After much procrastination on my part, I finally went to Aguadilla to take the practical driving test today. Back in October we went to the driving licence centre to get our licences, but I could only get a provisional licence (learner’s permit) as there is no reciprocity agreement between PR and the UK. Miri traded her US licence for a full PR licence and I was told to come back after a minimum of 30 days to take my practical test.
30 days stretched into 4 months (my provisional licence was valid for 2 years)… and today I ran out of excuses. I’d heard contradictory statements about the test, ranging from “its unbelievably simple” to “you should take lessons because the examiners are looking for very specific things”. In the end I decided to rely on my 19yrs driving experience and wing it.
For anyone reading this who needs to go through this joyous process, here’s my experience…
Firstly we went to the doctors office/post office next to the driving admin centre in Aguadilla (at Punta Boringuen shopping centre) and bought $11 of stamps (which actually cost $13!). Then I took my completed application form, 2 photos and my learners permit to the relevant desk (go into the admin centre, turn left and the desks are at the end on your right).
There is a ‘take a number’ system but it doesn’t seem to be used. There was no queue (this was about 10am on a Tuesday) and the lady was helpful and spoke enough English for us to get by. She took all my info, retrieved my file and gave me an appointment card for 1pm-2.30pm the same afternoon and told us where the practical test centre was (which is not in the same location). Fortunately it is only a couple of minutes away (5th right past the Banco Popular you can see from the admin centre – its signed when you get there).
We killed the 3hrs we had to wait be exploring the area (we found a nice beach by driving through the golf course) and getting lunch at a nearby panaderia. At about 12:45pm we got to the test centre which is a small wooden hut with toilets, an office and a covered area with seating. We lined up behind the 3 other cars already there (basically everyone queues up their cars outside the test centre, so it looks like a taxi rank) and waited. It seems to work on a ‘first-come, first-served basis’ as long as you have an appointment card for that particular session. The examiner (there was only 1) finished his lunch and took his first ‘victim’ out just before 1pm.
The test itself is quite short, no more than 5 mins, so he rattled through them quickly (most seemed to pass) and soon it was my turn. My biggest worry was the language barrier, but happily the examiner spoke reasonable English. He made a note of Miri’s licence info (because obviously you can’t show up there on your own if you’ve only got a learner’s permit) and then he got in the car with me. The first thing he had me do was parallel park between some cones setup for the purpose (everyone I watched had to do this). Then I drove around the local streets taking lefts, rights and straight aheads with a few stop signs in the mix. The 2 other manouvers I had to do were a stop and reverse round a corner into a side street and then a U-turn in the road.
The whole thing was short, and although I wouldn’t say it was dead easy, anyone who is a competent driver should pass.
I got 75 out of 100 (not sure what the pass mark is). Annoyingly I don’t know what I dropped the 25 points on as the sheet he used was all in Spanish and I didn’t get to keep it. I got the sense I lost some points by not looking 10 times in each direction at the junctions!
After the nerve-racking part was over, we just had to go back to the admin centre, give the proof of passing from the examiner to the people at the original desk we’d been to. They entered it all into the computer, I had my photo taken at the booth in the centre (they do this even if you’ve brought enough photos with you) and waited about 10mins for my lovely new laminated PR licence to be handed over! 🙂