We provide a guide to obtaining a Colombian drivers license in Medellín or other cities in Colombia. The rules changed in Colombia in 2017 and even if you know how to drive you are now required to take classes to get a driver’s license in Colombia.
I obtained a Colombian drivers license early last year without having to take classes. But since I received my license, the rules changed and you are required to take classes. So, it is now more difficult and more expensive for a foreigner to get a drivers license in Colombia.
To research this article, I recently talked to three drivers’ schools and also two Tránsito offices. Several Medellin Guru readers asked for up-to-date information about getting a Colombian drivers license. So, we are providing this article.
Also, be careful about posts in English on the Internet about Colombian drivers licenses, as every article I have seen looks to be out-of-date or incomplete.
Note the above photo of a Colombian drivers license is courtesy of Colombia’s Ministerio de Transporte.
Do You Need a Colombian Drivers License as a Foreigner Tourist?
If you are a tourist visiting Colombia without a visa you can use your valid driver’s license from your home country along with your passport to drive in Colombia. So, there is no need for getting a Colombian drivers license. But this is now reportedly limited to a maximum of three months.
When driving as a tourist, you should carry a copy of your passport and the page with your entry stamp. This will provide proof that you are a tourist and not required to have a local driving license.
If you have a visa and a cedula extranjería like I do, you cannot drive legally in Colombia with a driver’s license from another country. However, I have met some expats living in Colombia with visas who still drive with their foreign drivers license. But technically this is not legal.
According to managers I recently talked to at Tránsito de Sabaneta and Tránsito de Medellín, if you have a visa and cedula you need to get a Colombian drivers license to be legal to drive in Colombia.
Requirements for 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 or 18 years old if a commercial driver (i.e. taxi driver).
- Pass a theoretical and practical exam in a driver’s school that has been approved by the Ministerio de Transporte.
- Receive a certificate of physical, mental and motor driving coordination from a Centro de Reconocimiento del Conductor (CRC).This is essentially a medical exam that is more in-depth than the eye exam required in the U.S. for a license.
Types of Colombian Drivers Licenses
Colombia has eight different categories of driver’s licenses. Of most interest to foreigners are the A1 and A2 for motorcycles and the B1 for cars, SUVs and vans.
- A1 category: for motorcycles of 125 c.c. or less.
- A2 category: for motorcycles and moto tricycles of more than 125 c.c.
- B1 category: for cars, SUVs, vans and minibuses.
- B2 category: for trucks, vans and buses.
- B3 category: for tractor-trailers or articulated vehicles.
- C1 category: (Commercial) for cars, three wheelers, quad, SUV’s, vans and minibuses for public service.
- C2 category: (Commercial) for trucks (rigid) and buses.
- C3 category: (Commercial) for articulated vehicles.
A category A or category B Colombian drivers license is good for 10 years (or five years if aged 60 to 80, or one year if over 80). And category C licenses are good for three years. Furthermore, at expiration, licenses can be relatively easily renewed.
Process to Obtain a Colombian Drivers License in Medellín or Other Cities
You are now required to take classes to receive a driver’s license in Colombia. And they actually verify you are taking classes with fingerprints to ensure nobody is taking classes for you.
To get a Colombian drivers license, the process involves:
- Register in Colombia’s RUNT system
- Find a driver’s school
- Pay for classes and take classes
- Pass theory and practice exams
- Pass a medical exam
- Go to a Tránsito office to get your license
When I received my Colombian drivers license in early 2017, I didn’t have to take classes. I just had to pass the written exam and medical exam. This has now changed and taking classes to obtain a Colombian drivers license is now compulsory.
Step 1: Register in Colombia’s RUNT System
The RUNT system is a national database used throughout Colombia. This database is used to manage information about drivers and their driving history as well as information about cars and owners of cars.
Also, there used to be no cost involved in getting registered in the RUNT system. I asked at the Sabaneta Tránsito and they said the cost is currently 13,000 pesos to sign up. But I have seen online in several places that the official cost for 2018 to sign up in the RUNT system is 13,700 pesos.
The RUNT records information about your Colombia driver’s license including type and class license, date of issue, expiration date and any temporary or partial suspensions. Also, information about driver’s classes and medical exams are included.
In addition, the RUNT system keeps track of fines, subpoenas and traffic violations committed by drivers. The system also keeps track of a number of other things including whether tax payments by owners of vehicles are up to date.
When I was registered in the RUNT system last year, I went to the Sabaneta Tránsito. When I entered the Tránsito office I needed to get a number and wait for my number to be called on a monitor. This only took me about 10 minutes.
All I had to do was provide my cedula and they scanned my fingerprints and took my photo and I was done. This was a very simple process. You can also use a passport to get in the RUNT system.
Step 2: Find a Driver’s School
Every city in Colombia has driver’s training schools. For example, Medellín has many that you can find in the Yellow pages under Educación Escuelas de Automovilismo or on the Internet.
The prices vary by school. I checked with three different schools and here are the current prices that include everything needed for a driver’s license including classes and exams:
- School Center in El Poblado, Laureles and Guayabal: 1,065,000 pesos
- Autoescuela Educar in Sabaneta: 997,000 pesos
- Centro de Enseñanza Automovilística in Belén: 925,000 pesos
This is much higher than the 370,000 pesos I paid in Sabaneta in early 2017. And my Colombian wife who got her license in late 2016 took driving classes in El Poblado and she paid only 530,000 pesos.
Step 3: Pay for Classes and Take Classes
When I obtained by Colombian license last year I didn’t have to take any driving classes. But I talked to an expat recently who took classes and they were in Spanish. All the driving schools I talked to only offer classes in Spanish.
In the past, some driving schools issued the driving aptitude certificates for payment, with no actual classes. So, the Ministry of Transport introduced the requirement for fingerprints to prove you take the classes.
The driving schools now use biometric security (your fingerprint) to ensure you are taking the classes and nobody is taking the classes for you.
The classes include 25 hours in class and 20 classes of driving practice for a car license or 15 classes for a motorcycle license.
Step 4: Pass Theory and Practice Exams
After you complete your driving classes, you need to take a written exam and pass a driving test.
When I took the written exam early last year at the driver’s school, the exam was available in English or Spanish. Also, the driver’s school provided me a book (in Spanish) with Colombian driving regulations that you can use while taking the test.
My exam last year had 40 questions about several topics including possible fines, road signs and the regulations of Colombia’s National Highway Code. I didn’t find the exam very difficult, as much of it was common sense for anyone who has driven before. But I had to look up a few things in the book.
When you pass the theory and practice exams the driving school will provide you with a driving aptitude certificate (Certificado de Aptitud en Conducción) and will upload a copy into the RUNT system.
In addition, the Ministry of Transport is reportedly planning to introduce a new driving and theory test, which will be conducted at Centros de Apoyo Logístic de Evaluación (CALE). So, in the future it looks like step 4 will not be done at the driver’s training schools, as it is done now.
Step 5: Pass the Medical Exam for a Colombian Drivers License
The medical exam is only good for 30 days. So, it should be done after your driving classes and passing the written exam and driving test. Medical exams are done at a Centro de Reconocimiento de Conductores (CRC). And a list of CRC locations in Colombia is found here.
Instead of a simple eye test used in the U.S. for driver’s licenses, Colombia has a much more comprehensive medical exam, which is required for driver’s licenses.
Before going to the CRC for the medical exam I had to stop at a Colombia notary. Since my cedula doesn’t have my fingerprint on it I had 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 last year with my fingerprints was 5,700 pesos. I didn’t have to pay anything at the CRC as the fee I paid at the auto school included the medical exam.
The CRCs use biometrics and took my fingerprint digitally and also took my photo. After this, I had to wait for about one hour as there was a queue of about six people in front of me.
The Four-Step Medical Exam
Next was a four-step medical exam. For each step in the medical exam your fingerprint will be scanned digitally as they use biometric security to ensure nobody takes the medical exam for someone else.
The medical exam only required a limited number of basic Spanish words for the first three steps. This included numbers; right and left; and some colors (red, green, yellow, blue). I speak Spanish at the intermediate level. So, this was no problem.
First was the vision test. This is similar to a vision test in the U.S. and used a testing machine.
Second was the hearing test. For this test you are placed in a soundproof booth with headphones. And you need to quickly raise your right or left hand when you hear a sound on each side.
Third was the motor driving coordination test. This tests your manual dexterity with several tests. For example, for one of the tests you follow instructions to push buttons with your hands or press pedals with your feet depending on what you see and hear and this was very time sensitive.
And the fourth step was a short medical exam by a doctor who asked several questions. He also checked a few things including my blood pressure, height, weight and heart and lungs with a stethoscope. This doctor spoke English, as he previously lived in the U.S.
Finally, another doctor who spoke some English summed up the exam results and printed out an approval certificate. This is for your records; as they also upload the Certificado Médico de Aptitud Física approval certificate into the RUNT system.
This entire process for the medical exam needed for a Colombian drivers license took me about two hours.
Step 6: Go to a Tránsito Office to Get Your Colombian Drivers License
The final step in getting your Colombian drivers license is going to a Tránsito office to get your license. You can only do this after your approval certificates from the drivers school and medical exam have been uploaded in the RUNT system. And there was a time lag involved when I got my Colombian drivers license.
I passed the written text at the driver’s school on January 18 and passed the medical exam on January 20. And I received a call on January 28 from the driver’s school that everything was ready. So, I could get my license.
When I went to get my drivers license in Sabaneta, I returned to the driver’s school and walked across the street to the Tránsito office. In the Tránsito office I was photographed and finally received my license.
Renewing a Colombian Drivers License
Renewing a Colombian drivers license is very easy. There is no need for classes and you only have to take the medical exam.
Not all driving schools offer drivers license renewals. Only two of the three schools I talked to offer drivers license renewals and here are the current renewal costs:
- School Center in El Poblado, Laureles and Guayabal: 200,000 pesos
- Centro de Enseñanza Automovilística in Belén: 175,000 pesos
Do You Need a Car in Medellín?
It is very possible to live in Medellín without a car due to the low-cost Medellín Metro and buses as well as low cost taxis. I have lived in Medellín for over eight years without a car. Not needing a car is one of the benefits of living in the city and is one of 27 reasons I ending up choosing Medellín as a great place to live.
Most expats living in Medellín don’t have a car. In addition, reportedly over 80 percent of expats living in Medellín do not have a car.
Also, cars can be quite expensive in Colombia due to import duties of up to 35 percent. Reportedly over 60 percent of the vehicles sold in Colombia are imported. So, many models of cars sold in Colombia can be more expensive than in the U.S. Cars are one of 9 expensive things for expats in Medellín.
Finally, traffic is a problem in Medellín and is one of 11 downsides to living in Medellín. Colombia was ranked as one of the world’s worst places to drive in terms of driver satisfaction based on a study done by Waze. Colombia had several cities in that study that ranked as some of the worst in terms of traffic, including Bogotá (7th worst) and Medellín (8th worst).
Waze is a very helpful mobile app that permits to to find alternate routes to avoid traffic. We included Waze as one of the 20 best mobile apps to use in Medellín and Colombia.
The Bottom Line: Getting a Colombian Drivers License in Medellín and Colombia
Colombia now requires foreigners to take driving classes to get a drivers license even you are an experienced driver and know how to drive. So, the process to get a Colombian drivers license now takes much more time and costs more than it did in the past.
Now that I have a Colombian drivers license, I can legally drive in Colombia and many other countries including the U.S. And a Colombian drivers license for a car or motorcycle is good for 10 years and is easy to renew.
I haven’t used my Colombian drivers license in Colombia, as I haven’t found a need yet. But I got a Colombian drivers license mainly because my U.S. driver’s license was expiring. And I can’t renew it, as I no longer have a residence in the U.S. So, when I travel to the U.S. I can now drive with my Colombian drivers license.
In addition, “How to get a Colombian drivers license?” is a common question asked by expats. So, we included this question in our list of Medellín frequently asked questions (FAQ).
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Editors note: updated on September 24, 2018 to add the cost to sign up in Colombia’s RUNT system.