Thursday, September 22, 2011

Getting a Driver’s License for the First Time in Puerto Vallarta

I have been living here in Mexico for nearly 17 years now, and up until this time I had just renewed my Washington license when I was in Seattle. That was back in the good old days when I went every summer. The last time I was there I was going to take care of it, as my license was, I thought, about to expire. I took my daughter with me. I like to have a partner along for potentially long and painful situations. I took a number, and as my number was about 137 higher than the number that was just called, we decided to go across the street to a strip mall and have some Teriyaki, my little Mexican daughter’s favorite food on that trip. We had a leisurely lunch and crossed the street to wait. 

We didn’t have to wait long, as my number came up within five minutes. I went to the counter and produced my current license and said I would like to renew it. The counter guy looked the license over and asked me, “Do you have any physical or mental conditions which might impair your driving?”

“No”, I replied succinctly (official people like direct answers).

“Are you sure?” he persisted.

“Yes, pretty sure…why?” I answered, feeling a little less confident and wondering if he knew me better than I thought he did.
He looked at me with a gentle smirk, holding the card out toward me at a mocking angle and said, 

“Well, this license doesn’t expire until next year”.

Not really believing this, since I had it in my head for months that I would have to be renewing my license on this particular trip, I snatched the license and looked at it and sure enough, one more year on that damn thing. I burst out laughing and so did he. Then I begged him to please not tell anyone until I got to my car.

That Washington license finally did expire, and I’m not going up there this year, so it was finally time to get a license here in Mexico. I, like everyone, had heard stories of people taking days and several trips to get their first license (renewals are easier), but I was ready for whatever I had to do.

I went one afternoon to the Government of Jalisco Building in Fluvial. It is the big white thing. You really can’t miss it. I found the correct reception desk (straight in the front door, to the back and to the left) and asked for instructions for a new license for a foreigner. I was given a list of what to bring, and they instructed me to come back the next day at 10:30.

To get your license you will need to take the class. It is scheduled to begin at 10:30 am Monday through Friday, so you can go any week day.

What you need to bring:
▪ Current Passport
▪ FM3 or FM2
▪ Proof of Residence in your name (Telmex bill is the best)
▪ One copy of each of the above documents

You also need to be 18 years of age or over and know your blood type (they will ask).

You will also have to pass a written driving knowledge test. Here is a website where you can find the 103 possible questions in English and Spanish, but the test will be in Spanish on a computer and consists of 20 questions randomly chosen from the possible 103.

This was very helpful. I looked at the questions in English and Spanish, but took my practice test in Spanish. I’m pretty sure the average person can pass with a little preparation.

Here’s how it all went down:

10:10 My arrival

Went to reception desk and was sent to another desk where a man looked briefly at the documents I had to confirm that they were complete, and then he gave me a little piece of paper and asked what kind of license I want. If you are just a regular driver you want “Automovilista”. The fee is $420 pesos.
I stood in line to pay, and was given a receipt, very official looking.

10:20 Payment accomplished. Directed to sit and wait

10:37 About ten people were called to go to the informational class, in a small conference room, where we watched some video and slides (with only a slight delay for human technical deficiencies) on a large flat screen TV.

11:24 We were directed back to the waiting area

11:45 My name was called and the required documents were requested (actually, only the copies. Originals were not requested, but I would bring them anyway just in case). They took an electronic fingerprint of the right index finger and I was asked to sign on an electronic tablet with a stylus pen. Then a photo was taken.

11:53 A little more waiting

12:00 I was called  to take the test. It is 20 questions taken from the above mentioned document. I got 85% (there was a trick question) but passed anyway.

12:35 Brand new shiny official license delivered into my hand and I was out of there!

Note: I was not required to take a vision test or an actual driving test, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t ever happen. It’s just the way it was on this day.

Total time: 2 hours, 25 minutes. Not bad!

Everyone was very nice and it was a pleasant experience that I would not hesitate to repeat four years from now!



  1. Felicidades, Liana! I too was getting my foreign driver's license renewed every 5 years (BC in my case) but the last time I attempted that they not only wanted to see my passport but also my birth certificate. Damn! I left that back in Mexico! Without an additional year available (ji ji ji) my BC license lapsed and instead I acquired a Nayarit license but that's now due to expire. I figure I should follow your example and get a Jalisco one. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I have read that you can drive legally in any country that has diplomatic relations with Mexico if you carry a Mexican driver's license, so that means Canada and USA!

  3. I renewed my license today. After a short wait, I paid the cashiere who verified the validity of my old license and directed me to the documentation section next to the receptionist. There I was asked for original and a copy of FM3, passport, utility bill. I turned in my old license. No new written or vision test was requested. I was fingerprinted (all ten fingers), photographed, and ssked to sign a few documents. Ten minutes later I had my new license. I recommend going first thing in the morning - slightly less crowded. They open at 8:30. I arrived at 8:25 and was out the door by 9:15.

  4. Can some one please tell me how to get to the correct building? What road is it on?

  5. the link to the driving test questions isnt working is there another