After living in Medellín for over six years I finally decided to obtain a Colombian drivers license recently.
While I don’t have a car I decided to get a Colombian drivers license. I have family visiting later this year and I want to rent a car to visit nearby pueblos.
Also my U.S. driver’s license expires next year and I can’t renew it, as I no longer have a residence in the U.S. But I can use a Colombian drivers license while in the U.S. since I’m no longer a U.S. resident.
A neighbor in Sabaneta went for his Colombian drivers license recently. He told me about the process when we met for lunch. The process sounded straightforward so I went to do it last week.
Several readers in our Medellín Living Reader survey asked us to cover Colombian drivers licenses. I also have seen a number of inaccurate and outdated posts on the Internet about Colombian drivers licenses.
Note the above photo is courtesy of Colombia’s Ministerio de Transporte.
Do You Need a Colombian Drivers License?
If you are a tourist visiting Colombia without a visa you can use your valid driver’s license from your home country with your passport to drive in Colombia. There is no need for getting a Colombian drivers license.
But if you have a visa and a cedula extranjería like I do, you reportedly cannot drive legally in Colombia with a driver’s license from another country.
According to three managers I talked to at Tránsito de Sabaneta, Tránsito de Medellín and Ministerio de Transporte, if you have a visa and cedula you need to get a Colombian drivers license to drive legally in Colombia.
Many expats living in Medellín don’t have cars. In our recent Medellín Living reader survey, we found the majority of expats living in Medellín do not have a car. A total of 81.6% of expats living in Medellín we surveyed responded that they do not have a car.
It is possible to live in Medellín without a car due to the low cost Metro and buses as well as low cost taxis. I personally have lived in Medellín for over six years without a car.
Requirements and Types of Colombian Drivers Licenses
According to the National Traffic Code in Colombia the requirements for having a Colombian drivers license include:
- Minimum of 16 years old.
- Pass a theoretical-practical exam in a driver’s school approved by Ministerio de Transporte.
- Receive a certificate of physical, mental and motor driving coordination from a Centro de Reconocimiento del Conductor (CRC). A list of CRC locations in Colombia is found here.
Colombia has eight different categories of driver’s licenses. Of most interest to foreigners would be the A1 and A2 for motorcycles and the B1 for cars and SUVs.
- A1: for motorcycles of 125 c.c. or less.
- A2: for motorcycles and moto tricycles of more than 125 c.c.
- B1: for cars, SUVs, vans and minibuses.
- B2: for trucks, vans and buses.
- B3: for tractor-trailers or articulated vehicles.
- C1: (Commercial) for cars, three wheelers, quad, SUV’s, vans and minibuses for public service.
- C2: (Commercial) for trucks (rigid) and buses.
- C3: (Commercial) for articulated vehicles.
A Colombian category A or B driver’s license is good for 10 years (or five years if aged 60 to 80, or one year if over 80). A category C license is good for three years. At expiration the licenses can be renewed.
The Process to Get a Driver’s License in Medellín
The first step in getting a Colombian drivers license in Medellín is to find a driver’s training school or testing center approved by the Ministerio de Transporte. If you haven’t driven before you will need to take some classes. I won’t cover the driving classes, as I didn’t have to take classes.
There are driver’s training schools located all around the Medellín metro area. For example, in El Poblado there is one located in Santafé mall, School Center. You can find them listed in the Yellow pages under Educación Escuelas de Automovilismo.
I checked the prices for getting a driver’s license from several drivers’ schools in the metro and they vary. The most expensive I found was the School Center in Santafé mall in El Poblado that quoted a price of 530,000 pesos ($182). Near where I live in Sabaneta is Autoescuela Educar that has a price of only 370,000 pesos ($127).
If you have driven before and have a driver’s license from another country you may be able to take a written exam without the need to take any classes. This is what I did. Another expat in Medellín reported that in Estadio he had to take a road test and a test about road signs.
I went to the Autoescuela Educar in Sabaneta near where I live, which is located less than a block from the Exito at the Aves Maria mall at Carrera 45 #75 Sur-46.
The first thing this school did was to walk with me across the street to the Secretaría de Tránsito de Sabaneta office to get registered in the Registro Único Nacional de Tránsito (RUNT) system.
Colombia’s RUNT System
The RUNT system is national database used Colombia. It is used to manage data about a driver and their driving history as well as owners of cars. There is no cost involved in getting registered in the RUNT system.
The RUNT records information about your driver’s license such as type and class license, date of issue, expiration date and temporary or partial suspensions. Information about driver’s medical exams are also included.
The RUNT system also keeps track of fines, subpoenas or other traffic violations committed by drivers. It also keeps track of a number of other things including whether tax payments for your vehicle are up to date.
To get registered in the RUNT system I needed to get a number and wait for my number to be called on a monitor. This took me about 10 minutes. I provided my cedula and they scanned my fingerprints and took my photo and I was done – a very simple process.
Taking the Written Exam
After getting registered in the RUNT system, I returned to the driver’s school across the street. I filled out a few pages of paperwork and paid a total of 370,000 pesos for the driver’s license, which included the cost for the written exam and a required medical exam.
Since I didn’t have a required photo, I had to pay an extra 2,000 pesos for a digital photo. They also didn’t ask to see my driver license from the U.S.
Next I took the written exam. The exam is available in English or Spanish. It has 40 questions covering a number of topics including road signs in Colombia, some of the possible fines and the regulations of the National Highway Code in Colombia.
The school provides you with a book (in Spanish) with Colombian driving regulations that you can use while taking the test. The exam wasn’t that difficult but I had to look up a few things in the book about Colombian driving regulations.
After passing the exam, the driver’s school will upload a certificado de aptitudes en conducción into the RUNT system.
The entire process at Autoescuela Educar and Tránsito de Sabaneta getting registered in the RUNT system, filling out paperwork and taking the written exam took me about 1.5 hours.
After passing this written exam, the next step was to go for a required medical exam. The school said I could go to a CRC in Sabaneta and it would take 15 days to receive my driver’s license.
Or I could go to a CRC near the Floresta metro station and it would take 10 days to get my license. I chose the shorter time duration in Floresta and the driver’s school provided me a note to give to CRC so I wouldn’t have to pay for the medical exam.
The Required Medical Exam
Instead of the simple eye test used in the U.S. for driver’s license, Colombia has a more comprehensive medical exam required for driver’s licenses.
Before going to the CRC for the medical exam I had to stop at a notary. The driving school told me that since my cedula doesn’t have my fingerprint on it I would have to get a statement from a notary with my fingerprints notarized before I went for the medical exam.
The cost for getting a notarized statement with my fingerprints was 5,700 pesos.
At the CRC (I.P.S Condufiable located at Calle 48 #78A-20) I provided my cedula, the note from the driver’s school and the notarized copy of my fingerprints. They had me fill out a form with my identification and address information as well as answers to several medical questions.
I didn’t have to pay anything at the CRC as the fee I paid at Autoescuela Educar included the medical exam. The normal cost for this medical exam separately would be 120,000 pesos.
They use biometrics and took my fingerprint digitally and took my photo. After this there was a wait for about one hour as there was a queue of about six people in front of me.
Next was the four step medical exam. For each step in the medical exam you have to get your fingerprint scanned digitally as they use biometric security to ensure nobody takes the medical exam for someone else.
I speak Spanish at the intermediate level. The medical exam only required a limited number of basic Spanish words for the first three steps, which included numbers; right and left; and some colors (red, green, yellow, blue).
First was a vision test, which is similar to a vision test in the U.S. using a testing machine.
Second was a hearing test. For the hearing test they place you in a soundproof booth with headphones. You need to quickly raise your right or left hand each time you hear a sound on each side.
Third was a motor driving coordination test. This tests your manual dexterity with a number of tests. For example, in one of the tests you have to follow instructions to push quickly buttons with your hands or press pedals with your feet depending on what you see or hear.
The fourth step was a simple medical exam by a doctor who asked some questions. He also checked a few things including my blood pressure, heart and lungs with a stethoscope, and height and weight. The doctor spoke English as he previously lived in the U.S.
And finally was another doctor who spoke some English and summed up the results and printed out an approval certificate. This is for your records; as they also upload the approval certificate into the RUNT system.
The entire process for the medical exam required for a Colombian drivers license took me about two hours.
The Bottom Line
I passed the written test and medical exam on January 20. And I received my Colombian drivers license on February 1. To receive the license I had to return to the drivers school and walk across the street to get my photo taken at the Tránsito office and received the license.
The total time I spent was 3.5 hours at the Tránsito office, the driver’s school, a notary, and the CRC for the required medical exam. Add in transport time between offices and the total time I spent was only about five hours.
With this Colombian drivers license that is good for 10 years I will be able to legally drive in Colombia and many other countries, including the U.S.
Good luck and please let us know if you follow this process or encounter any differences.