Getting a Nicaraguan Driver’s License

By Darrell Bushnell

You can drive in Nicaragua on your origin country driver’s license pretty much as long as it is not expired. Though we are starting to hear talk of future limits.

We had renewed our South Carolina driver’s license just before moving to Nicaragua but almost ten years have passed so they expire later this year. We tried every trick in the book to renew them but we have no residence in the states and really did not want to lie to get them since they always required some proof of living somewhere.  And some states consider having a driver’s license as proof of residency then you need to file state taxes.

Getting the license here is not a difficult process but requires many trips and some studying. Amy had a friend help her get hers so she is now legit. Now it was my turn. This is the process I went through but being Nicaragua, there may be some shortcuts but I was not successful. For example, I offered to take the driver’s written exam but wanted to skip the class but they would not let me out of it even if I paid for it and then not attend.

First you need a blood test, sight test and a psychological test. Luckily, at least in Granada, you just go to the Red Cross center on Calzada near the lake. Seemed like the fees were around C$300. My Spanish is so-so but taking a psych test written exam was very difficult but thankfully they were helpful. When they saw me struggling, they assigned me a young man to help who I assumed would speak some English. He did not but when I answered a question wrong he would correct me so everything worked out and I passed the test. I thought it was over but the director then asked some questions like what would I do if I was in an accident, do I have children, etc. the usual Nica questions. I thought I was taking a citizenship morality test.

Then I had to pay a bunch of fees to the police for several things like the license class, exam, etc and the cost was just under C$700 and provided copies of my cedula, my old license, vehicle insurance card and the ownership card for the vehicle. Then I had to take the driver’s class which was a 45 minute talk on alcoholism and almost three hours covering the traffic regulations. They pretty much tell you which topics will be on the test. You will need to buy the traffic regulation book at Gonper’s but most of it is very similar to the USA rules except the pesky little problem of being in Spanish. Remember the number one traffic rule in Nicaragua is “Don’t cross a solid line” even if your life depends on it.

After the class we were given two hours for lunch and to study for the exam. I studied like crazy. The exam was at 2:00 and you have 30 minutes to complete it. The shock was that except for a few True/False questions most were essay questions. So you not only need to know the answer but also how to explain it in Spanish. Spanish 101 is not sufficient. Some typical questions were (but in Spanish):

  • If you have a license type 5B, can you exceed 25 passengers in your vehicle?
  • List the passive security items in your vehicle
  • In case of an accident, what are the three factors?
  • What are senales horizontales (horizontal signals)?

Well, you will be happy to know, I did pass but less than 12 people passed out of 42. In Amy’s class less than a third passed. I think they gave me some mercy points for being an anciano and the only gringo in the class. It always pays to be friendly to everyone.

Two days later was the actual driving exam. Again I think they felt sorry for me since we drove about a block and parked under a large shade tree where the officer filled out the exam saying I had done everything right. Then again, perhaps he believed me when I told him I had been driving since I was eight years old first on farm tractors, then cars, trucks, very large trucks in the military, tanks and everything else. And besides I had been driving in Nicaragua for over nine years. Someone told me they were tougher on the Nicaraguans because they were getting their first license so had little or no experience in driving. In Spanish, I asked the test officer what do you call bad Nicaraguan drivers? He did not know so I told him “taxi drivers”. They always laugh when an older person makes a joke.

So today, I supposedly go to the police station, they take my photo and I will have a professional type driver’s license. It is good for five years.

Update – The machine that takes your photo and creates the license was broken so I try again tomorrow. Must be a bad day for machines in Granada, since I also needed a chest X-ray and both places I knew of had their X-ray machines down for repairs.