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Navigating Colombian Roads: A Comprehensive Guide to Driving and Licensing for Foreigners

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Let’s talk about something that is rarely discussed. Driving in Colombia. If you have spent a significant amount of time in Colombia, specifically in Colombia, you will understand why many elect not to drive here. For those that choose to drive here, there is so much confusion surrounding this that I feel is necessary to explain the situation. 

There are 2 scenarios for driving here, and it depends on whether you are here on your tourist visa or if you are here on an extended stay visa. If you are visiting Colombia on a tourist visa, and have a valid international driver’s license issued from The US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, or an EU Country, you can operate a motor vehicle in Colombia with your international drivers’ license. You must have the endorsement in your home country to operate the same class of vehicle you plan to in Colombia – IE if you plan to drive a car, you must have the car designation on your license. Also, you must keep your passport with your current entry stamp with you at all times while driving. Failing to have both is against Art. 25  Law 769 of 2002 and Art. 50 of Decree 1743 of 2015 of Colombian law. If you have any questions, we encourage you to reach out to the Movilidad office for specific questions, regarding the validity of your license in Colombia.  

If you are renting a car or motorcycle in Medellin, I can’t express this loudly enough, GET THE ADDITIONAL INSURANCE. If you are renting a car in your home country, often your existing automobile insurance will cover any issues you have, but that coverage rarely covers international car rentals. Also, read up on the rules of the road. Also, if you are from the United States, remember that everything is on the metric system here, so the locals will tell you distances in meters, kilometers, etc. The speed limit is in km/h (kilometers per hour), so keep that in mind. 

If you have an extended stay visa, your international license is not enough to drive on Colombian roads, and if you are caught driving without a license, the punishment can be quite harsh, so you have to be very careful with this. It can range from a fine of 1.5 million pesos and towing of your car to cancellation of your visa and immediate deportation for repeated offenses. 

Obtaining a license is a straightforward process. Here are a few things to help you with this process:

How to get a Colombian License? Below is a quick Guide on how to get a license in Colombia.

Eligibility

Foreigners with a valid visa or cédula de extranjería (foreigner ID card) are eligible to apply for a Colombian driver’s license. Tourists can drive in Colombia with their home country’s license, paired with an International Driving Permit (IDP), for the duration of their visa-free stay (typically up to 90 days).

Types of Licenses

There are different types of licenses based on the vehicle you intend to drive:

Motorcycles:

Category A1 – 125cc or less (most scooters)

Category A2 – Motorcycles over 125cc

Automobiles: 

Category B1 – Cars, Small Vans, SUVs

Category B2 –  Pickup Trucks, Large Vans, Busses

Category B3 – Tractor Trailers or vehicles with a trailer

Commercial licenses are a bit more complicated since you will need to have specific visa types that allow you to work. If you have specific questions about these categories, contact The Secretaría de Tránsito y Transporte de Medellín

The Process

Medical Exam:

Before beginning the application process, you’ll need to undergo a medical examination. This exam tests your physical and mental aptitude for driving. You’ll find many health centers offering this service, often located near the transit department offices.

Driving School:

It’s recommended for foreigners, even those with prior driving experience, to take a driving course in Colombia to familiarize themselves with local road rules and customs. Upon completion, the driving school issues a certificate, which is mandatory for first-time license applicants.

Documents and Application:

Visit the local transit department (Secretaría de Tránsito) with the following documents:

Passport or Cédula de Extranjería

Medical exam results

Driving school certificate (for first-timers)

Money! You’ll have to pay any associated fees for taking written and practical exams.

Written and Practical Exams:

You’ll be required to take both a written and road driving exam. The written test covers Colombian traffic laws, while the road test evaluates your driving skills.

Resources in Medellín

Driving Schools:

Academia de Conducción Autonorte: This established driving school offers courses in both Spanish and English and has modern cars and facilities.

Escuela de Conducción Conducir: With friendly instructors and comprehensive courses, they cater to both beginners and those looking to brush up their skills.

Medical Examination Centers:

There are several clinics in Clinica del Rio that can help you with this. Most clinics in the facility accept cash payments for the services. When you book your appointment, let the clinic know that you are looking for a medical exam for getting a driver’s license and they can make sure that they give you the correct paperwork and you can avoid all confusion. 

Transit Department:

The Secretaría de Tránsito y Transporte de Medellín is where you’ll submit your application and take your exams. Make sure to visit the official website or contact them directly for updated requirements and procedures. They generally don’t make changes until the end of the year.

RUNT

No, I didn’t misspell a swear word, nor am I making fun of your size. RUNT in Colombia is the Registro Único Nacional de Tránsito. It is a comprehensive electronic database introduced by the Colombian government to centralize vehicular and driver data. 

This system is basically what keeps track of your driving record. If you get a speeding violation, to get a red light violation ticket in Colombia, it all goes into RUNT, and unlike in other locations, this information never comes off your record. It will be used to determine if you are able to register a vehicle, get insurance, or you can even renew your license.

You will have to register with RUNT, but most schools will assist you with this as part of their 

Renewing your license

If you want to renew your license, you will need to go back to one of the driving schools, and renew. You won’t have to take the classes or test again (provided you aren’t in RUNT as a bad driver), but you will need to take the medical exams again. When you take your classes at the driving school, ask them if they do renewals, and ask for a discount on it as a package deal. 

When renewing your license you’ll only need

Passport photo

Your previous license

You can get a certificate of Paz y Salvo from the RUNT system. It states whether you have any outstanding tickets or debts.

Your ID’s photocopy

Your aptitude exam certificate

If you have any questions about obtaining your driver’s license in Colombia you can talk with local help that specializes in helping expats get their licenses. Diego The License Guy 

Quick Questions About Colombia License 

Why Should I Get a License in Colombia?

If you’re driving in Colombia for more than 90 days, getting a license in Colombia is law. It’ll make your experience more enjoyable not worrying about having to pay a hefty fine if you’re pulled over by the police or get into an accident. 

Do I need a Colombian License if I buy a Car in Medellin?

The short answer is No. You don’t need a license to buy a car in Medellin. However, its just safe to have a license. Technically you’re supposed to have a license with your insurance company SURA or another its in the fine print. If you got into an accident without a license then you will be liable.  

Are there any other Benefits to having a Colombian License?

– You can use your Colombian license as an international license in 22 countries, like the US, and throughout Europe.

– Acts as an extra valid ID throughout the world

– Since the Colombian Driver’s license is connected to the Cedula # I was able to use it to do Banking and other stuff when I didn’t have my Cedula with me. 

4 Responses

  1. Hi I was late to the airport on Saturday 9th December due to the main route to the airport being nose to tail. This caused me to miss my flight and my travel Insurance company need evidence of this so that I can proceed with my claim. Could you please give me details of which part of your local government structure I should contact?

    1. Hi Rob,

      Unfortunately, the traffic into Rionegro airport is hit or miss. The Tunnel is prone to having issues, especially at peak traffic hours.

      I did a little research on what you need; the city of Medellin has a Whatsapp helper at +573226800000, in there (in Spanish) ask for “secretaria de movilidad” and they will put you in touch with the correct people, call them at (+57) 604 44 44 144 and you can also email them at [email protected]

      I hope that they can get you the information you need!

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