Getting a drivers license in another country

If you’re going to be staying in your new foreign destination for a period of months or even years, there may come a time when you want to get a drivers license. It may seem like the last thing on your To Do list when you’re abroad, behind 1) Chill at the beach, 2) Drink copious amounts of fruity drinks as I tan, and 3) Start over at #1.

Getting a drivers license in another countryBut there is some practical use to having a drivers license in your new travel home. In fact, you may want to rent a car, or register and start driving a moto (very popular) or motorcycle around, or your new job as a SCUBA dive instructor or working for that luxury resort may require you to shuttle guests around.

Sometimes, it’s just plain fun to have a drivers license from another nation – the ultimate souvenir when you go back home!

That’s the case as I just got my drivers license here in Cebu in the Philippines, as my old California license from when I lived in the U.S. a million years ago (ok, only 2011) is expired.

This isn’t my first drivers license rodeo abroad, as I’ve also tried to get a license in Cambodia before and also started the process in Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

So, if you’re going to apply for a license no matter in which country, here are a few of my general notes and observations to help prepare (or entertain) you!

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First off, get ready to be confused, as the process requires even more patience and a lot more steps than getting it in the U.S. But, some corners can be rounded in the process when you’re abroad.

Also, you should remember to dress nicely at the Department of Motor Vehicles (probably called the Ground Transportation Office or something else) in another country. They actually usually require long pants, shoes, and a collared shirt for picture taking, although those rules don’t ever seem to be applied to locals – just foreigners.

Speaking of pictures, They even sometimes prohibit you from smiling in photos! And they’ll make you take your glasses off, even if they are prescription.

Many drivers applications require a medical test as the first step. These are usually done at an affiliated clinic, and they’ll check your blood, give you a drug test, maybe do a vision test, and more.

Once you have your appointment at their GTO (our DMV), the next step will be to apply for your actual license. However, if your U.S. license is expired (like mine was), you may have to start with a student permit. After filling out multiple forms, taking a photo, etc., they’ll hand you a piece of paper in a plastic cover that allows you to (in theory) learn how to drive.

Thirty days later (as long as you haven’t crashed), you’re invited back to wait some more, shuffled from seat to seat, window to window, desk to desk, and worker to worker. Finally, they take another photo, more fingerprints, confirm some info and voila! They print out a plastic ID card and give it to you right on the spot.

Oh, and the most interesting part? I never got behind the wheel of a car the whole time! They kept talking about a driving or road test, but when it started raining hard while I was waiting in the office, they got lazy (it was right before lunch) and didn’t want to get wet, so they assumed I could drive and sent me out into the city with a brand new license!

Interesting – and watch yourself on the roads!

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Norm Schriever is a blogger, Amazon best-sellling author, cultural mad scientist, and enemy of the comfort zone. His work appears in the Huffington Post,, Good Morning America, The Anderson Cooper Show on CNN, NBC, MSN, Yahoo,, and media all around the world.
Norm grew up in Connecticut and graduated from the University of Connecticut, where he was never accused of overstudying. After expatriating to Costa Rica in 2011, he started traveling the world and documenting what he saw. He now lives in Southeast Asia, writing his heart out and working with local charities.

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