GringosAbroad Ecuador

How to Get a Car and Drivers License in Ecuador (Expat Guide)

Posted in: Living in Ecuador

Over the past few months, we’ve been working to get licensed so we can drive here in Ecuador. And we’ve spent significant time shopping for and then registering our car.

Here is the process to get your license and a car, should you be brave enough to try. . .

Guide to Ecuador driving license

Update, June 2013: There is a faster, smoother way to get your drivers license in Ecuador. Read about: How to get your Ecuador drivers license fast.

Step 1: Paperwork 

Covers the initial steps of getting the license – namely registering for the drivers course. Not as simple as it sounds – a dozen different documents are needed (some expected, some bizarre) and its a goose chase all over town to get things in order.

So it time to get my license. After almost a year and a half here, I’m tiring of taxis and buses. Hired vans are nice, but I really want to drive – and explore. Whenever we visit another city (in Canada, the States, the Caribbean, or South America) we always rent a car. But I haven’t driven in Ecuador since we’ve lived here and I really miss it.

Two days ago I registered for a driving course. Here, even if you’ve been driving for years, they require a course (the accelerated one is 35 hours – done in a week), before you can write the government administered exam. Well I’ll never say that the Canadian government requires lots of paper work. Just to register for the course, I needed to provide:

  • a police report (with 2 copies, and a special photo)
  • 2 copies of my visa
  • my passport ( and 2 copies)
  • my Ecuadorian identification – plus 2 copies
  • a card stating my blood type (and 2 copies)
  • 2 more copies of the special photo (taken outside of the transit authority)

I also had to do a reflex, motor skill and eye test, along with a psychological exam.

And of the most bizarre thing that I need to provide, is my high school graduation certificate. After all these years, the first time I had to show it (for anything), is to get my driver’s license in Ecuador. Who moves to a foreign country and brings their high school graduation certificate? Especially when high school was “a long long time ago”, and the pride of having it has worn off just a little?

Anyway, we had stuffed that into a safe (along with a few other “really important” things) that we stored in Canada. After a number of emails and phone calls between our lawyers office and the driving school, we learn that a color copy will be acceptable. So today, I have to have my (nicely scanned color copy) notarized in duplicate. Without, they will not issue a license. Not sure what Canadian geography and political science has to do with Ecuadorian driving laws, but a rule is a rule – right?

So the course, put on by ANETA (Automovil Club del Ecuador) which is Ecuadors version of CAA or AAA, costs $173.44. Plus the $5 for the police report, $2 for the very nice photos, $3 for the card stating my blood type, about $12 in taxis and the notarizing of my graduation certificate. After I pass the course, I then have to go get my license, with a similar set of paperwork.

And while we can tackle just about every type of task that comes our way, I needed some help on this one. A good friend, came along and helped with some of the steps I couldn’t get my mind around. He recently got his license – so he knew how to do it.

Stay tuned for more.

Step 2: Driving Course

This step covers the actual course, the classroom and the practical driving components. This was the easiest and most fun part. Just putting in time for a week (35 hours to be exact) to get my certificate to prove I passed. The course was well put together – but I think I could have found something else to do with my time.

On Sunday, I completed Step 2 of getting my Ecuadorian drivers license. I completed the seven-day driving course, with a planned 35 hours of learning.

I’ll be honest – I was dreading the week. I know how to drive. I’ve been driving for half my life and have always owned my own vehicles. What do I need 35 hours of training for?

Well, the course is well produced. The instructors were excellent and I learned the laws. The laws are different here than Canada. Many are the same, but there are some differences. Like you can pass on the inside lane – legally. The stipulation is that you have to feel that its safe.

Each day consisted of 3 hours of driving and 2 of classroom – Monday to Friday. On Friday morning I took my Practical Exam and scored a 20! To those used to having school scores out of 100 – it doesn’t sound so good – but here – a 20 is perfect! Not one mistake – at least none that the instructor noticed. (Being a foreigner has its benefits. Immediately I’m “interesting” and the instructors want to ask all kinds of questions). So who know if my driving is perfect, but I’ll take it.

ANETA Training Car

In the afternoon, there is a written exam. Of twenty questions, you must get 16 correct. They are multiple choice so its not that hard. For me the language barrier was the biggest problem, but I still passed with an 18/20. What makes me laugh is that four of the students failed. They are Ecuadorian and knew how to drive. The instructor made everyone who failed feel really good, by reading out all their errors and highlighting that: “This foreigner who can’t read well passed with an 18 – and you are Spanish and couldn’t pass”. Of course, it doesn’t really make my ego burst, being the bad reading extranjero (foreigner) – but I’ll take any compliment, however backhanded.

ANETA Fleet

Saturday and Sunday consisted of three segments: First Aid, Psychology and Mechanical. The last thing to do is sign a paper this Wednesday. Next Wednesday I can go pick up my certificate and head over to get my real license. The Transit Commission requires another 20 question exam, and another pile of papers and I should walk out with my license. Simple, right?

Step 3 to follow next week.

ANETA - Main Office

Step 3: Paperwork (Transit Commission)

Easily the hardest (read: frustrating) part so far. There were personnel problems and mechanical problems that made wait for my drivers test last more than one month. Learn about the dreaded Comisión de Tránsito in Cuenca, and how the process works. But in the end it all went okay and I have license in hand.

ecuador-licenseSo, I bet you’ve been wondering about my drivers license, eh? You’re probably thinking: “He failed the exam and was too embarrassed to put the next post”. Well, after I started this process, that thought did go through my mind. But. . .

I can finally say (with much relief) that this is the final step in getting my license.

I have my Ecuadorian Drivers License! The process began just two short months ago. The first week of December I registered for my course – which is required for everyone (even if you have 16 years driving experience). This process of registering for the course took the better part of a day.

The second part was the course itself. It was neither frustrating or difficult. The quality of the course was good and the instructors were excellent. The course ended towards the end of December and I got my certificate from the driving school on December 26th. This is the paper I needed to go write my exam at the Transit Commission.

The final part was the famed and dreaded Comisión de Tránsito here in Cuenca. During the month of December it had been shut down as the bosses tried to cleanse the place of corruption. Apparently a number of the workers were overcharging the fees and pocketing the difference. Nice. (In fact, when they finally reopened, there was a huge sign outside the door advising what to pay – and not to pay any more than listed fees.)

  • And so I went the first week of January to write the exam and get my license. The guard at the gate advised that they were understaffed and so they would be closed for the week.
  • Second week of January: Camera is going to be broken all week. Come back on Monday
  • Third week of January: See above
  • Fourth week of January: They are open, and a full month backlog of applicants all arrive the same morning. They are processing about 40 people every 20 minutes – it was very impressive. I arrived just 30 minutes after they opened – so I only had to wait an hour and a half to start.

Once I aced the exam (20/20 – yes, its not hard at all) I had to visit the staff doctor, so he could check my eyesight, eye color, height, etc. Then I had to go to a third office where I stood in line for another hour, then I paid the $38 and got more paperwork that I had to take to the now working camera room. In just a couple of minutes they snapped the picture and printed the license. And I was done. It didn’t seem so hard. . .

I easily made 100 photocopies (probably much more) of my passport, high school certificate, blood type, power bill, driving course certificate, and every other paper I have with me here in Ecuador. I easily made 25 trips for paperwork, tests, and appointments with closed offices. And in the end, the cost was around $300 – counting the course, the license fee and photocopies.

About the photo: While I was in the line to pay – I was also thinking that this was the line that I would receive my license as well. After I paid and gave them all my paperwork they handed me this slip of paper – “THIS is my license?” It looks a little unofficial, doesn’t it? As it turns out, its a receipt that I take to the photo room where they make the licenses. I felt kind of dumb, but at least I didn’t tell anyone, right?

So now, we have a car and a license. More on vehicle registration next week. (PS – its just as crazy as the license process).

How to Buy a Vehicle in Ecuador

Learn what we learned while car shopping here in Cuenca. Things work quite similar to the system at home. The dealers are tricky, and try to hide and deceive. The biggest difference is that old cars still cost a fortune. A shocking fortune, actually. Here’s the full guide: How to buy a vehicle in Ecuador.

How to Drive a Stick Shift in Ecuador: Video Tutorial

So you’re thinking of moving to South America? Great. Thinking of getting your drivers license? Also great. But wait – there’s just one thing. The majority of people only know how to drive automatics. If you’re coming from Canada or the United States there’s a good chance that your car is an automatic.

How to drive a stick shift in Ecuador

But here, automatics are very rare. Some of the large SUV’s are automatic (like the Troopers and Monteros) but almost every car and all the trucks are stick-shift. There are benefits to driving a standard shift – like the better gas mileage you’ll get – and they are much more fun to drive.

Here’s a great article about driving standard transmission: Learning to Drive a Standard Transmission Made Easy

To get started, here are three great videos that explain the mechanics of a manual transmission.

How a Manual Transmission Works

Watch on YouTube

An Animated Video of How a Manual Transmission Works

Watch on YouTube

How Clutches Work

Watch on YouTube

So, how to drive a stick-shift?

Now that we understand the basic mechanical concept, these next two videos cover what to do when you’re in the drivers seat.

Watch on YouTube

How to Drive a Standard in Traffic

Watch on YouTube

Any tips? Please include them below. Read more about driving in Ecuador.

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Meet the Author

Bryan Haines is co-editor of GringosAbroad - Ecuador's largest blog for expats and travelers. He is a travel blogger and content marketer. He is also co-founder of ClickLikeThis (GoPro tutorial blog) and Storyteller Media (content marketing for travel brands). Work with GringosAbroad.

30 comments… add one
  • Chuck Self Jul 12, 2017, 5:45 am

    Nobody talks about a “Drivers Handbook” is there anything like that in Ecuador? What I don’t like, Is I have a 2011 Dodge Carevan with 27000 miles in something better than excellent. But, I guess I will have to sell it. Since I can not import it, that what I was first think, I would do..but back to the drafting table.

  • Ali Mar 16, 2017, 1:00 pm

    Would like to ask I just recently got the Ecuadorian citizenship I just hear news if I leave to Ecudor more than 18 months which is mean one and half year the citizenship will cancel automatically ,,,, is that real news how come I should come to Ecuador each one and have year even only for one hour

  • Juandiego Nivelo Nov 7, 2016, 1:03 pm

    My question is on
    The only thing that seems to be a hassle shipping over to Ecuador ??A car ?
    Can someone please give me a clear answer on how to ship a car and what are the rules? I understand the 3 basic rules of: 1 not bringing a car more than $20000 2 not to have more than 3000 CC engine and not
    Older than 4 years from the time you are moving.
    I’d like to know if I still can bring a vehicle over $20000 with the option of paying an extra fee or tax? Also can I ship
    my car and bike? If not can my wife ship the car and I ship the bike. We r both Ecuadorians born and raised. Half gringos now

  • Dena Pate Jun 16, 2014, 8:11 pm

    Bryan,
    Do you know which we need, a 3 year, 7 year or complete, driving record from our State and does it have to be apostilled?

    • Bryan Haines Jun 17, 2014, 6:48 pm

      There is a new way to get a drivers license in Ecuador. What you’ll need is a letter (from your transit authority) certifying that you have a valid license in their jurisdiction. Then in Ecuador you need to get it translated into Spanish and notarized. It isn’t really a driving record that is needed – just a statement that you have a valid license.

  • Robert Watts Jan 15, 2014, 1:56 pm

    My US drivers license has a motorcycle endorsement that required seperate testing. Does Ecuador have any special provisions for riding motorcycles or will an Ecuadorian drivers license cover that?

    • Bryan Haines Jan 21, 2014, 8:10 am

      You will need a motorcycle license which is separate from a regular drivers license.

  • J. D. Chinn Jan 14, 2013, 12:51 pm

    This article is very informative. Thanks

  • Kelly May 3, 2012, 5:47 am

    Great site Bryan;thanks, read faithfully. You said you had to have a High School Diploma to get your license. My questions is.. What happens if you didn’t graduate High School or cannot get a copy of your diploma? I forsee a dilemma in our future possibly!!

    • Bryan Haines May 3, 2012, 8:13 am

      Hi Kelly – good question. I thought I would have to push a little because I didn’t think I would find my diploma either. Turns out it was left in our safe at my parents house. I think the reason behind it is to ensure that you can read and write – as that is a requirement for having a drivers license in Ecuador. Maybe there is a way to certify that you can read and write without the diploma? Ironically, there is a certain percentage of Canadian high school students that graduate without having the ability to read and write. (We better not tell the Azuay Transit Authority or they’ll begin asking for university diplomas.)

      • Jim May 3, 2012, 9:13 am

        Any thoughts on how to deal with it if one did not graduate from High School. I’m guessing a Community College certificate might suffice?

        • Bryan Haines May 3, 2012, 9:14 am

          I don’t know – it’s worth asking. The requirement is of the driving school, not the transit authority. There are a number of schools in Cuenca – maybe they don’t all have the same requirement.

          • Jim May 3, 2012, 9:18 am

            Thanks Bryan, I get the point. I think if I showed up with enough certificates that should convince them I’m literate.

  • Jim Apr 18, 2012, 8:10 am

    Hi Bryan,
    I just read a bit of info that the drivers test here may turn into a 6 month course. But, that expats may be able to simply present a few documents and get an Ecuadorian drivers license. Have you heard anything like that yet.

    • Bryan Haines Apr 18, 2012, 9:05 am

      Yes, I’ve spoken with an expat from Europe who got his license in Guayaquil just by presenting his license from home. We are hoping this will work for Dena too. I’ve heard that this only applies in Guayaquil as they have a distinct transit authority than the rest of the country.

      • Jim Apr 18, 2012, 9:39 am

        Would you mind keeping me in the loop on that? I would like to get my license fairly soon if possible.

        • Bryan Haines Apr 18, 2012, 10:16 am

          For sure. If we are successful with Dena’s license we’ll cover it in a post.

  • Shelly Higgins Apr 18, 2012, 2:57 am

    Brian – my husband and I are looking to retire to Cuenco in a few years – my idea is to visit several times and look for a house to purchase. I also have a love of horses and my horse will be retired here in Hawaii and I will look for one down there. Any information will be extremely helpful. thanks. shelly

  • Jim Cohoon Oct 8, 2011, 7:10 am

    Hi Bryan,

    How fluent do you need to be in Spanish to get your drivers licence? Or how fluent were you in Spanish when you got your license?

    • Bryan Haines Oct 9, 2011, 9:01 am

      Hi Jim – its a week long course (seven days) and a written / practical exam at the end. What I found is that there is whole set of words that I didn’t know – like traffic lights, brakes, gears, turn around. The course was more of a Spanish lesson than a driving one. There is a second lesson that the government administers. We had been here a year and a half when I took the course. I would say that you need a moderate level of Spanish. One of the errors I made on the written test was because I didn’t understand the tense of what was being said. I knew all the words, but I didn’t know who the action belonged to.

      You could go to the school and ask. If your Spanish is good enough to enroll in the school, you should be fine in the class.

  • Mark Franklin Sep 24, 2011, 9:22 am

    Buying a vehicle in Ecuador… my son and I saw something curious (from here in the US): cars located in New York, Miami, and Texas being advertized on the Quito Craigslist. Anybody know what’s up with it???

  • Shawn May 26, 2011, 4:26 pm

    Hmmmm. My brother has residency here and I am in the process of getting mine too. The people we talked to knew this. I guess a little more investigation is in order.

  • Shawn May 26, 2011, 4:08 pm

    I Just got here a couple months back and i started getting info on how to get a license. I talked to a pretty reliable source and he said the laws have changed and now you can drive with a valid license from the states. Is it true or false i dont know but it sure would save many a lot of headaches if it was. Anyone hear anything similar?

    • Bryan Haines May 26, 2011, 4:19 pm

      As I understand it, if you are here as a tourist, an American (or Canadian) license will suffice – or an international one. But if you have a residency visa of any kind, you need an Ecuadorian license. The others lose validity when you gain residence. But it would be worth confirming – this is what my instructor told me 4 months ago.

  • Jim Dec 24, 2012, 8:36 am

    More details to come??

  • Bryan Haines Jan 27, 2013, 3:46 pm

    Yes, we just launched the new site http://bloggerabroad.com

    Lots of great stuff to come!

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