My Ecuadorian Driver's License Odyssey

I submitted the below story in the Expat Guide last week, but don't see it there yet. Plus, the site moderator suggested I do a Forum post dedicated to this topic as something of interest to subscribers. So here 'tis:


My purpose with this story is NOT to bash Ecuador or the good people in the driver's licensing bureau. Bless their hearts - they stood by me admirably to see things through, especially that final, long day in Gualaceo - to be described. They can only work within the systems and processes available to them today.

Ecuador is rapidly improving in many, many ways, including efforts to streamline government processes. Even President Correa has made it a priority. But there's a long way to go - it's an immense and expensive undertaking, especially considering the re-training involved.

My purpose in this is simply to help you realize that when expats living here say to you, "It can be difficult to get things done in Ecuador," they *really* mean it. But it's hard for someone who hasn't experience it to really appreciate the heads-up.

The point is: can you be patient and laugh through it all in the meantime and *have joy in your life anyway*:

The Story

How well you fare in Ecuador depends a great deal on how you deal with bureaucracy. Problem is, when I say "bureaucracy", you have no idea... You see, I really pay attention when expats or wannabe expats converse about living in Ecuador. The topic almost always comes up about the difficulty of getting things done - both government and business. Trouble is, the ones doing the listening demonstrate with their understated expressions and that they have no clue what "difficulty of getting things done" can mean here.

So, I'd like to share my recent *ninth-month process* - no, that's not a typo - of getting an Ecuadorian driver's license, endorsed for both autos and motorcycles. THEN you can decide - yes, *decide* - if you're going to laugh when such things happen to you - and they WILL - or whether you're going to go into "that doesn't make any sense" mode, get angry, protest and make yourself miserable.

Here's all it took to get my driver's license (by the way, if you move here and get stopped without the proper driver's license - they have routine check stops - you could be fined and spend 3 - 4 days in jail!):

- Application form
- Current Washington State driver’s license (skirted the need to take a week-long driving school, in Spanish)
- Ecuador Cedula (national ID card, which required a permanent Visa)
- Two Red Cross blood-type cards
- Apostilled, translated and notarized Washington State driving record
- Manual dexterity test
- Eye-foot coordination test
- Eye test
- Hearing test ("failed" at first; they had the output volume turned all the way down)
- Ecuadorian Doctor’s certification of physical and mental competence (with my facilitator; me sitting outside his office, unnecessary)
- Waited five months for the name of Washington State to be added to the new Ecuadorian licensing software (about a dozen States had not been included in the list; I can envision the conversation between the techs building the system: “I don’t have to put ALL of these names in here, do I? There’s a pot-load of them. And what about these Canadian provinces?"
- Apostilled, translated and notarized college diploma (for motorcycle only; I assume to assure that I won’t fall off) (took my college three-and-a-half months to get the Secretary of State what they required for apostille)
- Re-do of manual dexterity test - because the first one expired due to the delays
- Re-do of eye-foot coordination test - because the first one expired due to the delays
- Re-do of eye test - because the first one expired due to delays (the Doctor asked me if I needed my glasses to drive. I said, “No.” He entered “No restrictions” on the app form. An eye chart hung on the wall behind him, but he never used it.)
- A second trip to get the Ecuadorian Doctor's certification of physical and mental competence - because the first one expired due to delays; but the only Doctor who could provide it was on vacation for two weeks - with no back-up available; we decided to ignore it and see if anybody noticed; somebody noticed, but decided he didn't care
- Computerized auto exam: Must get at least 16 of 20 Spanish-language multiple-choice test questions correct; got 17 on first attempt
- Computerized motorcycle exam: Must get at least 16 of 20 Spanish-language multiple-choice test questions correct; got 13, then 14, finally 16.
- Going five times on the final day to three different banks to find somebody who could successfully process license fee payments (government agency’s don’t accept payments; therein lies a book in itself)
- Fees: $65 x 2 for licenses, plus $75 for miscellaneous fees
- Personal driver/translator/facilitator over the nine months: estimate $250 @ $10/hour
- The final day at the licensing agency took seven-and-a-half hours; the system refused to accept my applications/photos/digital fingerprints for 2.5 hours; ultimately, they had to call Quito to re-boot the licensing system’s central computer server

When they finally put the license in my hand, I felt like I’d just received Ecuador’s equivalent of the Medal of Honor.

Now, I got frustrated at times at the sheer avoidability - in the modern world  - of everything that happened. But I didn't get angry with anyone. And I did manage to to laugh a bit at each turn of events. I did that by simply *remembering the big reasons* that I moved to Cuenca, Ecuador and love it here. And I'm determined not to let the little stuff get in the way. (There's a saying, "And it's all little stuff.)

In this case, the "big reason" is that being driver's license-legal means the freedom to move about this gloriously beautiful, interesting and colorful country *my way* - whenever I want, in the manner I want. I won't be encumbered by the restrictions of buses, trains, taxis, etc. I’m *free*! That’s worth a ton to me.

Bottom line, I have zero regrets about relocating to Ecuador and still maintain that I have had no unpleasant surprises. I hope to meet you in a sunny patio cafe in Cuenca one day.

Meanwhile, if you want more insights on the daily-living realities of an expat living in Ecuador, I wrote the book: "Relocating to Ecuador: Eyes Wide OPEN - Quick-Reading, bulleted do's and don'ts that the author wishes had been available to clarify things before his own move to Cuenca."


Terry Dean Roberts

Moderated by kenjee 10 months ago
Reason : No advertising allowed on the forum please. You can drop adverts in the Classifieds section found under Handy Tools on the top banner.

What you did was License Exchange/Canje de licencia?
My hubby just paid $135 dollars for a car driver's license.
Yes, the bureaucracy is WAY too much. They looked at my hubby's license like it was written in Egyptian LOL
I'm told that Guayaquil is way better for all those things. We got our vehicle registered for 1st time in Cuenca, then we heard that renewing the registration in Guayaquil was cheaper, so there we went. We were done in less than 30 mins and saved $100!!! Everything was done in 1 place (payments, copies, signatures, all)

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