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Getting Your Buenos Aires Driver’s License

UPDATE (12/4/13): There are new regulations in place that stipulate that if you have a foreign driver’s license and wish to get a full Argentina driver’s license, you need to get a certificado de legalizacion before going to get your Buenos Aires driver’s license. Without this, you will only be given a “beginner’s license” which means that you cannot drive on streets that are more than 70 kmph for the first six months. Beginners also need to take a six hour course on “seguridad vial” and present that certificate as well to get a full license.

Unfortunately, the certificado de legalizacion cannot be obtained from the US Embassy. You must get it from the Department of Vehicles for your state and then have an apostille from the Secretary of State as well – an arduous process that not many people will undertake.

The rest of the information below should be the same.
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I previously wrote about driving in Buenos Aires, now I’ll write about getting your driver’s license in Buenos Aires. Now, you may be saying, “Wait, shouldn’t the order of these two posts be reversed?” Technically, you would be correct.

I have been driving in Buenos Aires with my Vermont state license and and international license that I brought from AAA in the States. While that is ok on a tourist visa, once you have residency and your DNI you are legally required to get an Argentine license. In addition, I found out that your insurance company may deny coverage if you do not have a valid Argentine license. (Check with your company – La Caja denies coverage, but La Segunda does not.)

That last point (and getting hit by a motorcycle recently), finally pushed me into dealing with Argentine bureaucracy and going to get my license. The process is relatively straight-forward – if a bit time consuming. I’m going to detail the steps involved as some of the info I found on other expat sites has changed.

Note that you must have a DNI to get your driver’s license. Also, having a valid foreign issued driver’s license with the certificado de legalizacion means you’ll get out of taking the road test though you will still have to take the written test. Bring photo copies of both of these with you when you go (although they do have a place that does onsite photo copies too).

The first step is to make an appointment. You can do this online at the Buenos Aires city website or by phone at 147. On the day of your appointment, you’re going to have to head out to Dirección General de Licencias, Av. Roca 5252. This is way outside of the city, so plan on over an hour by bus or half an hour by car.

Once you get there, you walk in past the first two information booths (and the numerous stray dogs hanging out there) and turn to the left. There are a couple of desks there with a sign to check in. However, you actually have to go past those first to the opposite side and get a form that certifies you do not have any outstanding traffic violations or restrictions on your driving. This costs $40 pesos. (Don’t worry, they will give you the instructions on where to go and what to do when you get there.)

I hope they do not keep everything on paper!

If you have a valid U.S. issued driver’s license (and the certificado de legalizacion) and plan to skip the driving test, you next have to walk out the back door and go to the second building on your left – Archivos. In the archive office, you present your U.S. license so that they can enter it into the system which is used up front.

Once you have the form and have gone to archives, you go back to check in with those forms, your DNI, U.S. driver’s license and the photocopies. They’ll check everything over and then tell you to go wait for your name to be called. From here, everything proceeds according to numbered stations:

Starting the process…

1. Check In
You wait for your name to be called and then proceed to one of the cubicles to present your paperwork and DNI. Your photo and thumb print are taken and you’re required to provide an electronic signature. Then you’re sent to the next station. (Wait time: 20 minutes. Completion time: 5 minutes)

2. Visual Test
Just like in grade school, you stare into a box and recite the numbers that you see.  (Wait time: 10 minutes. Completion time: 2 minutes)

3. Audio Test
Put on the head phones and raise your left or right arm depending on what side you hear the tone on.  (Wait time: 15 minutes. Completion time: 2 minutes)

4. Psychological Test
Ok, so this one seemed a bit strange, but it basically consists of copying about 5 different patterns that you have onto a sheet of paper to make sure you do not have any neurological disorder. After you do that, you go and sit down and talk to a representative. I’m not sure if this is another part of the psychological exam, but he basically asked me about medical conditions or medicines I was taking. He also told me I was in Argentina for 3 years and I should have better Spanish by now. (He was a low talker too, so it was very hard to hear!) Anyone, seemed like I passed.  (Wait time: 20 minutes. Completion time: 15 minutes)

5. Medical Test
Basically, this one is simple too and just consisted of being asked about medical history.  (Wait time: 0 minutes. Completion time: 2 minutes)

6. Pick Up Paperwork
At this station, you wait for your name to be called and are handed a form with the results of all your previous tests. If you passed everything, you then need to take this form to pay the fee and then take the written exam.

The cashier’s are just across the way from where you pick up the paperwork. You simply give them your paperwork and $180 pesos and they validate that on the form.

You then head out the back of the main building again and go to the exam building which is straight ahead of you. As I said, with a valid driver’s license, you do not have to take the driving test, but you are required to take the written exam. There are some other sites that mention you have to listen to a talk, but that no longer seems to be a requirement if you have a license.

The exam is 30 multiple-choice questions on a computer, and you must score a 75% or higher to pass. All the exam questions are available on their website. The only document that really matters there is “Preguntas para los Exámenes.” If you read through those and understand them, you’ll sail through the exam.

My worry was that with my still limited Spanish, I would have a hard time with the exam. Luckily, they also have the exam in English! Well ok, they have the exam in English as an option, but of course, it was not working. I sat down, the first question came up in English, but there were no answers to choose from. I had to call the moderator over who put it back into Spanish for me. He then told me, “I speak English, so I can help you if you need it.” (I’ve also heard from other people who asked for help in English and had someone help them with it.) Anyhow, as I started the exam, all the questions were pretty easy based on my reading the document I mentioned above. I sailed through it and scored a 93%.

After getting my paperwork stamped, I headed back to the #6 step where I gave them all the paperwork and my DNI and went to wait for #7. (Wait time: 10 minutes. Completion time: 30 minutes)

7. Pick Up License
You get your license on the spot, which was a pleasant surprise. (Wait time: 15 minutes. Completion time: 0 minutes)

I’m now able to drive legally in Argentina after being a resident for the past two years! As I said, the process is fairly straight forward though time consuming and a pain to get to. Let me know if you have any other questions.

 

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The Joy of Driving in Buenos Aires

I’ve recently had an entirely new experience in Buenos Aires – the pleasure of having a car and driving around the city.  When I was first here, I was limited to the subway and taxis as my only means of getting around. (Yes, I never figured out the bus routes.)  Somehow, I have now become the designated driver and Laura has give me full control of her Toyota Corolla.

Now, when I say pleasure, I’m obviously being a bit sarcastic. I’ve driven extensively in NYC, so that helped to prepare me for Buenos Aires. Helped, I said, not fully prepared me.  I know how to weave in and out of traffic, but in Buenos Aires, the transit laws are quite a bit looser than even New York.  Here’s some of my observations from a few weeks on the roads here:

“Lanes are just suggestions.”
Like most places, Buenos Aires usually has lanes painted on the road. I say usually, because after some recent repaving on the highway near the local airport, it took a few weeks to actually paint the lanes back in. That made freeway driving a lot of fun in that area.  And, there are many places around the city where the lines have completely faded away and never been repainted.

However, unlike most places, those lanes tend to be taken as “suggestions” as to where to drive rather than actual fact. People weave in and out like I’ve never seen before. I’ve seen many places where there were three lanes painted on the road, yet there’s six cars across. When pulling up to a red light, people will try and squeeze their car in wherever there is space in order to be first when the light turns green.

“The horn is your friend.”
I’ve never been a serious horn user, even in NYC, but here using the horn is a daily event. Plain and simple – a lot of people drive like crap.  There is usually someone coming into my lane on a daily basis. They stop unexpectedly. They go slow unexpectedly. The horn just reminds them that there is actually another driver on the road.

“Never follow a taxi in the right lane. (or at all if possible)”
I should have known this from NYC, but it seems to be even worse here for some reason. Taxis in the right lane are generally looking for fares to pick up. They stop suddenly, accelerate suddenly, and pay no attention to anyone around them.  You’ll get really frustrated following them.

“At intersections with no lights or stop signs, the vehicle on the right has the right-of-way (usually).”
Like many other things, I’ve found that the rules of driving here tend to have a lot of exceptions. This is another one.  Most smaller intersections here, do not have lights or stop signs.  So, when you have two cars approaching from opposite directions, the general rule is that the car to the right has the right-of-way.  However, I’ve found that what is actually the case is that whatever way traffic is flowing has the right of way, and the other person has to wait for their chance to dart across.  This has been one of the most interesting experiences of driving here because it is so unlike anything back in the States. You quickly realize that if the other person has a nicer car, they are more hesitant to make the first move, so you also have an opening.

“Stop signs are really yield signs.”
Stop signs do actually exist here, but they seem to mean “yield” rather than “stop.” I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone come to a full stop.

“Red lights usually mean stop.”
At busy intersections, people obey the traffic signals. At less busy intersections, this is not so much the case. It is even less true if you are on a motorcycle.  Late at night, people tend to run red lights even more. I was told that this is a security precaution as people do not want to be held-up while stopped alone at a dark intersection.

“Lights turn yellow before turning green, giving drivers a chance to start going early.”
In addition to lights turning yellow before they turn from green to red, in Buenos Aires, lights also turn yellow before they go from red to green. This serves to let everyone know that a green light is coming and gives them a chance to really start accelerating before the light actually turns green.

“Pedestrians do not have the right-of-way.”
I’ve probably mentioned this before from the point of view of being a pedestrian, but as a driver, I’ve found that people are often confused when you wave them to go ahead, even when they do have the right-of-way. They’re so used to almost being run down when crossing the street that they’re very cautious and skeptical. So, now I’ve come to assume that I have the right-of-way as a driver, I won’t run anyone down, but I’m not stopping if there is space either.

“Gas is not cheap.”
While some things in Buenos Aires are still relatively inexpensive (though inflation is rising rapidly), gasoline is not one of them. Filling the tank of a Toyota Corolla costs about $180 pesos (US $46). Recent prices at the Shell station here were from $3.779 per liter (US $3.655 per gallon) for regular to $4.469 per liter (US $4.323 per gallon) for premium. I’ve come to dread having to refill the tank.

“Emergency vehicles leave their lights flashing, but you only have to move when the siren is also on.”
When I had the first ambulance behind me with its lights on, I looked around frantically trying to get out of the way. Laura asked me what I was doing, and then told me that they often leave their lights on, and that it only really mattered when the siren was also on. Good thing to know.

“My U.S. GPS works great.”
I should say that after a $99 upgrade to add the Argentine and Uruguayan maps, my TomTom GPS is working fine. I’ve noticed that the map is not as updated as the US version and it sometimes lists streets as open that have been closed or tells you to make a turn where turning is not possible. Still, it has been a life-saver and makes getting around the city a lot easier.

“You can’t make left turns across double yellow lines.”
This is one that took me a bit by surprise. In the States, I’m used to being able to make a left turn as long as there is not a sign saying no left turn. In Buenos Aires, you can only make left turns when you have an arrow or sign allowing it. Also, you’re not “technically” allowed to pull out of a parking lot and cross the double yellow line to go in the opposite direction.

“About 10% of the cars here have Apple stickers or red streamers on them.”
I was really amazed to see the number of cars that have the Apple logo stuck on the back of them. Yes, this is the sticker that Apple includes in the box with all their products. It seems to be a status symbol here – potentially because the cost of Apple products are double what they are in the States.

A lot of cars also have a red tape streamer off their bumpers.  I can only assume this is to catch the attention of the person behind them to make sure they are not rear-ended.

“Every time you drive downtown, you’ll hit two things: traffic and protests.”
Driving downtown during the weekdays inevitably means two things – traffic and protests.  Like any major city, Buenos Aires has some major traffic problems. Add to that the fact that porteños seem to love to protest and you have major gridlock. A favorite tactic of the protestors is to block lanes of traffic to make their point.  The police will never disperse them either. They simply wait for them to leave on their own. I cannot remember any day when we drove downtown and did not see a protest march at some point.

So, that pretty much sums up my first few weeks of driving in Buenos Aires. It’s nice to know that there are always more new things to experience here…

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The Argentine DMW

I’m happy to report that the Buenos Aires Registro del AutoMotor (the Argentine version of the DMV) is pretty much the same as its American counterpart – slow and inefficient. On the positive side, the Argentine DMV in Olivos had shorter lines than the NYC one. On the negative side, nothing is computerized and we had to go three times to get what we needed.

The first time that we went, I guess it was really not their fault that we had to come back.  We went just after Buenos Aires had been hit with a major hail storm, and the roof of the DMV offices had been completely destroyed.  The workers were sitting outside the office drinking their maté and told us no one could go inside. I asked if there was a different office, but as nothing here is completely computerized, we needed the actual papers of the car, which only existed inside this office’s filing shelves. They assured us that all the records were still safe and under plastic covers (reassuring) and that we should come back in a few weeks when the new roof was completed.

When we returned, the new roof was finished and the lines were not that bad. We were here to obtain a “Cédula de identificación para autorizado a conducir (Cédula azul),” or more simply “blue card.” This card basically shows that I am allowed to drive Laura’s car when she is not with me. (The car owner has a “Cédula verde”  or “green card,” that they carry which shows they are the owner.)  These cards are required whenever you are driving someone else’s vehicle and were intended to allow police to more easily find people driving stolen cars.  We had to present my DNI and all the papers of the car including the title as well as Laura’s DNI.  They looked over the paperwork and then went to the back to pull her car’s file.

I thought this process would take forever because you could see rows and rows of shelves with green folders for each car. The files looked completely disorganized and like they were basically ready to fall off the shelves, but surprisingly, the woman returned within a couple of minutes with her file. We paid the $95 peso fee and she told us to return the next day to pick up the card.  When we returned the following day, we walked in and walked out with the card within 10 minutes. Not too bad…

In addition to this card, you need an international driving permit to drive in Buenos Aires. I picked up mine at AAA while I was in the States though it is possible to obtain one in Buenos Aires as well. (you must get one in your home country)

Look for a future post with some of my observations on driving in Buenos Aires.  All I can say for now is, driving here is an experience.

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