A License to Drive in 12 Steps
Moving Back to Jamaica means dealing with the ugly face of corruption,and one of the agencies with a poor reputation is the Examination Depot at Swallowfield Road. It is a little like the Ellis Island of Jamaica -- the place where those who are moving to live in Jamaica must pass through on their way to fully authorized,and acceptable driving.
The law in Jamaica states that a Jamaican driver's license is needed after living on the island for more than three months. Or perhaps that's six months... and this is where the problem begins. Rumor has it that if you end up in an accident with a foreign license after this period, then the insurance company can refuse to provide coverage. But then again, this is just a rumour.
Getting a Jamaican license while having a foreign license is a tricky business, as the information is scanty, there are no clearly written procedures and everyone seems to have a different story to tell.
And, there is the matter of corruption. many traffic and driving problems in Jamaica can be whisked away with the right payment to the right person, as the three reports below attest. The estimate I heard is that 40% of our drivers have no legal drivers licenses, having received them through bribes. Again, another rumour.
I vowed to document the process of obtaining a local license once I received one, and here I am going to lay out the ideal set of steps to take, leaving out the part where we hunted down a lawyer, a JP, 2 trips to the photographer and 2 trips to the examination depot.
Step 1: Visit the Tax Office on Constant Spring Road between the 5th and 20th of the month. Stay away from the days nearest to the end of month, as that is when people rush to the depot to pay fees at the last minute. Pick up an application for a driver's license (unavailable on the internet.)
Step 1a. Pay the fee to take the test -- $1500 at the Tax Office. Carry cash, for fear of hearing that "the credit card machine not working."
Step 2: Get 3 pictures taken at PhotoExpress in Liguanea or someplace similar. Avoid going at rush hour. Time: 15 minutes to wait for development. Cost $900
Step 3: Fill out the form WITHOUT signing it.
Step 4: Find a Justice of the Peace (NOT a lawyer.) They must be willing to say that they know you for more than five minutes... Have them sign and seal the document over your signature as well as certify the pictures
Step 5: Visit the Examination Depot on Swallowfield Road (near the stadium) with your documents (the form, the pictures, the receipt of payment from the tax office) and set an appointment to take the exam
Step 6: Purchase a copy of "The Jamaican Driver's Guide" from 2007 and study the contents. If you cannot read English, then learn. If you cannot learn English, then methods of your obtaining your license are beyond the scope of this blog. Cost $359. Time to find it: most pharmacies and book stores. It is very popular here in Jamaica.
Step 7: Visit the Examination Depot on the day and time appointed. Be prepared to use your biggest foreign accent. Carry no cash. Pretend you know nothing about any "drinks money."
Step 8: Take the reading test. Answer a few questions on road signs from page 40. Be exceedingly polite, friendly, helpful and helpful. This is like Ellis Island -- you may get turned down for merely looking "like an imbecile" which in Jamaica also includes "being too damn rude."
Step 9: Take the driving test in the yard. Do a hill start. Do the reversing test.
Step 10: Sit and wait a few minutes for the examiner to tell you when you can pick up your license. Ask him to assign it to the Constant Spring Tax Office.
Step 11: Visit the tax office again on the right day, with $1500 in hand. Pay, and pick up your license.
Step 12: if you haven't already started, learn how to drive like a Jamaican.
The entire process can be completed in a matter of 2-3 weeks, if everything is lined up in advance. The longest unexplained wait is for the examination date.
All in all, the process was fairly straightforward, once we had gone through it. Consider this post to be the definitive account, as after a few hours searching I could find nothing on the internet that described the entire process. I met a few foreigners who had different accounts, depending on who they knew at the Depot.
Here, I have assumed that you know no-one, and that by now you know how to "look foreign" when you need to. If you don't know what that means, then just dress "normally."
It turns out there is an important Step 13.
Step 13: Visit the tax office with J$1500 in hand and some kind of picture ID. They should already have your paperwork there. They pull it out from the stacks of papers piled all over in manila folders (almost to the ceiling) and after filling out another form, you pay the fee (credit cards accepted) and then come back to wait for your official picture to be taken.
Once the picture is taken, you wait again for the license to be handed to you. Then you complain that the picture looks ugly.
The whole process took about an hour, and didn't feel all that long because you are going through a few different steps. Remember, the tax office is a place to avoid from the 28th of one month to the 3rd of the next. The best time to go is from the 4th - 15th, to avoid the long lines.