Most of my expat friends do it, but contrary to what most foreigners may think, you are not allowed to drive a car, bus, truck or ride a motorcycle in Colombia with your foreign drivers license, if you are residing permanently in the country. If you are visiting on a tourist visa you will be fine for the entire duration of your stay, but the moment you become a resident with a cedula extranjería you will need to apply for a Colombian drivers license if you plan to keep driving here and to assure your car insurance is valid.
Being a European I was completely oblivious of this. In Europe you may use your local license in all the other European countries without any problem, so it wasn’t until I got pulled over by the local traffic police, el Transito, that I became aware of this fact. With an officer on pretty much every corner and check points scattered all over the country, it seemed foolish not to get the Colombian license, as I spend many hours a day in the car and often go on cross-country trips with family and friends.
I was hoping that I could just convert my Danish license into a Colombian license, which is possible in most countries I’ve been to, but like everything else in Colombia, getting things done here is far from as straightforward as one might hope for. I researched online and talked to my girlfriend about how to get my license, but as she didn’t have much time to help me and they recently changed the procedures, I went with the advice of a friend and hired a gentleman called Hector to help me on my way. Hector specializes in tramites con el Transito, which means that he does paperwork and runs errands related to the Ministry of Transportation and el Transito. Need to register a car, call Hector. Need to pay taxes on your vehicle, call Hector. Need to pay a fine, call Hector. Need help getting a drivers license, call Hector. Since many of the processes with public entities in Colombia are very time consuming, individuals and companies hire people like Hector to help them save time. They earn their living doing favors and running errands. The same goes for dealing with immigration, getting a passport, getting health insurance etc. Each entity has it’s own “specialist” helping people deconstruct and speed up the process.
Below are the 4 steps necessary for acquiring a Colombian drivers license. It should take no more than two half days of your time. In hindsight, I could have done it without Hector, but I’m glad I didn’t as I would have spent A LOT more time getting it done. Hector knew where to go, how to fill out all the papers, how to skip lines, how much to pay and I felt safe in working with him. I won’t put his contact information here, but if you live in Cali and need help getting things done, then shoot me an email through the contact form and I’ll send it to you. If you’re in another city then ask your Colombian friends for a similar contact.
4 steps to obtaining a Colombian drivers license
First thing you need to do, is upload your personal information, photo and fingerprint to Registro Único Nacional de Tránsito or RUNT as it is known. It’s the national database for all drivers and owners of vehicles in Colombia, so if you were planning to buy a vehicle in Colombia you would need to get this done anyway. For some reason this database does not synchronize with the Colombian ID database and as of this writing, this service is not available online either, so you will have to do this manually. In some cities the Transito’s office does the inscription. In Cali, Centro de Diagnóstico Automotor del Valle is the place to go. They have 2 branches: Cosmocentro on Calle 5 with Carrera 50, second floor, office C100A or in Barrio Sameco, Calle 70N #3BN 200. Tell them that you are there para inscription en el RUNT. This service is free. Remember to bring your cedula.
2. Driving lessons
As stupid as it may sound, you will need to “take” driving lessons and theoretical classes even though you already hold a foreign license, and probably have more formal training than it seems like the average Colombian driver has.
Do not worry about wasting months of your time – Hector found me driving school that was happy to fill out all my paperwork and approve that I had taken the classes and passed all tests – without ever taking one. It took about 30 minutes and involved me signing a lot of papers, delivering a passport photo and paying around $300.000 pesos. Don’t forget to mark all the categories you wish to apply for: car, motorcycle, bus, etc. The result is a document called Certificado de Aptitud en Conducción, which the driving school will upload to the RUNT – a process that takes about 1 month. In the mean time, all you can do is wait. Do make sure you get a physical copy of the certificate in case they ask for it when expediting your license.
I’m sure just about any driving school will help you do the same trick, if you already have a license issued from another country. Driving schools in Colombia are called escuelas de conducción or Centro de Enseñanza Automovilística (CEA) – make sure yours is authorized by the Colombian Ministry of Transportation.
3. Medical examination
Once the driving school calls you to verify that your classes have been successfully uploaded to the RUNT you may get your medical examination done. It’s important that you do not get this done earlier, as the examination is only valid for 30 days. For some weird reason you’ll need to bring an ID that includes your fingerprint. I don’t have one, so they sent me to authenticate my fingerprint at a notary… big time BS. The examination includes a hearing test, a visual test, a test of your coordination and a short interview about your medical condition. Everything is pretty easy and it took me around one hour to get it all done, once all the paperwork had been filled out. Upon completion you will receive a Certificado Médico de Aptitud Física, Mental y Coordinación Motriz, which you will need to present in order to acquire your license.
The examination cost around $100.000 pesos but that only gives you approval to drive a car. If you want a motorcycle approval as well, the price goes up to $130.000 pesos. There are several places to get your examination done. Ask the school where you are “taking” your driving lessons for a recommendation.
4. Issue drivers license
One you have completed the 3 previous steps, it’s finally time to get your license. If you are in Cali, then bring your cedula, the certificate from the driving school and the certificate from your medical test to one of the Centro de Diagnóstico Automotor del Valle branches. If you are in another city then try googling “expedicion de licencia de conduccion en YOUR CITY colombia” and the information should pop right up.
Although they are printed on the same card, each license (car and motorcycle) cost $96.900. They will take your photo free of charge when issuing the license and they print your license immediately on-site.
For me it was a 1 month process and cost around 700.000 in total, which includes the $50.000 pesos that I paid Hector for his assistance. Not exactly peanuts, but when considering that I got pulled over twice last week alone, the license will be paying itself back in saved fines and bribes pretty fast. If you’re here for the long-term this investment is a no-brainer. Steps 1 and 2 can be done in one day, and so can steps 3 and 4, once the Certificado de Aptitud en Conducción has been uploaded to the RUNT.
When dealing with public entities in Colombia, remember to arm yourself with a lot of patience. I went to 3 different places in Cali for my inscription in the RUNT, because they all had computer problems.
A little tip is to make sure to bring plenty of copies of both sides of your cedula as pretty much every entity will demand one. It sucks losing your spot in the line, because you need to get additional copies.
You may get a license from age 16, but you’ll need to bring a permission from your legal guardian. Your license is valid for 10 years if you are younger than 60. From 60 to 80 years of age licenses are valid for 5 years and after that they are valid for 1 year at a time.
Good luck and please let me know how it goes, if you try following the steps above.
BTW, don’t ever buy an International Drivers License in Colombia. First of, I’ve travelled to more than 52 countries, many of which were in car or on a motorcycle and not once have I been asked to show my international drivers license. Second, issuing the license cost $300.000 pesos in Colombia.. and all it really is, is a piece of carton with photo and a few stamps. It’s a rip-off and in comparison the exact same license in Denmark cost the equivalent of US$5.