Colombia

Driving

The right is the correct side of the road on which to drive in Colombia. Many drivers in the country observe this convention. As is usually the case assessment of driving habits and road conditions is very personal and based on experience. There is always a difference between driving in cities and on country roads and between suburban streets and main trunk routes. Colombia is a very large country in South America so long distance driving is sometimes necessary and although not common it has its own problems. Difficulties with outlaw groups and drug cartels with their private enforcement groups have lessened considerably in the past few years. Driving between major centres is often not too arduous but long trips in the country can be uncertain with regard to unexpected encounters with informal, sometimes armed, groups.

A driver experienced in major cities in Europe or North America will probably find driving in Colombia less than a relaxed adventure. There are some local peculiarities. Often drivers in North America see an amber traffic light as a challenge to be taken on and beaten. This is dangerous in Colombia because local drivers often ignore red lights so that even advancing on green can be hazardous.. The major reason for this would seem to be the lack of actual practical driving experience that is required in order to obtain a license. Driving in Bogota can be portrayed as simple, safe and normal. Heavy traffic and crowded roads can be encountered in the city center but good progress can be made on the major trunk through routes and in the suburbs. However, it is not unusual to meet horse-drawn carts and pedestrians who assume the same rights to road use and space as any other “vehicle”. Congestion can occur anywhere at any time.

Driving is not often promoted as the best alternative when all other forms of transport are considered. It is possible to benefit from the descriptions of journeys of other but it must be remembered that driving experience is always subjective. Although not as current as the previous report there are some alternative views about driving in Colombia. There are some advantages to hiring a car in Colombia. Many of the worldwide car hire firms a have a presence in the country and there are some local business in the field also. Individual experience at home and observation or, perhaps, practice on a “Golden Rule” (visit before settling) trip may be the best guides for both driving in general and hiring.

The links at the "Resources" tab on this site and information in the book "How to Retire in Colombia" by Les Johns will amplify the above points. This book can be bought directly from this site.

Driving licenses

A visitor can usually drive on the home country license for the period of the stay in Colombia. There are differing views about the need for an International Driving Permit. At a police check point or in the event of an accident such a permit can be invaluable. It is written in a number of languages, of which Spanish is one, and it contains a photograph of the licensee. Very often a home country license and a passport will be sufficient particularly in a major city but photographic identification and use of the local language can save time and may avoid trips to police stations. An International Driving Permit is obtained in the home country, which is also a country in which such a Permit cannot be used.

Once a residence permit has been obtained, even a TP7 visa valid for a year only, a cedula is issued. It is then necessary to obtain a local driving license. The time limit allowed to obtain the local license seems to be uncertain but it is wise not to delay. Experiences in obtaining a Colombian driving license seem to vary. The documents, items and details necessary are clearly set out in the “medellinvisitorguide” site. Obtaining a license via one of the many driving schools would seem to be the obvious course of action. The schools have an obvious interest in a successful conclusion to the application process and often there is no need to take the practical driving course although this may not be a bad idea. Posts on the “ExpatExchange” site also provide information on obtaining a Colombian driving license with some comments on the cost of both a car and a motor cycle license. An alternative description of the process shows that an application made directly to the appropriate government department may not be so easy as an approach via a driving school. Licenses vary according to the time for which they are valid. This seems to be determined by the cost and varies from three years to ten years to an indefinite (for life) period.

One point is common to all of the sources of information about obtaining a driving license. There is no necessity to take any official practical on-road test of driving ability. This may go some way to explaining the generally poor standard of competence of drivers in Colombia although this problem is compounded by poor road signage and bad or non-existent lane markings.

Life in Colombia, as in so many Third World and aspiring First World countries, can be a Kafka-like and casual experience with little certainty and changing attitudes from authorities even in situations that have been experienced previously. Precedents may hold no authority nor be any guide to current or future problems. This kind of detail will not usually be given by any of the many and popular “authorities” whose major commercial interest is in encouraging life and/or retirement abroad. Caveat emptor has to be the watchword and observation of the “Golden Rule” (visit before settling or committing to anything that may be irreversible) is essential.

The links at the "Resources" tab on this site and information in the book "How to Retire in Colombia" by Les Johns will add detail to the above comments. This book can be obtained from this site.