When I moved to Argentina six years ago, what initially kept me from driving was the chaotic mix of stray animals, motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians coupled with a flagrant disregard for basic traffic laws on the part of many (most?) drivers. Eventually that chaos became the new norm, yet something else even greater was holding me back. I didn't know how to drive stick shift. My husband gave me lessons, dutifully taking me out to practice on the dusty back roads bordering the fields of sunflowers and soy, but I never quite got the hang of it. So even though I'd been driving since the age of 17, I reluctantly gave up my independence, settling—albeit temporarily—for the passenger seat. Finally, after years of being chauffeured around Necochea by my family and friends, I saved up the money to buy a car with automatic transmission (no easy feat in Argentina, where the overwhelming majority of cars for sale have a manual transmission).
With the keys to my new ride in hand, I set my sights on completing another expat rite of passage: applying for a driver's license. As a tourist, foreign drivers are free to roam the mean streets of Argentina with an international driving permit and a valid foreign license; however, residents must obtain an Argentine driver's license. (Note: Foreigners cannot apply for a driver's license without a DNI.)
The information provided here is valid for those applying for a driver's license in the province of Buenos Aires. Please note that my experience in Necochea may be different from yours. The requirements for residents of the city of Buenos Aires and other provinces vary. If you're looking to obtain your license in Capital Federal, the blog Discover Buenos Aires has a very informative post.
Process for Obtaining an Argentine Driver's License (Province of Buenos Aires)
1. Schedule an appointment. Although some municipalities have an online system for appointments, here in Necochea, you have to do it the old-fashioned way by going in person. I went to the Oficina de Licencias de Conducir, Dirección de Seguridad Pública, and I was given an appointment for almost three weeks later. I was also handed a list of the required items that I would need to present at the time of my appointment.
Requirements for Argentine Driver's License (Province of Buenos Aires)
- DNI booklet (not card) plus two photocopies of pages 2, 3, and 8
- Proof of blood type (I used my American Red Cross blood donor card)
- Two completed medical forms (Declaración Jurada de Salud), available for purchase at a nearby kiosk
- Municipal fee ($120 in Necochea, price varies by municipality), pay in advance of appointment and bring proof of payment
- Valid foreign driver's license plus a photocopy of your license
Also, in anticipation of your appointment, take some time to prepare for the written driver's exam (you can purchase a hard copy of the practice questions for a small fee or take a practice test online for free).
2. Check in. On the day of my appointment, I returned to the Oficina de Licencias de Conducir where I waited for my name to be called. I was led back to a desk and asked to present my paperwork, DNI, etc., (all of the items listed above). Next, my photo and fingerprints were taken, and I was asked to provide a digital signature. After reviewing and signing a print-out with my information, I was directed to wait until called for the vision test. I was given my paperwork to take with me.
3. Take vision test. I was asked to identify three letters on an eye chart, and I was given two pieces of paper to add to my collection of forms. The end.
4. Pay provincial fee. Payment of the provincial fee ($173) must be made at Banco Provincia or, in Necochea, at the Cámara de Comercio. I added these receipts to the pile of paperwork and forged ahead.
5. Take written exam. In Necochea, the written exam is given at the Departamento de Tránsito, across town from where my adventure began. Here I was asked to present all of my paperwork and my foreign driver's license. In some municipalities the test is computerized, but not in Necochea. The exam consisted of 56 multiple-choice questions in Spanish about the rules of the road, plus 16 questions, also multiple choice, about street signs. I passed with flying colors and was given a date to pick up my license. I was not required to take a road test, presumably because I was already a licensed driver in another country.
6. Pick up license. My license was available for pick-up at the Oficina de Licencias de Conducir about one week later.
So, now I've officially joined the ranks of the crazies, striking fear in the hearts of pedestrians and stray dogs all over Necochea, and I’ve rediscovered the joy of driving…Argentine style.
[Image credit: Agencia Nacional de Seguridad Vial]