How to get a Colombian Drivers License

in How-to guides/Plan to stay

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

1. RUNT

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.

Passed through Cali for the first time in 2011, on his way from the US to Brazil on a motorcycle. Ended up kissing a caleña on his last night and the rest is history. Has been a resident of Cali, Colombia since 2013 and currently living in Barrio Bellavista with his girlfriend and 2 daughters.

44 Comments

      • Hi Patrick, I’m living in Medellin and would like to get in touch with Hector. I want to get a driver’s license and if necessary and willing to go to Cali to enlist his help. I’ve had a license to drive in the states for 20 years and I don’t have the time or patience to take the driving courses I’ve read about. Would you kindly PM me Hetor’s contact info? Thanks!

          • Hello Patrick: I have been in Medellin for 10 years & want to get a drivers licence for car & motorcycle. I already have my RUNT and need a Hector to avoid the hassel of finding a school that will give me the paperwork minus the test just by signing all documents. I understand the medical test procedure. Do these Hectors speak English and what do they charge? Great information & cant thank you enough! As we all knoe that here in Colombia “Patience is a virtue!” Ciao Johnny

        • Hi Kevin, Johnny here: I also live in Medellin & Patrick hasnt replied to my comment looking for a Hector. I see that he has sent you a tel.no. or contact info to get one. Any luck? Could you please send me a info on how to contact a Hector. What does he charge? How was the service & did he speak English? Gracias.

  1. Thanks for posting this – 2 months too late, but still 🙂 I just wanted to add to your post that I wasn’t obligated to do classes at Car Center International in Poblado, Medellín (but maybe this varies from city to city or school to school?) I simply went to the school, paid for the 3 exam(ination)s and did them all the same day. The theoretical exam could be done in Spanish or in a very(!) rusty (but quite hilarious) English, but it was pretty straightforward even without classes.

    • Useful stuff for residents of the Paisa capital. I’m curious Lisa – how much did you end up paying in total for your license?

      Un abrazo, Patrick

  2. You said I need to get my runt and make sure I have a copy of my cedula. I am trying to get a driving job, with the contract I can get my residency and a cedula. How did you get your residency here, you said you were here with a girlfriend, do you have a job? Please contact me I have many questions regarding my residency and license. A friend described a different process that doesn’t include the steps you described and I am afraid of wasting time and money with him. He says we have to go to another city. I am getting a commercial drivers license and perhaps this is why.

    • Hi Jeffrey,

      I got my residency the “easiest” way there is – by being a father of Colombian kids. I say “easy” half-jokingly. It’s a lot of work haha – by immigration wise it’s the most straightforward way to obtain residency here. If you can get an employer to sponsor a visa to you, then that’s also an option, but it’s not easy. If the Colombian immigration authority considers your job something that any Colombian can do, then they will most likely reject it. The schools, language institutes and multinationals, though, have a good track record for helping with visa. Spousal or investors visa are also good options. Medellinliving.com just brought a good article on it.

      I have no idea how a commercial driver’s license differ from a regular license, but if you’re in Cali, I can hook you up with my contact Hector who has already helped several readers get their license.

      Good luck!

      Patrick

  3. Anyone know of any “Hector’s” in the San Diego, Pablado area in Medellin. I’m a believer in cutting all the red tape I can, and anything that can simplify getting stuff done here is worth it I have found out.

  4. Sooo . . . there is no written or driving exam required? Also, I know how to drive a car in the states, but how will I actually learn how to drive a moto in Colombia? Is there a booklet or something or should I just wing it? Wish me luck!

    • Kate, I did not do any written or driving exam. The pretty much signed me off knowing that the training I had from Europe was probably better anyway. I did have to do the medical exam, though.

      If you want the exams, I’m sure that they will be happy to give them to you! 🙂

  5. Hi Patrick,

    I’m wondering if you could put me in touch with Hector, and if I could ask you a few questions by email/WhatsApp. Can you shoot me a message with your contact details?

  6. Hi Patrick!

    Really great blog…very informational. If possible I would love to get information regarding “Hector” as well. Also, did you import your car into Colombia? If so was the process expensive?

    • Hola Natisha,
      You can not import your car into Colombia, unless you’re talking about a completely new car, a classic or a temporary import permit for tourism – 90 days with the an option to extend for another 90 days. Hope this helps….?

      /Patrick

  7. Hi,

    You said you’ve travelled to more than 52 countries in motorbike/car so I suppose you’ve travelled to other South American countries with Colombian license. The reason that I am asking you this is because I am thinking of getting Colombian motorbike license here and travel to Brazil/Peru/Chile etc by motorbike. If you did it so, was there any major problems you’ve had with local authorities that I have to be aware of? Was it ok just to show/flash my passport (Australian) and the license that I would-be getting in Colombia? I think you’ve kinda answered this question at the very end but I just wanted to know in more detail. Pm me please.

    Cheers

  8. That sounds easier than the opposite procces of converting the colombian licence into the danish one 😜. No way to skip the theoretical nor the practical exam. And let’s not talk about the price 😜 😂

  9. Hey, my name is Hayer and I am originally from Cali, Colombia but since I was two I have been living in the states. I travel to Cali every year and stay for about a month or two. My question is that I’m considering applying for a study abroad program with my school and it has me thinking if I could get used to living in Cali for a certain amount of time? Is adjusting to the city hard? Getting used to where you’re at?

    • Hi Hanyer, I’m sure you’ll have a blast as a student in Cali – and if you already speak Spanish and know the city, then even more so! Remember that you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take – Go for it!

  10. I don’t have a drivers license in the USA but want to get one in Colombia because I plan to buy a motorcycle there and drive everywhere for 3-6 months. Do I have to get a student visa or something in order to get a colombian drivers license?

    • I do not think that you can get a Colombian driver’s license without a Colombian cedula… so a tourist visa will unfortunately not be enough.

  11. Hey Patrick,

    Thanks for the blog! It’s great, useful, easy to read, and just nice to know its here! I’ve been living here in Cali now for about 7 months (Colombia over a year – like you, I married a Colombian) and am just now getting around to getting my Colombian DL. Would you mind sending me through Hector’s info? Cheers mate!

  12. Hi Patrick. I’m from Utah, in the USA. I have lived in Medellin about 9 months. I am married to a Colombian citizen. I finally got my 3 year nonresident visa, I’ve driven in the states, and Europe for 50 years, and now that I have my Colombian ID i need to get my license. Especially since we plan on living here for the next 5 years before applying for her green card.

    I speak a small amount of Spanish, so I’d rather bypass the classes and test. I have driven a little here, but I understand now I have my temporary residency I need a Colombian license. Can you put me in touch with a Hector in Medellin? Thanks

    • PM sent, but just like I told Justin, I’m sure there are tons of messengers like Hector as well – the challenge is finding them. I’d ask around the driving schools. In Cali, they are usually located right by the Transito’s main office making it “easy”.

  13. Great blog – so many useful tips even for those of us not living in Cali ..
    Can anyone give me the name of a “Hector” type of guy here in Medellin as this is something I need to arrange.
    Thanks in advance

    • Justin,
      I’m sure there are tons of messengers like Hector as well – the challenge is finding them. I’d ask around the driving schools. In Cali, they are usually located right by the Transito’s main office making it “easy”.

  14. Hello Senor Patrick,

    Your a lifesaver bub, great info. I’m Living in Cartagena and need help getting all the process done. I would love to come to Cali and hang out for a bit and meet you and the big guy Mr.Hector
    When you get the time, if you can send Hectors info to me would be great!
    I appreciate all your help! You the Man!

    • Fawaz, it takes about 45 days to get it all sorted out so coming to Cali may not be the most ideal solution. I would start by getting your information in the RUNT and then I’d ask around the driving schools. In Cali, they are usually located right by the Transito’s main office making it “easy”.

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