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. . .
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 paperwork.
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 Ecuador’s 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.
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.
In the afternoon, there is a written exam. Of twenty questions, you must get 16 correct.
They are multiple choice so it’s 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.
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: 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.
So, 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 – it’s 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.
But here, automatics are very rare. Some of the large SUVs 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 driver’s seat.
Watch on YouTube
How to Drive a Standard in Traffic
Watch on YouTube
Any tips? Please include them below.