So, you’re moving to Puerto Rico and you want to establish residency. To do so, you’ll need to get a drivers license. However, as with so many things, it’s never as simple or “by the book” as it probably should be.
To complicate things, “the book” is hard to find as there seems to be contradictory and outdated information everywhere. On top of that, the people at DTOP (Departamento de Transportación y Obras Públicas) seem to use a different set of rules than what is listed online.
So, in this article, I’ll cover both the theory and practice of getting a Puerto Rico drivers license assuming you have a VALID U.S. or German drivers license.
Getting a Drivers License In Puerto Rico: In Theory
New residents must obtain a valid Puerto Rico driver’s license within 30 days of establishing residency and may register to vote after 30 days. You can find all of this information at the DTOP Website but, for your convenience, I translated it to English and cut out all of the fluff.
If you happen to be in the military, go talk to someone there. They’ll know the latest tricks and procedures to make it as easy as possible, since your rules will be slightly different.
In any case, plan on this process taking most of a day and schedule accordingly.
If you are a U.S. citizen and you have a valid drivers license you must provide the following:
- Download and fill out DTOP-DIS-257 SOLICITUD PARA CERTIFICADO DE LICENCIA DE CONDUCIR VEHÍCULOS DE MOTOR POR RECIPROCIDAD (Reciprocity application)
- Download and fill out DTOP-DIS-260 (CERTIFICACIÓN MÉDICA PARA CERTIFICADO DE LICENCIA DE CONDUCIR (Medical Certification)
- Your existing drivers license
- Social security card (make sure it is not laminated, they won’t take it if it is) or German equivalent
- Valid Passport
- Birth certificate (if you were born in Puerto Rico, make sure it is blue, they won’t take a yellow one)
- Two 2×2″ passport pictures (you can get these at any Walgreen’s or CVS pharmacy with a photo center for $5 – $8/person)
- A $10 and separate $1 tax stamp from the local Hacienda office (just tell them it’s for a drivers license and they’ll help you out)
- At least 2 documents proving residency (lease, water bill, cable, etc…) that are no more than 2 months old.
- At least 2 photocopies of all of the above documents (except the pictures)
Take all of the above documentation to the closest DTOP office to get started.
OK, here’s where it get’s complicated, if you’re from one of these states (or Germany)…
- South Dakota
You should be able to just trade-in your old drivers license and get a new one without taking a written test. Also, in theory, you don’t need the $10 tax stamp from the hacienda office but it’s better safe than sorry.
If you’re from one of these states…[ezcol_1half]
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- South Carolina
- Washington DC
- West Virginia
You will need to take a written test to get your Puerto Rican drivers license. You can take the test in Spanish or English but it can be a bit tricky. You will find a Spanish copy of the Manual del Conductor at this link. You can ask for an English version at the DTOP office or, sometimes, you can get them at Walgreen’s.
Study it and make sure you know the fines for various things (like street racing and having too dark of tint) and you should do fine. If you need to retake the driving test, it will cost you an additional $10 because you must return to the Hacienda office and get another stamp but, at least, you don’t have to get the $1 stamp again.
Now, if your license has expired, you’re not from the U.S., or if you’re from one off these states…
- Rhode Island
You will not only have to take the written test but, also, the practical driving test. So, just prepare yourself as best you can by studying the Manual del Conductor and channel your inner 16-year old self to take the test.
Getting a Drivers License In Puerto Rico: In Practice
Now let’s talk about how this worked for Joanna and I in practice as we traded in our Michigan licenses (partial reciprocity) for our Puerto Rican licences.
The first thing you need to know is that having the above documentation is 80% of the hassle for getting your PR license! If you have the above with you when you show up at DTOP, you will be able to navigate the bureaucracy just fine by asking questions and presenting all of your papers. The workers will root through your documentation and take what they need. Keep track of your originals so they don’t get lost.
My recommendation is to go to DTOP in advance and show them your current license and they will give you a list of everything you will need. Then, plan on coming back later with all the documents and forms filled out.
Now that you know that, I’m going to break down Joanna’s and my experiences getting our licenses as they we’re slightly different.
Because, according to the DTOP website and the back of the DTOP-DIS-257 form, Michigan has only partial reciprocity, I expected to take the written test but didn’t have to. Better yet, because my Michigan license didn’t expire for more than a year, I didn’t even need to get the medical certificate. This was good because I didn’t have it since, at that point, I didn’t have a doctor here on the island yet.
Turns out that, according to the folks behind the counter at the DTOP office, due to a new rule in 2014, Puerto Rico now has full reciprocity with all states. Unfortunately, I cannot find ANY documentation to this effect (and I spent some time looking) so, please treat it as a rumor and don’t count on it being accurate. Nonetheless, it turned out to be true for me.
So, I simply exchanged my Michigan license, gave them my paperwork, got my pictures taken (turns out the pictures you bring go into your records and are not used on the license) and I had my new license.
Total time: <1 hour
Like me, she had a valid Michigan drivers license and all of her paperwork except the medical form. Unfortunately, her license was due to expire in 7 months. Well, this turned out to be a problem, it meant that she needed to have the medical form.
Of course, she didn’t yet have a doctor on the island either, so, now what?
It turns out that near every DTOP office, a “doctor” sets up shop for exactly this scenario. You can often find people working for him/her standing in the DTOP parking lots. Sometimes they will have signs, sometimes they won’t. However, they will usually be handing out flyers and offering to help everyone that walks past.
If you’re really lucky, there will be more than one of these doctors nearby. I’ll explain why in a bit…
Anyway, Joanna found one of these people and went to the “doctors office”. It was a poorly maintained old house with 2 desks and a eye chart on the wall.
She talked to the receptionist and asked her how much to get the medical form done. The woman behind the desk took her DTOP-DIS-257 paperwork, looked her up and down, and said “$50”. Joanna didn’t have $50 on her, so she had to get some more cash first.
Of course, the woman wouldn’t give Joanna back her blank DTOP-DIS-257 form (in an attempt to make sure Joanna returned). So, Joanna made a mistake there that you can learn from: do not let anyone outside of DTOP take your forms!!!
So, she went and got more money and found me (since I was finished) and we both wen’t back to the “doctors office”. On the way there, we had a bit of luck, we ran into another “doctor’s helper” and she handed us a flyer that said the medical forms can be filled out for just $15.
Hmm… We took one of the flyers and went to the original place.
When we got there, the same woman was behind the desk. Joanna showed her the flyer from the other doctor and told her she wanted her paperwork back, so she could get it done for just $15 instead of $50.
The woman said “Why? It’s the same price”. Joanna, being quick witted, realized that the woman was lowering the price, confirmed it was only $15 now, and just handed over the money ($15 cash).
That’s the second lesson for you; grab all the flyers from all of the doctors you can find. Use them as bargaining chips to get the best price. It’s not uncommon to be given “gringo prices” on the first try.
Next, Joanna saw the doctor. He was sitting at the adjacent desk and literally asked her 3 questions, had her look at the eye chart, and signed the papers.
With papers in hand, we returned to the DTOP office and we handed it all in. A short while later, they took Joanna’s picture and she also walked out of there with a Puerto Rican drivers license.
Total Time: 3 Hours+ (that’s including running to the bank to get cash)
Getting a Drivers License In Puerto Rico: Conclusion
If you need to get your PR license, it’s going to be an adventure. Yes, you might luck out like I did but I wouldn’t count on it. Just make sure you have all of your paperwork and a lot of patience and you’ll be fine. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions at DTOP, if you’re not sure about anything. If you don’t, you will be making multiple trips.