06 November 2011

How to get your driver's license in Puerto Rico

I am now an officially licensed driver in the Free Associated State of Puerto Rico! No matter in what part of the world you find yourself, it is perhaps one of the most mind-numbing tasks imaginable. Bureaucracy, people on edge, and broken copy machines? It's a recipe for disaster, and Puerto Rico is no exception.

1. Get your study guide, the "Guía Actualizada del Conductor", preferably at Walgreens. (There's one about every half a mile here.)

 2. Look up forms online. Read requirements. Dig up all your forms of identification possible and find an old electric bill with your name and address on it. Fill out forms. 

3. Study for exam. Make sure you know what the fine is for regateo (street racing), badly parking a "public service vehicle", and making unnecessary noises. Wonder if these have ever been enforced.

4. Go to your closest DTOP (Departamento de transportación y obras publicas, aka, Puerto Rico's DMV). There just so happens to be a conveniently located "Express" location within walking distance from your house. Outside the building, dodge people yelling, "sellos, abogado, fotos, médico" (Stamps, lawyer, photos, doctor).

5. Wait in line. With any luck, it's your turn in a half hour.

6. Explain what you need to do (exchange license from the States for Puerto Rico license, and take written exam). Be told you can't take the written exam there, but you can go to the DTOP in Bayamón or Carolina, M-F, 7:30-4. Ask if you need an appointment to take the exam there. Be told no, just go whenever.

7. Get your stamps, photos, and medical forms filled out in a one stop shop by the closest person that accosts you as you leave the DTOP. Think to yourself, "Are you even a real doctor?"

8. Wait for someone to give you a ride to the DTOP in Carolina. Wake up at 6:30 am. Navigate to "The old 'Baxter Building' on highway 848". (Yes, this is the actual physical address given by the DTOP online)

9. Avoid people selling you more "sellos, abogado, fotos, médico". Wait in line at least an hour.

10. Get to counter. Be told you need copies of all these documents. No, you cannot use the copy machine behind the lady at the counter, and, no, it does not say anywhere you need copies.

11. Go directly to kiosks outside building selling "sellos, abogado, fotos, médico". In the first two places you go, machine will be broken. Third time's a charm. Make copies and wait another hour in line. Now you have everything you need:

12. Arrive at counter. Be told you actually need an appointment to take the written exam, despite what they told you in other location. Get in another line to make an appointment. Wait. The next appointment isn't for a week. Roll your eyes, leave, and get some empanadillas at the kioskos selling "sellos, abogado, fotos, médico".

13. Study some more, because by this point you've forgotten how much the fine is for having tinted windows on your car.

14. Find another ride. Return to DTOP in Carolina. Wait in line for about an hour. Hand over binder of documents and copies, and your license from the States. Wait in another line to get your picture taken again.

15. Go to exam room. Wait some more. Take exam (finally!).

16. Hopefully all that time between when you got your study guide and when you actually took your exam paid off, and with any luck, you remembered that the fine for fixing a license plate on an unauthorized vehicle is $500 and you passed.

17. Wait another hour for them to print your driver's license. Hope you don't have to return for a long time!
Analysis of a Puerto Rican driver's license. No offense intended!


  1. I just laughed out loud at this.
    A few questions:
    1. Why are your eyes/ojos "grn" and not "vrd"?
    2. If you've changed your license from PA to PR, can you still vote as a PA resident next year? (And if you get pulled over state-side driving with a PR license, what do you think the probability is that the officer will ask you if you're legal?)
    3. Are you getting a car in PR? If so, please don't die.

  2. Hahaha
    1. no clue, but very good question!!! Leave it to Puerto Rico...
    2. I have to check out the voting situation, I'm not sure!
    And it wouldn't surprise me if he asks if I'm allowed to be in the States lol
    3. Yes, I am, and I'm scared for my life!!!

  3. Hi,

    Do you have a link for this? I could not find anything online with regards to the forms - "Look up forms online. Read requirements. Dig up all your forms of identification possible and find an old electric bill with your name and address on it. Fill out forms."

    1. Hi! I apologize for taking so long to get back to you, I've been out of touch with my blog for a while! If you're changing from the USA to PR, you need the form "DTOP-DIS-257 SOLICITUD PARA CERTIFICADO DE LICENCIA DE CONDUCIR VEHICULOS DE MOTOR POR RECIPROCIDAD"

      This is the link: http://www.dtop.gov.pr/pdf/DTOP-DIS-257%20SOLICITUD%20PARA%20CERTIFICADO%20DE%20LICENCIA%20DE%20CONDUCIR%20VEHICULOS%20DE%20MOTOR%20POR%20RECIPROCIDAD.pdf

      And this is the page with other forms on it just in case: http://www.dtop.gov.pr/servicios/list_pdf.asp?cn_id=40

      Any other questions let me know!!!

  4. you have to go under DTOP.com. After that go to "servicios/services", then to "aprendizaje/learner's permit". Scroll down and you will see "lista de documentos/list of documents". you should be able to find all of the documents needed.

  5. All the steps are more or less the same with any state or country. There are quite a few differences. As for that "wants to feel important" comment on your last uploaded photo, that was quite a laugh really. Hopefully, people will understand though that it's somehow necessary to indicate the head or secretary of the office. In case some concerns are raised, it would be easier to trace whom to address them to.

  6. Hahaha funny! Already looking forward to the process....Thank you for setting the right expectations before I go there :)

  7. How long is the drivers license good for?

  8. Im gona answer you!!
    Weight- if you do a crime they search you with name and weigt

    Free state- YES we are a fre state from 1960

  9. If it is so funny, dangerous and all the shit you are talking about Stupid Ignorants, Stay the Fuck Off My Island !!!


    About Me

    Ashlee D.
    San Juan, Puerto Rico
    Aspiring linguist. Hispanophile. Foodie. Avid reader. Music lover. Traveler. Wannabe salsera & prima ballerina. Gringuita con corazón de boricua living on la Isla del Encanto, Puerto Rico.


    1. Si hubieras leido de verdad lo que he escrito, sabrías que me encanta Puerto Rico y que no quisiera vivir en otro sitio. Todo lo que escribo es broma y no escribo nada con la intención de ofender a nadie. Ignorante tú que haces comentarios y trolleas sin saber de qué estás hablando. Aprende lo que es el sarcasmo.

    2. Jamás jamás jamás he dicho q PR es peligroso... de hecho ni he tocado el tema de la seguridad. Créeme que hablo mucho más mierda de mi propio país. Tanto que me fui. Me hice residente de PR. Voté por la independencia de PR en las elecciones. No sé de qué partido serás, no importa, pero voté en contra del país donde nací porque me opongo 100% a su politica, especialmente con respecto a PR. Hablo boricua dpm. Si me conocieras de verdad sabrías que no soy como los demás gringos. Todo lo que yo digo de PR o de cualquier lugar que visito es una experiencia verdadera, yo digo las cosas como son. Si te pica es porque ají comes. Te invito a leer más pa q tu veas de verdad lo que pienso.

    3. Hehe thanks, gotta love them trolls :)

  11. Actually your experience with the PR driver's license process sounds very akin to the FL drivers license process... Kuddo's... Good luck

    PS. was trying to find out if PR checked the NDR database associtated with NHAST

  12. To Port BS: you are most certainly a troll and if you never enter the US mainland, that will be a wonderful thing!

    To Ashlee: I agree with you on PR independence. And immediate deportation of non-US citizens and their poor driving habits. IE: tailgating, not using turn signals, unsafe vehicles, left-lane hogging and generally unsafe and inconsiderate driving practices. Reeken drivers are the worst! (PR flag hanging from rear view, on trunk or bumper) I'm not racist or anything, I'm just stating a fact...

  13. Soooo can I take the test in English?

  14. My wife and I are going through this process at the moment. Your description is VERY accurate and hasn't seemed to change in the years since you wrote this. Based on the behavior of drivers in Puerto Rico, we assumed DTOP just handed out drivers licenses to anyone with a vehicle and a pulse....pulse optional.

    1. Haha yes, as well as car inspections, they're almost a joke! (Does your car turn on? Ok, your'e good to go!)

  15. I'm moving back to Puerto Rico, I live in New Jersey and I just got my permit. Over here you need red decals. Is that needed in PR to be identified as a teen driver just like over here?

    1. No, I don't believe so. I've never noticed that here.

  16. Can you recommend any study guides that are online?

    1. Unfortunately, I don't think the DOP has an online guide, but they sell them at almost every Walgreens here on the island!

  17. Hello,
    Nice blog. A quick question I'm considering becoming a snowbird. Must I Surrender my NY license, or may I keep both. By the way you Spanish is quite proper. I like a person that studies people and language. I would only add love both places. Thank you for a good blog.

    1. I think you could keep your NY license, although having a PR license may make it easier. You could always "lose" your NY licence, get a copy, and hand in your old NY license here, they'll be none the wiser here :) Thank you for reading!

  18. So as I understand it:
    1. Call Bayamon or Carolina office make an appointment.
    2. Get off the plane, stop in a Walgreens and get a study guide.
    3. Get 2×2 pictures taken.
    4. Print out and fill out 2 sets of application forms.
    5. Get the stamps.
    6. Get the doctor's exam
    7. Copy your license, ID, social security card, doctor exam, proof of residency, and then go take the test.
    Hand over your license and wait an hour for your printed license?

    Did I get it all in order?