The ins and outs of living in Puerto Rico

The wonders of renewing your driver’s license in Puerto Rico


Image Source: PR.GOV

Image Source: PR.GOV

Well, it was that time again, it was time for me to renew my driver’s license. What happened was something I knew all too well but that may come as a surprise to some, so here I share my experience so you know what to expect when it’s time for you to either renew or get a new driver’s license in Puerto Rico. So, since I only had to renew mine, here I share with you, the wonders of renewing your driver’s license in Puerto Rico.

Now whether you have to renew your Puerto Rican driver’s license or get a new one, the process is similar, the main difference is that when you get the new one (and you are already a licensed driver elsewhere), you surrender your current license, take the written exam, then you get the one from Puerto Rico after you pass the exam, other than that, the process is pretty much the same.

So, back to my story. It was time to renew my license, since I knew what I had to do and what I had to deal with, I decided to put it off to the last minute, the problem was that I forgot to do it entirely, then I was really in a hurry to get it done! Ugh I had to go to “obras públicas” in Bayamón (DTOP), never a fun time. =(

The process is pretty straight forward, you find the DTOP center that services the municipality you live in, you go to one of those trailers they have where you get your vision checked, height/weight, sign the paperwork, pay the fees ($40 to renew the license where I went in Bayamón), then you go to the actual DTOP center, stand in line to talk to the information clerk so he/she can check and make sure you have the appropriate documents and then you get a number which will be called out when it is your turn. So after you get your number you wait, and wait, and wait, then it’s your turn, the clerk checks your documents and keeps them while you are told to sit and wait again, then you get called out by name, they give you your personal documents back then you sit and wait again, then you get called again by name again to get a picture taken, then you sit and wait again and then you get called again to receive your license, and THEN you can go home! Straight forward right!? You can see why I waited to the last minute! LOL

So, it was time for me to get it done, I check the hours of operation and I see they open until 7 PM, awesome, I’ll go after work. So I’m done with work one day and I show up at 3:45 PM to find the trailer where I get my vision checked closed for the day, but full of employees! I knock on the door and they yell they are closed, I ask why and they said DTOP closed so they did too. Ok, so I leave and come back the next day at about the same time, it was pretty easy got everything checked out, paid my $40 and after about 10 minutes I headed over to DTOP only to find it full to capacity! I stand in line to get a number and I was told that they are not accepting anyone else for today, UGH! Ok I leave and come back another day. Now my work schedule changed over the weekend so I’m working midnights (graveyard shift). So I come back now a third time only to find no parking! It was full! Then I saw a guy that had some reserved spots for those who were going to the trailer to get the paperwork started! Sweet! Well, I liked and told the man I needed those papers filled out, he let me into a spot and I headed over to the trailer…then I just kept walking to the DTOP building! LOL Then I saw that the line at DTOP was so long that it was out of the building! This was at 8 AM mind you, they were supposed to open at 7:30 AM and there was no one at the information desk to give out numbers! I was WAY too tired after my midnight shift so I went home to take a nap, the man that gave me the parking spot noticed I came back quickly and asked me if I had to come back, I said yes, it was way too full, so he told me his name and asked me to call for him when I come back and he’ll give me one of the reserved parking spots again. I was very appreciative, but to this point I felt really bad I lied about the fact that I needed those papers filled out. =(

I went home and had my daily gluten-free/dairy-free oatmeal, went to bed for 3 hours. Woke up and quickly headed over to DTOP again, got in line and saw a paper on a window that said that I was supposed to have a copy of my passport! Are you kidding me!? If I need a copy of my passport along with the original, why is that not in the list of required documents they have online!? Whatever, I stood in line to get my number. It was just before 1:20 PM, after standing in line for about 10 minutes I saw the clerk, he saw my documents, then gave me my number, it was number 528, they were currently on number 455! Well, I better sit, this will be a long wait, oh, and if I’m not there when my number is called then I lose my turn, so I better sit and listen to the numbers yelled out by the clerks, I don’t want to lose my turn!

Finally I sat down, texted my wife and told here that I will likely be here until 5 PM, then opened my autographed copy of the book  “War Against All Puerto Ricans”, finally I had a chance to read it!

Many things happened while I was waiting, the combination of what I was reading, the overall environment and how tired and hungry I was made for some really interesting thoughts and observations. There were people selling cookies to those waiting, claiming that they need money for their families, I saw a “Claro” representative handing out fliers and telling people of their latest offers and packages, there were families with kids, friends, some people sitting by themselves, but everyone seemed to be having a good time, people were just chatting, making jokes, watching videos on their phones and showing them to others, some people were chatting with strangers, it was a moment that brought me back to my childhood when I was unafraid to talk to others and I made friends everywhere I went. I lost that trait about me when I moved to the states, everyone seemed to be keeping to themselves, personal space was much larger than what I was used to here, no one seemed to want to be bothered and I often got weird looks when I smiled and said “Good Morning”. Seeing people here, smiling at you as they walked by, others were just sitting there relaxed, waiting, talking and joking with friends and strangers, it really brought me back to what I knew as a kid to be normal in Puerto Rico, people haven’t changed much in the past several years. But, then again, everything was so streamlined and awesome in the states, it was the way I would expect a government office should work for its tax-paying citizens, meanwhile I’m here, stuck, waiting because of an outdated system and process is still in place. Which one do I prefer? I honestly don’t know at this point, I suppose it would suck to lose my job in this terrible economy because a more effective system was adopted. After all, they too have families, children to take care of, etc. I suppose it depends which way you look at it, I’m not here to judge or to solve this problem, I’ll just wait.

After about an hour, they called number 476, wow only 21 numbers in an hour!? I then look to the windows where the clerks are, I noticed that there are 8 windows, only 4 have people working in them. I stand up to look closer, I see that there are 4 clerks but only 2 seem to be calling the numbers, oh, of course! Out of the 4 that are working, only 2 are actually working, the other 2 were busy with their phones, showing each other pictures and videos and texting! Well no wonder so few people are being called. Ugh, I sit back down, continue to read.

Some numbers are called but I’m immersed in my book, wow, I had no idea so many things had happened in the first 3 decades of the 20th century here in Puerto Rico! So much violence, oppression, very little civil rights, I wish my grandparents were still alive! I would’ve loved to hear their stories about when they were kids in the 1920’s and 1930’s! Well, I keep reading, and somewhere in between learning the differences between Pedro Albizu Campos and Luis Muños Marín, I hear a kid cry. It was a little girl about 6 years old, she was very tired and hungry, and couldn’t take it anymore, she was so tired, I could see it, there was little her mom could do, I felt so bad for both of them.  The little girl passed out on the chairs at about 4:30 PM, they both got here just before I did, they had been here for 3 hours, just waiting, that’s hard for a kid that age.

I started getting really hungry, I look around and there’s no vending machines for snacks or beverages, there is a food truck outside, but I can’t eat anything there anyway, nothing is gluten free, curse you Celiac disease! Besides, if I leave I will likely lose my seat, and who knows, maybe even my turn, like so many did in the past 3 hours. I look and I see the little girl sleeping, her mother caressing her head, I wonder what’s she’s thinking, I wanted to take a picture, print it, and give it to her right then and there, a moment of pure love, I wish I could have done that.

I look around again, everyone still chatting, still joking, some checking Facebook, the overall noise is lower now than it was at 1:30 PM.

It is now 5:00 PM, the mother of the little girl gets called and I do too shortly after her, by this point I have read 13 chapters of my book and learned many things about our history I had never heard before. So I get called, I give my documents, no I don’t have a copy of my passport, the lady then takes a copy, asks me to sit again. I text my wife, “I guess 5:00 PM was a very optimistic estimate”. Then I think, why is this process so incredibly slow? I had a very rare moment of wishing I were back in the states where my DMV visits never lasted more than 20 or 30 minutes. Where I just got a number from a machine, got called almost immediately, gave my paperwork, paid my fees, took my picture all in the same place! Also, why are these people not working faster! Then I thought, why would they work faster? Once they hand out a certain number of “turns” they simply stop handing them out! I know, I was turned away once because of it. So they work just hard enough to deal with the people waiting but no more, the faster they work the more people they have to deal with, all with the same pay; not worth it from their perspective. I disagree, but I can understand where they’re coming from, I guess. I’m now waiting to be called to take my picture (or so I thought), I look around the picture-taking corner only to see that there is no one taking pictures! There are 2 cameras and no one behind them! You’ve got to be kidding me! Ugh! At this point, the exhaustion of only sleeping 3 hours and only having an oatmeal in my stomach was really catching up with me.

I then open my book again, take a deep breath and keep on reading, then I realized something. I have read over 13 chapters of this book, learned so much, got to sit and read, finally, something I haven’t been able to do in years! As a married man (sorry ladies LOL) with young home-schooled kids, working an incredibly demanding job and taking online classes, it is very rare that I get the opportunity to spend a couple of hours to myself. Then I thought, yes I only slept 3 hours and I am hungry, BUT, I basically woke up from a nap, got to read for hours, then after this I’ll go home and have a snack and head back to bed for yet another midnight shift, basically a full day to myself!

The moment of wishing I lived somewhere else quickly passed, I was now appreciating the moment in full Puerto Rican fashion. I felt just like those other people that were chatting and joking while waiting. Taking the time to connect and chat while they wait, life is too fast and busy lately, all of a sudden, these slow workers were giving me a moment I had been wishing for years. Just relax, “calmate” people say, “chill”. I did just that, and it made me happy, looking around, there are people here waiting for hours and hours just to get their driver’s license, and they seem to be having a good time! Or just relaxed, likely tired. They forgot, at least temporarily, of all the economic hardships we are facing and all the other negative stuff that you see on the news here, it was strange, how no one likes having to come to DTOP and wait for so long, yet, they seem to really make the best of it.

At this point I was really happy and proud of myself and the people I grew up with. There’s nothing I can do right now about how this process is, I can’t make people work faster, I can’t change the way the process is, I might as well change my attitude and enjoy this time to myself. Realizing that made me feel so good, that I did something I had never done before, when I was finally called for the picture, I did something I had never done since I was 16 years old for my driver’s permit, I SMILED for the camera! For the first time, unconsciously, I smiled and I now have a driver’s license with a smiling picture of me! I couldn’t believe it!

Right at 6:00 PM on the dot, I hear my name again and I was given my license. I was in awe!

Finally, I head home and my wife was equally shocked at my smile! =)

I then had a little “Arroz con habichuelas y aguacate” and headed back to bed to sleep for 2 more hours before my next midnight shift.

Dealing with DTOP sucks, I won’t lie, renewing your driver’s license in Puerto Rico is a very odd and time consuming task, one that you will not enjoy, especially if you are an uptight person or are in a hurry. But this time, I was thankful that DTOP sucked so bad like they always do. I was able to turn a day I dreaded into a day I enjoyed. Thank You DTOP for being slow and allowing me appreciate my surroundings and for allowing me to be with myself just for one day.

I now tell you, “Calmate”, chill. It’ll be ok! You WILL wait at DTOP, just bring a good book, and let the time pass. =)



Author: Jay-Webmaster

Jay is an Atmospheric Physicist and Massage Therapist who was born and raised in Puerto Rico but went to college in the US before moving back to Puerto Rico. Creator of and the new forum


  1. I soooo loved your story, you made me smile!
    I’ll go to DTOP tomorrow to renew my drivers license, jippieee!! 😛

  2. Hi, Love your post!

    I have a random question. I have heard a few years ago that Puerto Ricos DTOP doesn’t have the same filling system as other states. Meaning if you have received a traffic violation(DUI) in Califonia it will not show up on Puerto Ricos system. Is that true?

    Thanks and keep up the good work

    • Also, can find anything about interlock devices in Puerto Rico.. Like nothing at all. no locations to get it installed or price ranges or anything.. its very odd. I am moving to Puerto Rico for work so I just want to have all my ducks in a row before I leave
      Thanks again

    • Jay-Webmaster

      That is true, but you need a statement from the Dept of Transportation in California saying that you have no pending violations before you can get a driver’s licence here. You should be able to do that online, California should be up to date with that stuff.

  3. Hi! Thanks for this info! My husband and I are in PR for at least the next year and he needs to renew his license. My questions is– can he still vote in the upcoming presidential election if he gets a Puerto Rican license? Thanks!

    • Jay-Webmaster

      He should be able to vote via absentee ballot. I know people ho have in the past. I also know people who voted in the US with a PR license because they were students up there. Especially now that the PR license meets the “Real ID” requirements.

  4. Excellent information on this blog. Me and my gringo husband have now lived in San Juan for almost 2 years. You are pretty much spot on with your observations and I am surprised I haven’t come across any of your information before in my searches for “how to live successfully in PR!!” In reference to the driver’s license situation, there is a License & Co. in the SuperMax de Diego upstairs that will handle all of these particulars, including marbetes and passports, for a small surcharge. They are really friendly, speak good English and were a comforting find to these gringos :-]

  5. Yikes! I am a little overwhelmed after reading these comments. My single daughter, my son & his wife and 3 kids are all moving to PR beginning in mid-February. I am going with my daughter for the first “move.” She has asked me to help her with all the legal stuff that needs to happen. Driver license is one of those things. Guess I will get them all a good book and some bottled waters for the daily adventure. Originals, copies of originals and then these items???
    1)list says bring 3 2×2″ photos –is that just to save time so they don’t have to take your picture
    2) medical doctors report???? So who do we have to see a physician and what kind of report is required?
    3) Texas license is current —does that help at all? Why do we have to surrender it? Will be in states frequently so don’t we need to have a license to drive here?
    Your responses are VERY valuable. Thank you so much for taking the time to help educate those of us who are relocating and want to follow the rules but just not sure what the rules are.

    • Jay-Webmaster

      Hello Nancy! Wow your family is in for an adventure! =)

      Well, there’s a saying here that goes “hay que vestirse de paciencia” which means that you have to dress yourself with patience! If you lose your cool it will actually make things worse, people here don’t respond well to angry or rude people, they’ll just work slower, trust me on this one, just sit back and relax LOL.

      Why do you have to surrender your TX license? Well, will they be living here permanently? Local law requires a local license within 30 days of moving and surrendering your other license, I had to surrender my PR license when I moved to the US, I’m not sure why, there must be a reason for that but I had to surrender my PR license in the US and then my US license when I moved back to PR.

      However, when I moved back from the US, I had to take the written exam (computer really), which tests you on the local traffic laws, if you pass then you get your PR license within minutes. Depending on with CESCO (DTOP) location you go to, there may be a sort of trailer in front of or very near the offices which will have everything you need. There will be a license doctor who will do a quick vision test, asks you about your prescription glasses if you have any. Everything you need you will find in those trailers, it normally costs about $40-$60 total, including all local government fees, “sellos” (stamps) and tests. Bring extra cash just in case but I think the price hasn’t changed much in the past few years.

      Make sure you have the birth certificate and/or passport, current TX driver’s license, official bill or something that has the address you live or will be living at such as a phone or electric bill. Also, your SSN card (not laminated!!!). Bring those and also a copy of each if you can, sometimes they make take a copy if they are in a good mood but there are signs everywhere that says that you have to bring your own copies, in my case however, they’ve been nice and taken copies if necessary.

      I’m not sure about the 2×2 pictures, they take your picture right then and there. I’ve had other people ask me the same thing and I’m not sure where they are getting their info but I’m pretty sure that the only reason why you would need the 2×2 pictures are if and only if you don’t have a current and valid birth certificate with a current driver’s license or a passport. I’ve never needed pictures since things went digital over a decade ago. I mean you can take them just in case but I’ve never had to, I’ve just shown my current id’s, passport and birth certificate (you may not even need the birth certificate if you have the passport, that was my case last time).

      Also, since you all would need to take the “written” exam, I suggest you go to a pharmacy and buy the driver’s manual in English (unless they know Spanish then click here to get the Driver’s Manual in Spanish). Normally Walgreens will have the manual in English, especially those near the tourist areas. Study that before the test, it should be rather easy.

      Having said all this. I’ve had friends who keep their US driver’s license and never change it to a local one. However they never got pulled over and it was current so they never had an expired license. I don’t suggest your family does that but just so you know that they wouldn’t be the first ones to not change their license if the plan was to stay here for a short time like it’s most often the case.

      I hope this helped, let me know if you have any other questions!
      If you use Google Chrome as your internet browser, you can use the translate tool and read what the local Department of Transportation says.

      Good Luck!!!

  6. I remember always fighting with everyone about not having a last a second last name! I had one lady ask me in the police department, “Que pasa usted no tiene madre?” I am not sure how it works now with the birth certificate and passport and all the other IDs one must have, but in those days I refused to invent myself another name. You might warn folks who are moving to PR about the second last name. I did without one for many years out of pure obstinance. If they don’t want a AKA to follow them around the rest of their lives, they can do what I did. Just tell them, “no tengo.”

    • Jay-Webmaster

      Hello Joe!

      Yes, we are used to having 2 last names. However that is becoming less of an issue. I know many many people with only one last name. In fact I know people born here in PR that opt for having only one last name and it is just ok. So it should be fine to have only one last name, especially if every other documentation you have such as SSN card, etc. has only one last name.

      • Yes I am glad PR has come to realize that some folks don’t have the traditional two last names. I had people tell me they did not care what my ID said, I had to have two last names in PR. 🙂 I guess the days of the Patriot Act have changed things some what. 🙂 I had a guy at voter registration tell me they could not put JR after my last name because “we don’t use that here.” After I told him I will let my dad use my card to vote because it will be his name and not mind, he relented! 🙂

  7. Apparently, PR’s leaders display the same incompetence and nonchalance in the management of its finances as the workers do at the DTOP. Perhaps if more citizens demanded expertise instead of ineptitude from its public sector, the island wouldn’t be in the mess it is in today. I say this as the son of a Puerto Rican teacher who emigrated to the U.S. in the 1940s. I deeply love the island of my mother’s birth, but I am totally disenchanted with how its finances have been mismanaged.

    • Jay-Webmaster

      I understand your point, it is valid and it has been argued many times. However, I happen to know that there are many many many reasons why we are in the situation we are in. Our local government has its limits also as we are in colonial status. We do not have the same rights and privileges as the states, so things are more expensive here due to the Cabotage law and we cannot file for bankruptcy. BUT! There are even more reasons, and the truth is that politics are often the reason why, lots of things do not make sense, everyone seems to have their own agenda.

      So to blame the ineptitude of the public sector as the reason why we are where we are is not something I would necessarily agree with, although I admit, it could be greatly improved. When it comes to mismanagement, what you or I would consider a mismanagement of funds may not be considered as such by the next person, that person may be the governor, or the governor’s advisor. Regardless of what one person does, there will be those who think it’s right and those who think it’s wrong. Besides, we don’t know the reason behind it, there’s little transparency, not that it would matter much anyway. Also, we do demand and act. Have you seen the protests of the University of Puerto Rico? Have you seen the marches we do and how social media explodes demanding action and explanations? We demand and act here much more than I’ve ever seen in other places I’ve lived. The social pressure is very strong here.

      There are many many many reasons why we are where we are. Special interests may also be a big reason why this happened.

      Here’s a link to an article posted today on Latino Rebels. It goes along the same lines as what you were arguing. Take a look.

      Your comment reminds me of the video from John Oliver when you mentioned “emigrated”, have you seen it? It’s pretty comical! =)

      Thanks for the comment! Hope you keep visiting our island! Take Care!

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