Our Experience Getting Driver Licenses in Mexico

Source: Q-Roo Paul

Since we are full time residents of Mexico and drive a car with Mexican license plates, we both got our local driver licenses last year.

Readers often ask me what the requirements are to get a driver license in Mexico and that question is not easy to answer because just like in the United States, the requirements differ depending on jurisdiction. Nevertheless, I thought it might help some readers to hear about our experience in order to at least get an idea of what to expect.

The Requirements

The first thing we had to do was take a 200 question written test (only offered in Spanish), followed by a practical road test where we had to perform several high-speed maneuvers on a wet test track. If you don’t score at least 90% on the written test or if you hit two or more cones on the practical test, you fail and have to wait six months from attempting it again.

Just kidding! We didn’t have to do any of those things to get our licenses. Since we already had valid licenses from the U.S., we only had to supply the following documentation and pay $388 pesos each ($19.40 USD) to get our licenses in Tulum:

  • Copy of a valid passport
  • Copy of valid driver license from your home country
  • Proof of residency in the municipality of Tulum (e.g. electric bill in your name)
  • Certified blood test showing blood type (we had blood drawn at a local medical lab)
  • Proof of legal presence in the country (Temporary or Permanent Resident Card)

The licenses are valid for two years and they take your pictures at the office at no additional charge.

I knew that one of the readers would inevitably ask me if they could get a license with just a tourist visa, so I went by the Dirección General de Seguridad Pública y Tránsito in Tulum to inquire. The officer that I spoke with told me that foreigners had to either have a temporary or permanent resident card to get a license. He added that in the case of a temporary resident card expiring in less than two years, the license would expire on the same date.

Let’s Wrap This Up

An additional benefit of having a local license is that you can use it as proof of address to get a local’s discount. Just in case you’re wondering, a resident card does not have an address on it.

If you’re thinking about getting a local license in Mexico, I’d recommend getting a list of the requirements from the local office tasked with issuing them. This will save you a lot of wasted time and frustration in the long run.

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About the Author

Qroo Paul
Paul Kurtzweil (Q-Roo Paul) was a deputy sheriff in Florida for 25 years before retiring at the rank of lieutenant in 2015. He and his wife moved to Mexico looking to maximize their retirement income. They later started a blog called Two Expats Mexico (qroo.us) to share their experiences as well as information about the logistical and legal aspects of retiring south of the border.

26 Comments on "Our Experience Getting Driver Licenses in Mexico"

  1. Lol…good opening paragraph

  2. Karen Venzke | January 11, 2017 at 8:30 am |

    Didn’t you need pictures? If so…what size?

  3. You had me going there! I was up for the high-speed maneuvers on a wet test track! WooHoo! Thanks for your blog – it is always informative and fun!

  4. Do you have to have a Mexican DL with a Mexican plated car?

    • Most of the expats that we know do not have local licenses even though they have a Mexican plate. We had a plate before we had the license and when we got stopped once, the officer told us that he could have cited us.

    • Traffic laws vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, just like it does in the U.S. That makes it difficult to give you a definitive answer.

  5. At first I was thinking no way will I ever pass that written test! But I know I would kill it on the driving test! Lol!
    I got to admit I really enjoy reading your blog it is defiantly informative and entertaining. I look forward to reading the next one.

  6. Carol Darling | January 11, 2017 at 11:02 am |

    I am loving your blog and LOVED the opening paragraph here as well. My bio-father has lived in Ajijic for over 20yrs now & I know that renewals & paperwork are all done in Spanish ( not English) so you really had me going for a minute too. I would have added – as this applies in his area – ‘dodging loose donkeys & horses’. I too am law enforcement – 30+ yrs now – and we travel to Cozumel every chance we get.I have been going since the 80’s and my husband since I met him 13 yrs ago. We have thought about maybe retiring in Mexico someday. Maybe not. Maybe just live there thru the winters. Who knows ? So I love your blog. Enjoy.

  7. Yes getting a DL is easy. Our first one was 15 years ago. We presented our US drivers license, gave them copies of medical records that showed our blood type and a copy of our water bill. That went very smoothly. At our fourth renewal they wanted another blood type test. When I pointed out that blood type does not change they said they knew it but the new Director wanted them to do it. So off to the local hospital since they would no longer take medical records or our expiring licenses as proof of type. At the hospital we paid a small sum, told to wait in a hall for a doctor. A doctor appeared with a form and … asked us our blood type. She then entered that on the form. No blood testing at all. On Isla Mujeres the biggest pain is that the office to obtain the license is mid island but you have to go to the Municipal office downtown to pay and return with the form with a stamp “paid”. So while it is easy it is a lot of running around. As it seems to only happen in Mexico, a few years ago we went through the process, they took our pictures but then said they did not have cards to print out the license. So with a letter as proof of license we were told return in two weeks. After returning 3 times (six weeks) we were told they had the cards but not the ink to print them so we got a new letter and were told to return in two weeks. We did and what do you know they had ink and cards. Thinking we were ready to go they gave us the licenses but told we needed to return in two weeks to get them laminated. I offered to just have it laminated myself but was told no that was not an option. The lamentation they apply has a hologram that is necessary. So two weeks later we returned and they had the necessary lamination. So that year it took over 10 weeks and many trips back to the police station. Since we have both a car and a motor scooter we need to have two licenses which at least have the same renewal dates.

    It is the same problem with renewal of license plates. In January every two years we go with the required paperwork and copies, pay our fees and then are told to return in a few weeks or months since they don’t have the plates or stickers yet. One year it was not until April that they had the plates.

    After 15 years I should be accustomed to the “manana” process if doing business but I mistakenly hope that a government office has the ability to not only take the money but can also provide the service. Maybe this year it will be different?????

  8. Loved this post, Paul. Funny and great info. Thank you so much. Deb and Joe Kuffner : )

  9. So funny! I literally laughed out loud when I hit “Just Kidding.” I’d already imagined how many cones I would hit on the test track.

    (I’d also already marveled at all the people I’d ridden with in Mexico, “Wow! He PASSED that?”)

  10. Just curious. Why would they want your blood type? What could that kind of information possibly do for them? They keep your DNA on file?

    • Traffic crashes and emergency treatment

      • Javier Macías | January 11, 2017 at 4:25 pm |

        Talking about laws, which I recently learned you are someone very into studying them; in Mexico city there was a time where you could just add at your driver´s license the legend “organ donor”, apparently that should have been enough so that in the case a person ended up with brain death, that person should have been a multiple organ donor. Then, some 2 or 3 years ago I suppose the law was pretty much better written as I was invited electronically while paying taxes at the city´s government´s webpage to sign electronically to become an organ donor, only to find out that I can start the process electronically, but needed to print it and then go to some office to turn it in to make it valid, apparently via some sort of juridic process to make it “legal” so I thought, this is a waste, I´ll just end up losing my time!! Sadly, needless to say, we are centuries behind other countries in the matter of cadaveric organ donation, in spite of having lots of doctors trained nationally and internationally willing to do (both paid and altruist; this last one also to “practice”) the transplant surgeries.
        Also answering Heather, there´s this magical thought raised in the 60´s – 80´s where people thought they could save their lives in (like you mentioned) an accident or emergency situation by knowing their blood type, so many even used to wear a necklace with their blood type. I can testify in every decent hospital of the country, a bleeding person will get some blood drawn out to determine blood type in seconds and compatibility tests to make an urgent transfussion, but let´s remember adorable Mexico is abismally different between wealthy and poor sectors so (sadly) in a public hospital in a not very large city a person might be taken by a highway ambulance bleeding, to find out that day the person in charge of the blood bank or the lab decided not to show up or has a “free day pass” (they exist at IMSS and ISSSTE, I swear!) so no one can make the compatibility tests and therefore, literally, just knowing the blood type of the patient could really save ther life. More often and more realistic, it´s not weird that specially at small towns, a hospital has in stock only certain types of blood types so the same conclussion applies there.

  11. Susan Allard Snider McKee | January 11, 2017 at 7:39 pm |

    I thought you were from Canada ?

  12. Brian Vasile | January 14, 2017 at 8:00 pm |

    Great blog guys. Since u have a Mexican car and driver licence, Have u taken it across the border to the USA? And if u have were their any issues? thanks

    • I have the same question. Can you legally drive in the U.S. and specifically Florida with a valid Mexican driver license? There was once a question about the requirement of an International Driver Permit, but I think (in Florida) the IDP is not necessary. Does F.S.S. 322.04 still allow one to drive with a valid Mexican driver license?

      • Q-Roo Paul | July 13, 2017 at 4:17 pm |

        You can drive in Florida with a foreign license for one year. That time frame restarts every time you leave the country. The exception will be if your Florida license is suspended for some reason and this is just an attempt to circumvent that.

        To find the legal basis for this one, you have to look away from statutes and toward international treaties dating back as far as 1949. That means this applies to every state in the United States.

        So, even if a particular state has requirement that you obtain a local license within 30 days, if it conflicts with a U.S. treaty, the treaty always takes precedence because of the 6th Amendment to the Constitution — also referred to as the “Supremacy Clause”.

        I should mention the majority of law enforcement officers — and even some attorneys — are unaware of this fact. I know that because I used to teach this topic to law enforcement officers around the country. I often had attorneys and a couple of judges sit in as well.

  13. In SMA, one can get a license with a tourist visa–my wife and I did so, summer of 2016. We “surrendered” our California licenses which allowed us to bypass testing. (We got replacements when we returned to CA.) Having a GTO license allowed me to buy a new Honda moto in December 2017. Viva la diferencia!

  14. Lucky!

  15. Maybe I missed it, did you have to surrender your FL license when you obtained the QR one?

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