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Getting My Driver License in Puerto Rico

DMVs and their equivalent everywhere are terrible, but I feel they are all awful in their own unique way. After 9 months of living in Puerto Rico, my expiring Missouri driver license forced me to take on the Departamento de Transportación y Obras Públicas (DTOP), or the Puerto Rican equivalent of the DMV.

A few days before my Missouri license was set to expire, Pedro and I logged onto the DTOP website to see what I would need to change out a Missouri license for a shiny new Puerto Rican one. We discovered there are 3 categories.

Category 1: Full Reciprocity

Licenses that can be surrendered in exchange for a Puerto Rico license by only paying a new license fee and not taking any exams include: Germany, Florida, Illinois, Maine, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.
Is anyone else totally confused about how Germany ended up on this list? Puerto Ricans go to and from New York so much that they created the word Nuyoricans and yet New York is not on this list. Meanwhile, Germans can just pop into the DTOP whenever they want and be like “yo, can I just have a legal document of identification?” and Puerto Rico will just be like “Yeah sure, that’ll be 11 dollars.”

Category 2: Partial Reciprocity

sello

This is a “sello” It’s just a fancy sticker that is somehow currency.

The majority of US states, including Missouri, fell into this category. Partial reciprocity means that anyone holding this license will have to surrender the ID and will also have to take the written exam. The website specifically lists these (and only these) things as requirements to exchange a “Partial reciprocity” license for a Puerto Rican License:
– Valid License
– 11 dollars in sellos/government stamps (You know how at carnivals you have to buy ride and food tickets from one guy just to hand him to the person actually providing the ride or food so that he doesn’t touch money? That’s basically what sellos are, for the government)
That’s it. The website says if you can pass a 20 question written driving exam and turn in these two things, you’re golden.

Category 3: Screw you, French Canadians. Oh, and some other random locations can piss off as well

Poor Hawaii, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Washington, and apparently Quebec.
Ok so the official name of this category is actually “No Reciprocity” but “Screw you” seemed like the general sentiment, because your license is worthless and you have to start from scratch. The website only lists the states, but when I arrived at the DTOP there were three photos of Quebec drivers licenses and each of them had several Xs, red marks, and “NO”s written all over them. One of them had an extra Post It note that said “NO RECIPROCITY.” I don’t know what the French Canadians did to Puerto Rico, but clearly, they need to talk to the Germans about how to sweet talk Puerto Rico into getting better treatment at the DTOP.

Everything’s a lie and nothing matters

As soon as I got to the front of the line, the woman behind the counter presented me with a list of things I would need in order to change out my ID. You might recall that the website’s list had exactly two things – $11 and my ID. Here’s the actual list:
Valid License
$11 in sellos
Medical Examination
Two 2×2 photos
Birth Certificate or Passport
Social Security Card
Recent bill in your name sent to your home address

Thanks to the DTOP, I not have an assortment of semi unflattering 2x2 photos of myself.

Thanks to the DTOP, I not have an assortment of semi unflattering 2×2 photos of myself.

So basically, the website was full of all kinds of lies. Luckily, I had anticipated this. I spent months navigating the Argentine Immigrations System, so I had learned that in these situations, it’s best to come with everything you could possibly have. The only things I was missing were the medical examination and the photos. Of course, because this is Puerto Rico and nothing “official” actually matters, there are several doctor offices right next to the DTOP who will gladly give you a “medical examination.”

You healthy? Good. That will be $27 dollars

I walked across the street to a doctor’s office. I sat across from him and he asked me 4 questions. Do you have contacts? Do you have heart problems? Do you have seizures? Are you healthy? I answered “Yes, no, no, yes.” He checked the appropriate boxes and asked me the sign the papers. His secretary took my photo and handed me seveal copies. The entire process took 5 minutes and cost me $27 dollars. I walked out of there thinking I had just visited the traffic ticket attorney version of a doctor. The guy wasn’t even wearing scrubs or holding a novelty stethoscope. He was just a dude who checks boxes and signs a paper. I wanted to be appalled, but when I thought about how my Argentina Work Visa Medical Exams took half a day and left me sad, hungry, and confused, I figured this was actually a win.

A section of my medical exam. The first line says "observations" and the rest are specific body parts: ears, arms, legs, physical and mental defects. These were literally his observations from looking at me.

A section of my medical exam. The first line says “observations” and the rest are specific body parts: ears, arms, legs, physical and mental defects. These were literally his observations from looking at me.

On the way back into the DTOP, two women approached me trying to promote another doctor who was on the other side of the building. They told me I got ripped off, that their doctor would do it for $22 bucks. They were hustling right in an official government parking lot and zero fucks were given by anyone.

Run before they realize their mistake

Once I had all my papers, I presented them to the proper employee. I kept waiting for them to issue me the written exam, but I wasn’t about to bring it up. I went through the process of getting my photo taken and was called back up to the desk. The employee handed me back all the papers I had just filled out, including the photos I had paid the sketchy doctor to take. She told me the papers were mine to keep, then handed me a freshly printed Puerto Rican license. I was very confused about the missing test and even more confused by the reasoning behind giving me my papers, but the license was in my hand, so I booked it out of there as fast I could.

Mind yo business.
And that, my friends, is how I became a Puerto Rican citizen.

37 Responses to Getting My Driver License in Puerto Rico

  • C. Delgado says:

    I think you were trying to be funny and witty, but your experience translates very snobbish. I really feel disrespected, maybe for your friends it might be funny, but to everyone I have sent your blog to, and myself, we are less than impressed. And yes, that is a drivers license, an official document, what did you mean exactly? Did you make fun of it, why? I am so annoyed by this.

    • reasek says:

      I’m not making fun of the document itself, I’m making fun of the process of getting it. It was comical to me that an official website would have completely incorrect information about what to bring into the DTOP and the entire official “medical exam” was funny because it wasn’t an exam at all.
      I certainly did not write this to offend any Puerto Ricans. If you look at my old posts from when I lived in Argentina, you will see that I went through a much more ridiculous process to get my documentation there, and yet I still consider Argentina home, a place that I very much love.
      I’m not sure why you feel disrespected, but I am sorry you feel that way.

      • joe says:

        Mr Delgado… if you live in our beautiful PR you know that her “Licencia” experience is, sadly, completely accurate. Thank God she didnt experience the “System is down come back tomorrow” thing.

        With sarcasm… “Puerto Rico does it better. Welcome to PR Mrs.”

        Without the sarcasm.. Welcome!! Hope you enjoy the life in the island an love it, not for the goverment and stuff, but because of the people and the natural beauty of it.

        • reasek says:

          hahaha, love the sarcasm!
          But I am loving the beaches and weather here! I also recently started volunteering to protect the Tinglares so that has been really incredible as well.

  • Brenda says:

    I really don’t get why this could be offensive, I mean, us Puerto Ricans have to go through the same process when we’re getting our renewals. Just a few weeks ago I had to get a duplicate becausr I got mine stolen. I can relate to all you wrote. Definitely it is an experience for someone who’s not from here.
    Brenda recently posted..Traveleira necesita ayudaMy Profile

    • reasek says:

      Thank you! That’s terrible that you are that afraid of the office but I’m not surprised. You should try a smaller town, it’s not as bad as the big towns from what I hear.

  • Alysha says:

    I was born and raised in Puerto Rico and went through all these issues while living there. I didn’t bat an eyelash or give it a second thought since it was what it was. As any other puertorrican would, I’d complain though “i will bet that they’ll claim the “system is down” and it takes me three hours to get this or that thing done”. This article is so spot on and shines light on the reality of getting something done in the DTOP, which as any puertorrican knows, it’s exhausting. I moved to Florida six months ago, and put off going to the DMV for five of these months, dreading the process since I came from a place where they make it almost impossible for you to get things done. But when I went to the DMV I was in and out in under ten minutes. Something that would never happen in Puerto Rico.

    I don’t know if you lost your cool at any given moment, but with your article you come across as very patient and I’m proud of that. Puerto Rico needs patient people who make light of things. I for one enjoyed your article and I showed it to my girlfriend, because she’s been hearing me talk about how uphill getting something done in Puerto Rico is. This just helped me show her. So thank you. It was hilarious and spot on.

    • reasek says:

      OMG when my boyfriend and I tried to get our water turned on we had to go several times because the systems was always “down” hahaha.

      Thank you for comments about my patience. I think after going through a MUCH more complicated process of becoming a legal resident of Argentina and obtaining a work visa, I have a much higher tolerance for insanity like this haha. It was frustrating, but I tried to keep a sense of humor about it. I’m glad your girlfriend has a better idea of what it’s like in PR now. You two might enjoy my video series on Youtube, The State of Puerto Rico According to Rease. I look at things in PR through the eyes of a Midwestern and kind of discuss and rant about them.

  • I loved your article! Yes, I sometimes wonder why Puerto Rico doesn’t get with the times. I live in Virginia and the process of getting my license was painless.
    Two things:
    1) Germany might get reciprocity because many Puerto Ricans join the Army and end up living in Germany for a few years. Some of them then return.
    2) Pay no attention to critics that feel offended. They are what we call ‘acomplejados’. Ask a Rican friend for a more thorough definition.
    Hazme Café recently posted..24 empresas y entidades que celebran el amor para todosMy Profile

    • reasek says:

      Thank you! Your explanation of Germany does make sense, but I don’t see why ALL US states don’t just have automatic reciprocity too! PR is a territory of the US, after all!
      I’m familiar with the term acomplejado 🙂 I got plenty of those when I started my video series, The State of Puerto Rico According to Rease in which I look at things in PR and discuss how funny/crazy they are to me.

      • Gabriel says:

        All states don’t get reciprocity because they don’t offer it to us as well. States are free to recognize legal documents from one to another. I just recently relicated to Indiana and the process was worst that yours. I had to read everything in advance like you because they don’t even know PR is part of USA. After been treated as an international and making a official complain, the local office called their legal affairs office and apologized to me. I got my driver license 3 hours after taking the written exam.

  • F. Mejia says:

    I understand your pain. Im Puertorrican and I left the island in 2002 to join the military. None of the Puertorrican website gave the right information to be able to get official documents. I think this blog is exhremely funny because explained the reality on how funny is to get an official ID in PR.

    • reasek says:

      Thank you! It seems a lot of Puerto Ricans who have left the island and returned have had some issues. My boyfriend had to make a few trips to the DTOP before he could get a PR license again after living in Missouri for a few years.

  • Ive says:

    I am still laughing. You nailed it! Anyone that has lived in the island or was actually born there knows about how ridiculous the process of obtaining a license in PR can be.

    Years ago, when I got back to PR from living in the US for a few years, it took an entire day of bouncing from one person to another because no one knew whether reciprocity would apply. I kept saying yes, there is reciprocity, since I had to surrender my P.R. license to get one in the state I lived. After being bounced around five people (not counting the time lapsed for their lunch and other breaks to be over), finally someone said- oh, there is still a record of your old PR license! And just updated the file and finally gave me the license.
    The DMV is a rite of passage. You made it! Enjoy living in beautiful PR.

  • Nancy Ruiz says:

    I agree with you… that’s a stupid process to get your license… we Puerto Ricans all agree… I know! But… you are not a Puerto Rican citizen, you are a US citizen, same as me. Puerto Rico is a territory of the U.S. 😉

    • reasek says:

      I should have been more clear with the “citizen” comment, I was actually just surprised that my license said “citizen” on it. When I got my Argentina official license that allowed me to vote and everything, it still said “US Born” But you are right, all Puerto Ricans are US Citizens. Now, if only most people in the US understood that! When my boyfriend and I were living in Missouri he has SO many problems with his PR ID because everyone would said “We can’t accept foreign IDs” Ugh!

  • Manolete says:

    Hey, funny story. DTOP is one of those places where you always have a story to tell after going. Anyhow, let me explain a couple of things so you can understand some of the mysteries of DTOP:

    First, DTOP has been streamlining their operation and nowadays they scan all the documents they ask for and keep them digitally, so that’s why the return them. If you lose your licence or are renewing it, next time you go to DTOP, in all likelihood, you won’t have to bring most of those documents. They’ll already have them. I say in all likelihood because stuff always happens and policies always change. For example, I lost my licence a couple of months ago, and after a two hour line to see the lady at the fist counter, I found out that back when I originally got my licence, whoever scanned my documents forgot to scan my birth certificate, so I had to come back another day with it.

    Second, the ‘sellos’ are what’s known as ‘document stamps’ or ‘revenue stamps’. These are taxes levied on the processing of those documents and things, and are the proof that taxes on these documents and things have already been paid. It’s a practice that goes back to colonial times. Postal stamps, for example, are a form of revenue stamps. In fact, they were sometimes used interchangeably. Also, if you’ve ever noticed, things like cigarettes and booze often have little stamps on them. These are revenue stamps. If fact, one of the things that led to US independence from Britain was the Stamp Act, or the imposition of a tax on documents through revenue stamps.

    Now that I’ve shed a little light on those two things I’m going to give you a little tip, DO NOT LOSE YOUR LICENCE. Take care of it as if it were that precious ring from LOTR. If you lose your licence you must go to a police station, get a formal complaint (‘querella’) and a complaint number (this sometimes takes days) and then go to a notary public/lawyer to write and sign an affidavit explaining what happened. The affidavit must include the complaint number, so it has to be done after you get the complaint. Fortunately, the doctor’s offices next to DTOP centers often also have lawyers, they’re a one stop shop.

    Cheers, and enjoy the island!

    • reasek says:

      Thank you so much for your response! Pedro and I guessed that the documents had been scanned, it just seemed extra funny to be handed them back. I kept the copies just in case!

      Thanks for the stamps explanation too. I figured it was just so money wouldn’t need to change hands so many times.

      I will guard my license! Luckily, I still have a record in Missouri, so I could always just start the reciprocity process all over again? Here’s hoping I never have to find out.

  • Alex says:

    LOL I’m sharing this because it made my day. The process is indeed very complex, there is 2 much misinformation, u have 2 go through 2 much hussle and then they give u back the papers. I mean you should do all that stuff easier online for example, even the doctor part because is just a Q & A process and a Dr. Can sign it via web, so I enjoyed the satire in it. Also the part of reciprocity for Germans was hilarious, in fact Hawaiians share probably more political similarities with us than Germans. Also most of our law system and laws even criminal codes share similarities with Louisiana for example, and our driving and safety requirements share similarities with California, but maybe some lawmaker loved German cars so much that he forgot all of this. BTW, don’t worry about oversensitive people’s opinions.

    • reasek says:

      Thank you for sharing and for the comments! I’m glad the majority of people are enjoying the sarcasm and jokes. I’m not worried about negative comments, I’m shocked I’ve gotten so few actually haha.

  • Sandra says:

    DTOP returned the papers because they moved to a digital file keeping system. So, while they were preparing your id, they were also scanning your documents.
    As for being a Puertorrican citizen, I sadly clarify, you couldn’t be more mistaken. Such a thing doesn’t exist. Puertorricans are US citizens, just like the rest of the people born on USA territory, except those from American Samoa- which are sadly called naturalized non citizens.

    As for the rest, welcome and hope you get to live and feel all the beauty Puerto Rico and most of its people have to offer.

    • reasek says:

      Yes, we figured the papers must have been scanned. It was just kind of funny having to bring in hard copy photos of myself for the papers when they took a different photo of me digitally.

      You are of course right that Puerto Ricans are US citizens, I meant more a citizen of the territory, just like I was a citizen of Missouri. The license says “Citizen/Ciudadano” on it, which I found interesting, because US state licenses do not say Citizen on them.

      As if Puerto Rico and Guam’s limbo as US citizens that have limited rights isn’t bad enough, American Samoa is a truly sad situation that I simply cannot understand.

  • This reminds me… I never received notice from Enterprise about paying my parking ticket from Puerto Rico. I wonder if I should contact them or if it just “disappeared” from the system? Or maybe I’m racking up interest and I may have a Puerto Rican warrant out for my arrest? Hmmm…

  • Morgan says:

    Oh man. Getting a new license even in your own region is tough enough. I can’t imagine having to deal with it in another country. Glad you got it all sorted out and hope you’re enjoying it!

    • reasek says:

      I’m not sure what class B is, but I know Florida is in the small group of licenses that can generally be traded out for PR license. It should be easier than it was for me with a Missouri one because you shouldn’t have to do any exams or pay fees. That’s the info I was given when I went, but it’s Puerto Rico, so you should always be prepared for issues

  • circuscat says:

    This is great! I lived in PR most of my life and it took me 3 days to replace my id card. 1st time their system crashed. 2nd time, they made me go to a police precinct and file a lost id thing then get an affidavit from a lawyer. 3rd day after a long wait i finally got my card. I can relate so much with all of this. Oh and that’s without mentioning that whoever was working clearly hates their job. Or maybe not a morning person. He got mad because i didn’t know that i had to get an affidavit and whatnot. Well not ny fault their website sucks. LOL

  • Kevin says:

    Actually, Puerto Rican citizenship is a real thing. Not many Puerto Ricans even know about it. If you were born to Puerto Rican parents, born on the island, or can prove your residency for year (your drivers license will work for that after a year) you can apply for Puerto Rican citizenship with the Puerto Rican state department. The certificate you get is recognized by a few countries, most notably Spain. It would allow you to live in Spain Visa free, and be able to apply for Spanish, and thusly EU citizenship after 5 years of residency rather than the 10 it would take a normal immigrant in Spain. It’s not a big deal for most people but the option is there for you.

    • reasek says:

      Thanks, Kevin. Yes, I have had this explained to me a few times. I also know that there is ONE guy who does have a Puerto Rican passport!

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