Getting a Mexican drivers’ license was easy. In fact, on my list of “what are the hardest things I have done in my life” it rates just below deciding to have another bowl of ice cream last night and just above rooting for the Eagles over the Patriots in last year’s Super Bowl.
Considering that getting a Mexican DL requires dealing with Mexican bureaucracy, you could say that I was shocked - shocked! - at how easy was the process. The country can’t figure out how to pipe potable water into people’s homes, but can process a drivers’ license application in the middle of a Friday afternoon in less than an hour. Amazing.
To boost people’s perception of Mexico, and in case you want your own little plastic card with your picture on it and all the words written in Spanish, I thought I would describe the process.
First of all, the reason I needed a Mexican DL is because we recently purchased a car to drive around town. As we anticipated, Wesley, our VW camper van, is not suited for steep hills, narrow streets, and parallel parking in a space the size of a bankers box.
It is possible to legally drive in Mexico with a valid US DL. That’s what I have been doing and what I planned to continue to do. But when we went to register and get new plates for our car we were told that we needed:
- Proof of identification (check, US Passport)
- Original bill of sale for the vehicle (check, received from the prior owner)
- Old plates (check, taken from the car after we parked)
- Current registration in prior owner’s name (check, received from prior owner)
- Proof of residency at address (i.e., a utility bill) (uh-oh)
Our landlord, Joyce, pays our utilities and her name is on all of the bills (all of the bills consist of the water bill, the wifi bill, and the electric bill.) With no utility bill, we had no other way to prove that we live where we do. We don’t even have a written lease (which may be the subject of a future blog post, depending on how Joyce and we part ways.)
Well, this is pretty much what we expected - we thought - to be stymied. A friend told us she had to go to vehicle registration four times before she could get her new plates. For some reason which she hasn’t explained, she brought her kitten with her on the final trip and the guard (who knew her by this time) took care of it while Lori dealt with the official at the desk. Mexico has a very strict 'no kittens at the counter’ policy. The staff doesn’t want to be influenced by cuteness.
Anyway, after explaining our problem to the security guard, he informed us that we could bring our landlord to the office and she could attest to where we lived.
Bringing Joyce to the office wasn’t a good option.
(Note: Security guards in Mexico are often the best informed persons and most willing to share information at bureaucratic offices. And they often smile. Can you imagine asking a guard at a bank in Washington D.C. for information on the ATM machine? Or when is the best time to come to transact business? You might get shot!)
(Note 2: People’s willingness to help with a smile reminds me of when I first moved to Virginia from New Jersey - I felt like everyone was so friendly and nice. That eventually wore off - soon enough I thought most everyone was an asshole again. We’ll see what happens in Mexico.)
The other option the guard put on the table was getting a Mexican DL. That ID would have the address on it, and we could then use that as both a proof of ID (in lieu of US passport) and proof of residency to get our vehicle registered.
The guard also suggested coming back on Monday since it was mid-afternoon on Friday and there were many people in line ahead of us. We are thinking of putting him on our Christmas card list this year.
I had to put the plates back on the car so that we could drive to the DL office; it isn’t in the same building as vehicle registration. When we arrived, a few people were sitting in chairs on a shaded patio outside the office. It looked very pleasant and there was no line. We were able to walk to the counter where we were informed that in order to receive a DL, we needed:
- Proof of identification in the form or a valid passport/green card/ or US DL (if you have a DL you do not have to take a written exam)
- Proof of residency at address (i.e., utility bill)
- Medical Exam
- Copies of all of the above
There was a clinic next to the DL office where I could get an exam - I’ll get to that in a moment. But, regardless of whether I was able to get an exam, it would seem that we were in the same bind with the proof of residency - we didn’t have a utility bill with our name on it.
This does not matter for getting a DL. All we needed was a utility bill with the address on it that we wanted put on the DL. It didn’t matter that Joyce’s name was on the bill and that I was not her. I could have said I lived on Sesame Street if I could have gotten an electric bill from Bert.
With the tricky residency issue resolved, I turned my attention to satisfying the next item on the list - a medical exam. The clinic was a storefront with a man sitting behind a large counter. The room was painted white - the official color of clinics. There was no one else in the place.
The following is a transcript of my medical exam (translated from Spanish):
Rebecca: He needs a medical exam to get his drivers’ license.
Man behind the counter (doctor?) - Does he know his blood type?
Me: A positive.
Man behind the counter: Do you have seizures?
Man behind the counter: Do you have diabetes?
Man behind the counter: Does he have high blood pressure?
Man behind the counter: Any prosthetic limbs?
Man behind the counter: Has he ever lost an arm or a leg?
Man behind the counter: That will be 100 pesos. Please take a seat while I print his report.
Moments later, I had my medical exam in hand reporting a clean bill of health. Now all I needed were copies of all the documents.
Conveniently, as if there is actually a God, a papeleria (a stationary store) that had a copy machine was right next to the health clinic. Eight pesos got me all the copies that I needed - and it was back to the DL office.
After waiting just long enough to allow me to play a game of cribbage on my phone while sitting on the shaded patio, an official called me behind the counter to answer a few questions about my marital status (not sure why this matters), to confirm the address that was printed on the electric bill with Joyce’s name on it, and to decide whether I wanted the license to be valid for 1, 2 or 5 years (I opted for 5 years - I feel the validity of Rebecca’s answers about my health should be good for at least that long.)
Then I had my picture taken, I paid the 851 pesos (about 45 USD), and was handed my new Mexican DL valid until August 31, 2023. Unbelievably, we were out the door. I was not pulled over by the police on the way home so did not get to show off my new card.
We were tenth in line at the registration office on Monday morning. With all of the documents in hand, all we really needed to do was wait our turn. I did my part to move things along by making change for the office of a 500 peso note.
Once the guy in front of me was able to get his change, I stood up and went to the counter, answered some basic questions, paid the 1,951 pesos (about 100 USD) and was handed the new plates and registration.
In case you are keeping track, the entire DL and registration process, in two separate offices, took less than two hours. And we didn’t even need to bring any kittens.