have a copy of my college diploma, but couldn’t be sure they would accept that and wasn’t sure how to ask them, so I contacted my high school. They only had a copy of my transcripts, which they emailed to me, assuring me it was considered a legal document. Maybe in the USA, but in Ecuador, maybe not.
Anyway, it was a moot point because when I arrived for my test with all of my documents, the lady told me I didn’t need it because my cedula indicted ‘Superior’, which means I have attended college so they consider me smart enough to drive. I am wondering how many Ecuadorians without a high school diploma are out there on the roads?
Ecuador Driving Written Test
The transportation department in Ecuador is called ANT (Agencia Nacional de Tránsito). They have a website with 350 questions from which they select 20 for the written test.
I studied diligently with my limited Spanish and took the practice test many times, always passing. Some of the questions were about the signs here and some of them are so funny to me; like signs for a:
- karaoke place
- turtles crossing (not really – but there is a turtles sign for places that turtles frequent)
- bull fighting ring
- cows, horses crossing, etc., etc.
One practice test had a sign for parasailing. By the look of the sign I knew what it was but there were two answers with the term ‘para’ in them. I got it wrong, so went back to study it and make sure I had the right answer. Low and behold, that very question was on my real test.
Some of the questions are about how the motor runs. Apparently they want you to be able to do your own car repairs if you break down in traffic, I don’t know? The whole process of getting my license took about a month.
Step 2: Shopping for our Ecuador Car
After walking out with my license, it was time to go car shopping.
We had a budget of $15,000, so we started looking for a slightly used car and in that price range the Chevy was about our only choice. There are many Chevy cars here and repairs are supposed to be easy and cheap.
We hired a bilingual facilitator to take us around to used car lots in Quito. I highly recommend taking a local for this part of the process. Our guy was able to go to a website on his smart phone to check the car to make sure it wasn’t stolen and did not have any tickets against it. He also steered us away from a car that was painted white over yellow. (It was a taxi previously, yikes!)
We used a different facilitator for the registration, who had been through it many times, and it is a good thing we did. There are so many steps to this particular part of the process, we could have gotten lost easily.
Step 3: The Registration Process
Getting the Car Inspected
First, we needed to pass a safety check which was an hour away but not in Quito. We were required to make an appointment online, go to a payment center first to pay for this test, and bring the receipt with us. The car did not pass, it needed a different type of bulbs over the license plate, in the back brake lights and for one of the low beams.
We took our failed test outside of the testing area and there was a crew of men ready to sell us everything we needed and install. They have a great business going on and we were glad they did. After much wheeling and dealing, our facilitator was able to convince the guards to let us back in for a new test, although we had to bribe them with a few dollars. This time we passed with flying colors, although I was told that next year, we will have to change our type of brake lights.
This part of the process took about 5 ½ hours.
Paying the Transfer Fees and Taxes
Next we had to check the ANT website for payment of the transfer fee. The car has a current registration that is due next May, and we were only required to pay for a transfer into my name. It was a small fee of $15 and we went to a Banco Pichincha to pay it.
The next step was to pay the SRI bill, which is a small tax. We went to SRI, and were told we needed to go to Banco Pacifico to pay. We went there, and they told us to go back to SRI.
One Final Inspection and Registration
Our facilitator decided we should just go to the ANT (registration office) and see what they said. So, after this game of back and forth, off we went to ANT and pulled the car into the inspection area. Here they check the VIN number and made sure we had our required kit. It includes a fire extinguisher, little reflective triangles and a first aid kit. We were also required to have tools on board because of course we know how to fix our car if it breaks down.
We almost didn’t pass because we had no rag in the car for checking fluid levels, but when my husband offered his shirt, we got a little chuckle out of the inspector and he told us to get a rag and let it pass. Then, they gave us a payment receipt and sent us back to the bank. Not just any bank would do, only one specific bank about 5 miles away could accept our payment. This payment is for the actual printing of the Matricula (registration.)
Once that was done, back to ANT for the paperwork.
But, surprise, we could not get that accomplished for at least 2 hours because they could not find us in their system. We were told we could either wait, or come back. We went to lunch and when we returned, we had miraculously appeared in their system and were able to get the deed done. This part of the process took about 5 hours.
Without our lovely facilitator, we could not have completed this. She was a great help and knew how to talk to people with a light attitude and smiles. I think she was flirting with the men and it worked. When the gentleman asked for our receipt from Banco Pichincha, we offered it up and our facilitator told us under her breath that it was supposed to be for $150 instead of $15, but this is what the bill said and we were very lucky they made a mistake. Hope this one doesn’t come back to bite me in the rear. LOL! By the way, if any of you would like the name and number of our facilitators, email me.
Insuring Our Car in Ecuador
Getting the insurance took about a week. We had an agent in Cuenca for our home insurance, so we arranged to use his company again. They have an office in Quito too. They sent a guy out to inspect the car a few days later and then, after another few days, we had to go to Quito to sign the contract and pay for the first year, which was only $570 for full coverage including uninsured driver and under-insured driver. Now I just need to learn a lot of car terms in Spanish, in case I ever need to call the 24 hour number for towing or something. OMG, time to start studying again.
All in all, drivers here seem to be a bit wild, but there are very few accidents. I am a defensive driver so I am sure I will be fine.
Once, on our way home a few days ago, there was a big rain storm and it was coming down in biblical proportions. Everyone, and I mean everyone on the freeway was driving very slowly. I was so relieved to discover that they have learned a healthy respect for driving conditions in rain.
Right now, the car is at the Chevy dealer having some routine maintenance. I dropped it on Monday and was told it would be done Wednesday afternoon. On Wednesday I called and they said it would be ready Friday. This is the same old Ecuadorian situation we affectionately refer to as ‘the mañana syndrome.’ Mañana means tomorrow (and morning) in Spanish, but what it really means in Ecuador is, any unknown time in the future. You get used to it.
Driving in Ecuador: Your Turn
Have a question for Linn? Or are you already driving in Ecuador? Join Linn in the comments!