Good news or bad news first?
Let’s start with the good news. I got my Puerto Rico driver’s license and I didn’t even have to take any tests! Woohoo!
Bad news: It took three trips to two different offices and almost a full day’s wait.
First we went to the Mayaguez branch of Obras Publicas/DTOP/CESCO and found the line extending basically out the door. We at least got the paperwork we needed and found out that Colorado still has reciprocity with Puerto Rico so I wouldn’t have to take a practical or written driving exam as long as I had a valid (not expired like was Britton’s case). We thought the line was extremely long considering that once Britton had jumped through all the exam hoops he was able to get his ID within about 1 hour in Aguadilla and there was virtually no line. So we made plans to go to Aguadilla some time later that week rather than wait in a line about 100 people deep that did not seem to be moving at all. Mayaguez is a bigger city than Aguadilla so it would make sense to be a little busier.
When the day came to drive up to Aguadilla, we arrived around 10am to an equally long line just to the information desk. We decided to go get the doctor’s exam and stamps first so that everything would be ready to go! The doctor’s exam is just a formality. The woman had me look at the eye chart for about 2 seconds! Just a hoop, quick and easy. Just pay her $28 including the sellos too. We then waited in the information line for about 30 minutes only to be asked where our “turno” ticket was. We didn’t need to take a number last time we came with Britton 6 months ago so we had no idea about this.
We did have everything we needed for a reciprocity license though:
1) Proof of residence (water or electric bill)
2) Original Social Security Card
3) Valid current driver’s license from the state with reciprocity
4) Birth Certificate
5) Doctor’s form
6) $11 in Government stamps (can be purchased many places but we bought them along with the doctor note)
7) Complete filled out one-page information form
The guy at the registration desk said that since the US is requiring PR to phase in the Real ID program in order to better track people it has caused an increase in people from all over the island to the few offices like Aguadilla that has it. I don’t want or need a Real ID since we have passports so this was a huge headache. (And as an aside, if these are so-called “Real IDs” are all of the others fake according to the government?) All I need is a regular driver’s license.
He said that whereas before (like when Britton was there not long ago) they served maybe 500 people a day, they now are processing about 1000! That is why they instituted this turno number system thing because they can’t do any more than that in a day though probably 2000 try. In addition to more work required by the US, they have fewer staff due to cutbacks from the budget crisis! He said, no joke, that we should have gotten there at 5am in order to get in a line for a number and that by 7am, before the offices even open, they are “sold out.” Then with that number you wait in this line that I had stepped into to “activate” the number so that you could sit and wait for 4-5 hours to be called. What is this locura!?
I think he could see our desperation at having now done this line thing twice and not gone anywhere, so he sort of pulled us aside and said that at 5pm most of the crowd is gone and that if they finish all the backed up cue, that we could possibly slide in. But it would be a risk because they close the doors completely at 7pm. Still, we felt like we had been given a special code to this particular game. The friendly clerk was taking pity on us. They may be overworked, but everyone there was super helpful to us.
So we drove back home to Rincón to wait and stopped in Aguada at our favorite little Pollo al Carbon spot.
Here’s a quick video of the spot. I think it’s called Rancho Carbon Express and it’s right on the 115. You will see it billowing out lots of smoke with a bunch of chicken roasting. Straight up inexpensive and delicious Puerto Rican street food.
Finally the time came to once again drive back to Aguadilla. We arrived around 4:30pm. The security guard at the front desk must have been informed about us by the previous person as he was expecting us (we apparently still stand out haha!). He told us it would be a LONG wait, but that we should be served if we stuck around. So we camped out and read.
About 5:30 I got my photo taken and then moved into a tighter group of the remaining people. By 6:30 I was getting nervous that we would be kicked out and have to return but Britton didn’t think so since they took my photo that day they would probably process it. As each number dinged and my name didn’t appear I still had my doubts. 7:00pm rolls around and the janitorial crew starts sweeping under our feet with the remaining 10 or so people. Finally, “Siguiente” was my call to come forward. The woman asked me in Spanish, ”Are you sure you want to get a Puerto Rican license after all this?” Yes it was a long wait, but it must be an even longer day for them! I thanked them for working late in order to process my paperwork. About 10 minutes later my license was printed and I was walked out the door by the security guard who had changed into his street clothes. It was by now 7:30pm. I must have just slid through thanks to these great people. Phew. Thankfully I shouldn’t have to do this again for another 6 years or so!
Now I am an official Puerto Rican driver! Yes!