Fun and Games at the Licensing Department

An assortment of Belgian chocolates

An assortment of Belgian chocolates (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today I had an appointment at the licensing department to renew my driving licence. Those authority dates are always interesting, it’s a bit like Forrest Gump‘s box of chocolates: You never know what you’re gonna get.

First, you always have to bring loads of papers. And since at the licensing department printers are almost always out of order, it is best to bring the respective copies as well. They want to see the passport, the visa, birth certificate, and my favourite: a comprobante de domicilio, a proof of residency. We don’t do that in Germany, nor in Switzerland, but I know this system from the States. Where it actually makes sense. I guess.

Here, a proof of residency is like in the US an official invoice, be it from the electricity  company or a water bill or whatever. However, unless you bring a phone bill, that invoice never carries your name since you never have to sign up for any of these services. You just keep paying the invoices that land at your doorstep (or in the nearest cactus). So our invoices all are under our landlord’s name. I find that a tad weird: I could just take my friend’s invoice and pretend that was my address. No pudding, no proof. But anyway, once I had handed in all my papers (and copies) and had completed a form, I had to wait in line for my vision test.

I managed to thievishly take a picture.

The vision test takes place in one big room together with everything else. You can take a seat on a wooden bench, and if they call your name, you step forward. Then you have to stand behind an imaginary line that the doctor shows you and cover one eye with a little thingy. Everybody in the room goes quiet for everyone is eager to see how you are doing. The doctor then points at various letters and you have to call out what you see. If you do it wrong, the doctor tries really hard to find a letter that you can read, if not, you won’t get your license but have to get glasses first. Makes sense.

Afterwards, you pay, get your photo shot and check your data on a big screen which is always interesting for everybody. Honestly, the sense of community is huge in those offices! Then they hand you your driving licence. Pretty easy. However, I had to think of the first time that I went. I was very nervous back then, because I had to do a driving test, and I wasn’t so sure about traffic rules. Are there any? Am I actually allowed to overtake on all lanes? Am I supposed to stop at all the red lights? If everybody does it (or doesn’t do it), does it mean it is legal?

Well, I shouldn’t have worried. Upon entering, the staff spotted I was an expat who probably spoke no Spanish, so I could already skip the written test. (But at least that was a hint that rules exist, right?) Then I had to take my car and get in line for the driving test.

Luckily, I was accompanied by a colleague of my husband’s who happens to be a friend of El Jefe. So we were standing in line watching a big lady on a small scooter trying to drive around some cones. She failed miserably, but nevertheless, the tester gave her a pat on her shaking back, and she got her license. Not only did I feel happy for her but also relieved to see that apparently, they were not that strict. However, my husband’s colleague got a little antsy since he had to get back to work, so he went over to the tester, they talked, laughed, some pats on the back (very common here) – and to my astonishment, I was good to go. My companion had been asked whether he had seen me driving which he confirmed, and that was good enough.

Mr. R. didn’t have such luck, he had to show he knew how to drive. His drive tester was a young woman who was more interested in her pink plastic nails than in what my husband did, though. And he didn’t have to do much, only drive once around the block with 40 km/h (25 mph), and he, too, got his license.

When I compare our experience here with what my expat friends in Europe had to go through, I have to say that we are pretty lucky. And we even get an entertainment programme for free – it’s almost a shame our license is now good for 5 years!

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9 thoughts on “Fun and Games at the Licensing Department

  1. I had to go to the police station recently because I moved and I thought I had copies of everything but getting there I found I was missing the copy of my visa page. They were super nice, took all the other materials, explained where to get the copy and then let me go to the front of the line when I came back. The first time is always the scariest I think.

    • I agree, the first time you never know what to expect. I remember how everybody told me nasty stories about social security but when I went to get my number, everybody was so friendly and helpful – I was tempted to invite them all for tea! 😉

  2. Ha! This is a great story. I love that you didn’t have to take the written test because you don’t speak Spanish and I love that you got your license because someone could vouch that they saw you driving once before. Actually rater horrifying to think about who might be out on the roads legally driving in Mexico!

  3. Despite being in Spanish, that is way, way more relaxed than in the US! I’ve also heard that it’s next to impossible to get your license in England – everyone fails numerous times.

    • It probably depends on the state and which country you are from. In Seattle I just went, completed a form, took a quick vision test (a lot more professional than this one!), and I got my licence. But I know from expats in Europe that it can be very painful. Like my Australian friend who failed her test in Amsterdam.
      Yes, we were lucky here! And I was glad I didn’t have to show them my parking abilities…

      • It really does depend on the state. And doing a renewal is always easier than getting the license for the first time as a teenager. In CT, you have to make your driving test appt. at the DMV about 6 months in advance, but in VA and OH I know you can just walk in. And I was lucky to take my initial test in CT, despite the scheduling pain-in-the-butt…no parallel parking required 🙂

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