Getting a Mexican Driver’s License in Mazatlán

For many of us, obtaining our first driver’s license was a treasured rite of passage. When it comes to our kids getting their licenses, however, like many parents the thought scares me. And the scariness factor is amplified because our son is learning to drive in what, for us, is a foreign land, and one in which the driving, at times, can seem a bit crazy. Guardian angels please protect him and those near him!

Greg and I obtained our Sinaloa driver’s licenses shortly after we arrived. We took the required class, submitted our documents, drove around the block, had our photos taken, and oilá. Others pay a “fee” and have it all done for them, but we did it above-boards and it was easy-peasy. In fact, the class was downright enjoyable — the teacher is a very good storyteller!

Now Danny’s just gotten his license, so I thought telling you about it might prove helpful for someone.

In his case, he’s a new driver, and we’ve been teaching him whenever we get a chance for about a year and a half. He started out slow, as does everyone, but these days he’s become quite competent.

He wants to work this summer to save money to buy a used car, and he will probably end up buying one with a stick shift. But, our car, the one on which he’s learned, is automatic. So, we enrolled him in a driving school so that he could learn how to use a clutch. The series of classes cost 1450 pesos, and included four rounds of driving of two hours each time, or eight hours total. In addition, there was a three hour classroom session during which they studied rules of the road. He seems to have taken to the standard transmission like a charm.

On Saturday he went to the tránsito, which is located just in front of the Aquarium here in Mazatlán. From the malecón, turn on the street towards the Aquarium. Go past the statue of Don Cruz Lizarraga, and turn right on the street on the far side of the vacant lot. The DMV office (tránsito) is at the end of the street, last building on your left, on the corner. There are two doors. The door on the right is where you file your paperwork.

The door on the left is where you take a class.

First-time drivers under the age of 18 have to take a five-hour class. They tell us the class is offered twice/month on Saturdays from 8:00 to 1:00. The classes seem to be pretty full, and the kids get a certificate upon completion which entitles them to be able to submit paperwork for a license. They do not take a written test.

When we got our Sinaloa licenses we already had U.S. driver’s licenses, so we only had to take a one hour class. At the conclusion of the class, they gave out a written test. There was an English language version of the test that they give out here in town, which seems much much easier than the Spanish language version (it’s multiple choice).

After the class and after you pass the written test, they give you paperwork so that you can go next door and get your license.

The documents a foreigner will need include (original and one copy of everything):

  1. Your Mexican visa or residency document
  2. Proof of residence/domicilio (water or electric bill with your name on it and your address)
  3. Letter of recommendation from a Mexican national, vouching that the person knows you and you are an upstanding person. This needs to be signed and accompanied by a copy of the signor’s voter registration card.
  4. You need to know your blood type (no proof required; just know it). If you don’t know, supposedly there is a lab about a block away where you can get tested. We know our blood types, so we didn’t experience this part of the process.
  5. The correct fee (see the photo at right for the chart of fees). Foreigners with FM3s are limited to 2-year licenses. First-time licensees pay for “Aprendiz.”

For first-time drivers like our son, you also need to bring:

  1. Birth certificate (to prove age)
  2. CURP
  3. Passport
  4. Parent needs to be present to sign

When you present your paperwork, they will usually ask you to do a driving test. So, you will need a car. They just asked us to drive around the block, nothing too challenging. We’ve been told that they want to be sure you buckle your seat belt and instruct the examiner to buckle his; this didn’t happen for us. Danny was also told that they ask you to pop the hood of your vehicle and show the examiner where you insert water, oil, coolant, etc., though he was not asked to do this.

Be careful as the street beyond the DMV office is one-way to the left; you don’t want to turn the wrong way. Also there are quite a few topes on the road leading up to the DMV office, as well as a stop sign conveniently hidden behind a tree.

After you drive with the officer, you pay your fee at a booth on the right side. Currently that fee is 344 pesos for a two-year period.

Next they take your photo and produce the license while you wait.

Each license contains a fingerprint of the license holder, so that’ll be the last step in the process. For us we filed the paperwork, did the drive around the block and got our licenses in under 90 minutes.

Licenses are issued Monday through Friday 8 am to 2:30 pm.

Renewals (as well as license plates, titles) can be done at this same office. However, we have had much better luck renewing our licenses at the DMV office in the Gran Plaza — it’s less of a crowd and seems to go quicker.

Good luck and drive safely!

NOTE: Our son said he learned a lot more in the driving school than he learned in the tránsito class, although he enjoyed both, and that he highly recommends the school for new drivers.

Let No One Say Mexicans Don’t Know How to Load a Truck

We recently drove from Mazatlán to Morelia, and I ended up taking quite a few photos just of the creative and efficient ways in which people here in Mexico load their vehicles. Nothing if not practical! We can make it work! We can get it all there in one load! Take a look and enjoy the slideshow! If you’d rather see larger photos, click through to SmugMug.

ExpoCar Mazatlán


My lifelong quest to experience different cultures had me tonight doing something very out of character: breathing in the smoke of burning rubber. Mazatlán has its MotoWeek, which, to my great surprise, we enjoy every year, but this was our first visit to the annual ExpoCar events.

The burning rubber was part of the quemado de llanta events this evening in the huge lot near Sumbawa. Cars lined up for their turn to hit the brakes while simultaneously accelerating, in a contest to generate the most smoke. Families with young children, couples, and groups of friends gathered for the opportunity to inhale the worst-smelling stuff this side of the water treatment plant. Despite the horrible effect on the environment (the event is just wrong, for me, on so many levels), it was actually quite fun.

Our involvement with ExpoCar started this afternoon, when 200 or so cars paraded by our front window, twice. It was awesome! The event includes every kind of car you could imagine: old and new, race and muscle, stock and drag, way tall and low-rider, classic and custom, SUV, truck and car… Last night and tonight these cars are on display in the event space: doors, hoods and trunks open to reveal the cars’ inner workings.

We failed to take a camera when we walked over tonight, so the photos are just from the cell phone. My favorite car had a DVD play in back, with TWO screens, HUGE speakers, and GORGEOUS lighting. Want to party on the malecón? On a quiet stretch of beach? Plug in your favorite banda DVD, and let ‘er rip! The photo does not do this car justice; it was waaaaay cool!

Another thing that fascinated me were the cars with parachutes on the back. In the photo at left, the car has two parachute packs, plus little mini wheels off the back.

You may know about these, but personally I had no idea they existed outside of made-for-TV test strips. There were several cards with chutes on the back. The little wheels, I suppose, are meant to prevent the car from tipping over backwards.

Greg had hoped to male-bond over this event with Danny, but Danny had other teenagers to hang out with. Had he joined us, I think he would have loved the Volkswagens that were there. He’s given up on the Nissan 350Z, the Mustang GT and the Camaro, and now more realistically hopes for a bug as his first car. These were awfully darn clean and nice.

ExpoCar began Thursday night with a big TRI concert, followed by concerts both Friday and Saturday nights. There is of course a “Chica ExpoCar” contest, and racing both Saturday and Sunday at the Autodrómo Mazatlán.

All in all, not a normal Saturday night date night, but definitely something fun and different.


Monster Truck Show – Mazatlan Style

Okay, so there is nothing new about a monster truck show, right? Well, despite my efforts to never write a blog post centered on “they sure do it differently down here,” I just cannot resist telling you that what happens at a Monster Truck Show here is inconceivable in the States.

Little things first.

The event cost 80 pesos, or around $6 US. Parking (on the street) was free, cold cervezas delivered to our seats were 20 pesos, and salchichas (sausages) were 35 pesos. The event was held at a “salon.” Sounds like something indoors, right? Monster trucks indoors? Well, we approached the entrance to what looked like a large building, gave over our tickets, and rather than walking into a building we emerged through the door into an open-air arena on the other side.

Medium things next.

It is 4:30 on a Sunday afternoon. The sun sets around 7:15. It is about 85 degrees F out and the humidity is about the same. As we enter the arena, there is little shade and there are no chairs available in what little shade there is. We decide to rough it in the sun in order to sit in front. As we sit for 45 minutes and watch things get set up, I start noticing all the empty white chairs in the sunny section of the arena. They are not filling up but rather, they are disappearing! People entering the arena and not wanting to sit in the sun like us are stacking up chairs by the dozens and relocating them to the spot of their choice with absolutely no regard for space limitations or courtesies. A shady area designed to hold 50 chairs at best is now holding over a hundred. You can’t get to the restrooms, as the walkway into the area is packed with chairs. Amazing.

In between “acts”, the MC entertained the crowd in various ways. There was an ugly dad contest, a mom with the most kids contest, that kind of thing. At one rather long intermission (after motorcycles and before trucks), the MC asked for a dozen girls to come on down to the arena. After he got his 12 young girls, he asked for 12 young boys. He ended up with around 18 boys, but he didn’t mind. Once he had them there, he lined the girls up separate from the boys and announced the “sexy dance contest”. So, here we have around 30 kids, aged 5 to 11 or so and they are supposed to “sexy dance”. He would have the music play for 30 seconds, stop it, and eliminate a few kids. This went on and on until one child on the contest. From the first sound of music, it was obvious to everyone who would win. While most of the kids just stood there or swayed back and forth a little bit, two standouts emerged. A little boy, no more than 5, took off his shirt, started gyrating around and passing the shirt back and forth under his legs. A little girl around 10 or 11, who was around 30 or 40 pounds overweight, started thrusting and “dirty dancing” by herself. It was incredible. As the contest got down to the final four, the MC stopped everything and asked the four finalists to introduce themselves and indicate who had brought them that day. After that was done, the MC said to the parents, uncles and grandparents that what he was seeing performed by these children was not taught in school and asked where the kids had learned such moves. Anyhow, when all was said and done, the little boy was the winner as voted on by crowd applause. He won a poster and a T-shirt for him and his dad.

Okay moms, the big differences are for you.

We have all seen the “drive a car on two wheels” thing before, maybe at a circus, a car show or a county fair. Nothing new here, except that after the driver makes a couple of laps in his “Herbie the Love Bug”-inspired Volkswagen, the MC of the event calls for the bravest dad to come out and take a ride. One does. Next he calls for two señoritas to come for a drive. Two do. They climb in with the driver, and go for a two-wheeled spin. Then the MC calls for kids to come for a ride. A few dozen kids charge the field and after some unknown sorting process, six are chosen.

They cram into the Volkswagen, and take two, two-wheeled laps around the track. You can see them if you look closely at the picture.

We don’t need no stinkin’ liability waivers! Nor any seatbelts, helmets, or other safety equipment.

After the Herbie show, motorcycles start zooming around. Some men come out and erect a ramp, and the MC announces that he needs 15 boys on the field. Again, dozens run out, and 15 are selected. Next, the 15 are lined up on the ground, laying down, face-up and side-by-side, in front of the ramp. I guess it is too old-fashioned to jump over a school bus or something. Why not endanger a dozen kids instead?

I think maybe it’s ok for the first or fifth kids, but I wouldn’t want to be the 15th kid on the end. After the motorcycle successfully jumps over all 15 kids, they add a few more kids, and then a few more, until they have about 30 kids lined up. Again, no waiver, no safety equipment, no nothing. Moms, would you let your kids… Oh, never mind.

The kicker to all of this, if you look closely at the pictures, you will see that the wedge that angles the motorcycle ramp up was actually a guy from the crew! More kids? No problem; he just arched his back higher for more lift.

After the motorcycles and the kids, the bikes jumped through various burning things and then the monster trucks came out and smashed some old cars and that was that. There was one notable event in which a man climbed into a box, and they exploded the box. The explosion was so loud and so powerful that the earth vibrated, our seats shaking. But, hey, the man survived. Not sure with his hearing intact, but…

All in all it was an entertaining afternoon. Danny and his friend Enrique enjoyed themselves, as did Enrique’s dad and I. I like the idea that I am getting used to a culture that is not run by lawyers and insurance companies and allows people to have fun without worrying about the what-ifs all of the time. Today, however, I was a little blown away. I would think that by next year, when we do this again, I might be running out on the field! Just what most mothers want to sign their husbands and kids up for, right?

Goyo versus “El Hombre” —or— A Great Start to Valentine’s Night

Background Information for non-residents of Mazatlan:
The main road along the ocean is called Avenida Del Mar. The road connects the Golden Zone or tourists’ area to the south of the city called Olas Altas. The posted speed limit on this street is 40 kilometers per hour, or about 25 ridiculous miles per hour. This speed limit is routinely ignored except during traffic jams and parades. If you drive 35-40 kilometers per hour, you will get beeped at, cut off and not enjoy your driving experience. I try to go as close to the speed limit as possible. In other words, it is not like me to dart in and out of the two lanes and try to be the guy in front. The risk does not justify the outcome, as there are frequent stoppages for busses and taxis as well as the threat of encountering “the man.” Much has been written about the graft of the traffic enforcement system in Mexico. We have all heard stories about bribes (or “mordidas”) being paid to police officers for legitimate and not-so-legitimate traffic offenses. Most people prefer to pay the bribe rather than deal with the bureaucracy of paying a legitimate fine. Having lived here for about eight months, our friends are usually shocked to learn that we have not been pulled over ever for anything. We always write it off to the fact that we drive a Honda Civic and try our best to obey traffic laws and not draw attention to ourselves. Just in case, I always state, we have a stash of small bills in the console of the car. You never want to be the guy who asks the cop, “Do you have change for a five hundred?”

So here it is Valentine’s Night. Saturday night—we are on our way to dinner downtown. We are treating ourselves to a nice night out at an expensive restaurant we have never been to before. It is dark out, just after 7:00. I pull onto the Avenida Del Mar and ease into the flow of traffic. Very light for a Saturday night. Okay with me, we’ll get there early and have more time to find a parking spot. As I go past the most commonly referred to landmark, The Fisherman’s Monument (also called Monos Bichis, or “naked mannequins” by the locals), the road opens up as traffic all but disappears. The road gets a little windy as we begin a slight assent along the rocky shore. As I execute a bend in the road, my eye is caught by a flashlight being shined into our car from the side of the road. A lone motorcycle police officer stands some 30 feet from his bike and is shooting a beam of light straight into my face. I look at the huge digital display on our dash and see that I am doing 51 kilometers per hour. By the time I pull over, I am a good few hundred feet from this man, who is now my bitter opponent in what will be a bloody battle to the end for our hard earned pesos. Ahh, I think, if I back up and get closer to him, it will give me points for saving him the long walk. I demonstrate my driving skills by backing up yet still following the curve of the road. American driver indeed, he’ll know he is dealing with a local when he sees me.

I put the car in park and roll down the window. At this time I realize that I am parked in the darkest part of the damn road. This Mordida Fund that I have stashed in the center console is all but irretrievable, lost to the dark abyss of the too-deep console. How can I offer this man a reasonable bribe if I have to enter the console and spend five minutes showing him how prepared or unprepared I am for this monumentous event? I guess I’ll need another strategy.

I quickly tell Danny to say nothing and let me do the talking. I assume Dianne already knows. The officer approaches and I give him a hearty “Buenas noches” in my absolute worst Spanish. He asks me in Spanish if I know how fast I was going and I again offer up “Buenas noches.” He then asks where we are from. “Vivimos aquí” (we live here), again in my worst Spanish possible. I figure if he can’t tell me what I did wrong, he will have to give up. He wants to know where we are going, so I make him ask about three times and I just keep staring at him like I really want to understand, but have no clue what he is saying. Finally, I relent, and say “restaurante en la plazuela.” I said it poorly enough that he says it back to me in perfect Spanish and I give him a celebratory smile—now we are communicating. He asks who is in the car with me and I proudly point out, “mi esposa y mi hijo.” Two in a row, uh oh, back to the speed thing. He tells me the speed limit on the street is 40. I repeat in Spanish, Cuarenta (40), and point at my dashboard to show that I understand. Feeling like he can strike pay dirt, he goes back to his first question and I again smile. He tries a few other ways to ask, but I’m not biting. He tells me again about the speed limit and I tell him again, “cuarenta, no mas (40, no more) and smile. I throw in a gracias and he wishes us a buenas noches and we are on our way.

I feel bad for a few things. One, I was speeding and did deserve whatever punishment I am entitled, except when you factor in the fact that most traffic rules in Mazatlán are a joke. Second, it is no coincidence that this guy was set up in the darkest part of the street as to avoid the cameras installed along the Avenida with the expressed purpose of catching cops asking for bribes. Third, it was Valentine’s and I could have given him enough pesos to get his wife a couple of roses or himself a six pack of Pacifico – his choice, but I would recommend the roses. I didn’t want to get into a bidding war which is what these too often can become. In my defense, if I had not stopped, he never would have caught me. He gave us something to talk about as we navigated the streets to our destination, obeying every speed limit, of course!