Stuff That Happens in Mexico

I have a growing list of things to do as we get moving into 2019. Probably all of these things are rather mundane, but they can be rather important. Having a vehicle that is legal to drive or being able to legally drive it is something sorta important if you think you might ever need to drive somewhere, and I certainly do.

So today, I surprisingly found myself knocking out one of the things on this list: driver’s license. I have a DL from our previous state of Querétaro that has served me well for the past 5 years, but in 7 days it expires. I had brief thoughts of going back over there to renew it, but realized that would be a pretty expensive trip and I was 99.9% sure that I wouldn’t have the required paperwork that would probably be needed in order to renew it. So, I had one week to figure out the process here, and I needed to get onto it quickly.

Fortunately, we have a great group of missionaries around us here who were quick to respond to my questions in Whatsapp, and that set me onto a few websites that eventually yielded a list of items needed for getting a Puebla DL. Stuff like U.S. Passport (and a copy), Mexico visa (and a copy), a utility bill from the last 3 months (and a copy), a printout of a government identification number called a CURP but not the original one given to me in 2005, it must be a copy printed out in the past 3 months from some unnamed government website (two copies), possibly my birth certificate (and a copy), possibly my Querétaro DL (and a copy), an online appointment with a printout of it. And money. Lots of money.

Simple enough. I threw in a copy of my last house rental receipt too (and a copy).

I discovered there are several area government buildings that can handle the DL procedures, so I went with one that is near the seminary and I could walk there in about 10 minutes (after making copies of everything on the list and I made two copies of everything rather than one…experience with government offices is a plus; expect the unexpected and be sure to bring way more documentation than you think you’ll need because then you won’t need it, but if you don’t bring it, you’ll need twice the amount of documentation than you could have possibly imagined beforehand; trust me, that’s the way it works).

Funny thing. There wasn’t any information available as to the DL test. Nothing offered that I saw that says, “Study this info. You’ll need to know this stuff.” It may have been there. Come to think of it, I didn’t actually look for it. I presumed that with my current DL from Querétaro (basiscally having taken a national standardized driving exam to get it), I would not need to take an exam.

So, I walk over with about an hour until closing time and found myself in a relatively short line. I hadn’t made an appointment because when I first went online to that website, I checked out the long list of stuff I needed to take with me. So, I went over to PCS to make copies of everything first before making the appointment just in case it took me awhile to get it all together. When I made it back home with my copies and tried to make the online appointment, at that point the website said it was temporarily down and unable to make appointments!

Oh well. I walked over anyway and no one asked about having an appointment or even acted like anyone needed one, and apparently no one in line had one. Go figure. Mexico.

When it was my turn, I began offering documents and copies and the gal seemed impressed that a gringo might walk in and actually have everything on the first shot. I was feeling pretty good about it all.

Until.

There’s always an “Until.” You have to expect that. This is Mexico and nothing goes right in a government procedure. Ever. There is always something to unexpect and I was expecting it. I just didn’t know what it would be.

My CURP. This is a number that was handed to me on a document back in the spring of 2005 when we got past our FM-T (tourist visa) that we came down on and were issued the all-important (at that time) FM-3. I remember the joy of getting that. Of course, the system has been changed a time or two since then. FM-3’s don’t exist anymore. But we got our CURP. Our immigration lawyer gave it to us. I had no idea what it was or why it might ever be important since no one ever said what it was or why we might ever need it. Each of us got one though. I filed it in a ream of other immigration documents from that time period. About 5 pounds worth of papers.

Since then, we have discovered that the government (for awhile, at least) required that we give the CURP number when buying a cell phone. It would identify the purchaser back to our names just in case we should ever use the phone for nefarious activities and should the government manage to track the signal back to our phones. Of course, we didn’t know at that time which was a couple years after receiving our CURP that we couldn’t just waltz into a phone store and buy a cell phone unless we had our CURP number. We could be terrorists or drug dealers or kidnappers…and NOT EVEN KNOW IT! So, we had to have our CURP number.

Well, at that point, we didn’t even remember being given a document that said CURP # on it and had no idea we even had such a number. I remember that being such a stressful thing at the time because we really needed a cell phone. Not to worry. This is Mexico. The teenager selling us the phone said, “Oh that’s ok. I’ll just use mine. I do it all the time.” I have no idea what that could have meant at the time (those phones are long dead and gone), but the good news is, I don’t recall anyone asking for our CURP the last time or two that we’ve had to buy phones here. I wonder how many years that gal has been in prison for stuff she never did.

And all that leads us no where, but does somehow leads us to today and the “Until.” The gal at the desk today said she needed to check on something. That’s usually not a good thing even in the USA . That happened to me once in Dallas when I got my first Texas DL and the gal disappeared and finally came back with an armed police escort to tell me that they couldn’t accept my US State Department Issued Passport because it had my Passport number punched through the cover in holes that went through about half the book but not through all the pages, and the holes needed to go through all the pages, even though the US State Department never put holes through all the pages when they issued that passport, so they couldn’t accept it, and I was out of luck and I couldn’t get a Texas DL using that passport as an ID (and I had nothing else with me since we lived in Mexico). I went to a different DL office in the area the next day and they accepted that same passport without even blinking at it. Go figure.

So, back to Puebla. She checked on “something.” And she came back. And another lady came back. Fortunately, she wasn’t armed though I do recall that she had two arms. The other lady apparently is a supervisor. She had bad news. My CURP shows my last name with a space as “MC MANUS” rather than without a space as “MCMANUS” as does my passport, my visa, and every other official document I had provided. She proceeded to say that some visas show the CURP on the front of it though my visa does not. Because of that I should get the CURP fixed by some other government agency to get rid of the space that shouldn’t be there, that shouldn’t have been there for the past 13 years and that no other government agency has said was a problem. It could cause a problem for me in the future. She made it sound like she would see to it that it would. Oh, but even with the bad news, I could still get my DL today because the number wasn’t listed on my visa card. Whew! So, that was the best-case scenario.

I doubt I’ll get that fixed after 13+ years, but I wonder at what point it will bite me and for what reason. Maybe within the next week when I try to change my license plates over to this state. We’ll see. I can imagine being carted into an ER about to die and the doctor leans over and says, “You’re having another heart attack. You’ll need to get your CURP fixed before we can help you.” Laugh if you want. It could happen you know.

FINALLY. I figured I was good-to-go and I was ready to pay and get my picture taken.

NOT. SO. FAST.

Yes, there is a DL exam Virginia (though not the same as the DL exam in Virginia). Rats. I’d have to take another one of these.

I took that oneDL exam in San Juan del Río five years ago on a whim. My co-worker Brock had swung by my house one morning and asked if I had time to hang out with him while he ran some errands, and we could maybe get lunch together. That sounded good. So, I hopped into his truck and off we went. We ended up at a government office for a document he needed on a vehicle, and he told me that this was the place I could get my DL and then asked me if I had one (no, I didn’t) and if I wanted to get one (yes, I did). So, we asked a lady if I could get it. She said, yes. She said I would need my visa (I had it on me as always…another lesson learned from a few years before to always carry it), and a utility bill. Ah, I didn’t have a utility bill on me. No problem. Brock had one on him from his house which he had needed for his document there. She said that would work. So, I ended up taking the test and passing, and the driver’s simulation exam (I failed in the first 5 seconds because I hadn’t seen there was a seat belt behind it…but they passed me anyway). And I got my 5 year license for about $40 (USD)…with Brock’s address since it was his utility bill!

Now, I was once again unprepared for a typically odd and almost illogical exam…in Spanish. The gal said, “You’re a foreigner. How is your Spanish?” I replied, “Pues más o menos, pero menos que más.” (“Well, more or less, but less than more.” My standard reply.)

She turned her computer screen toward me a bit and handed over her mouse and said, “OK. Here you go.” I looked at question #1. I suddenly found that I was not sure what in the world I was reading. I looked at the question. I looked at the answers. I looked again at the question. I ran my finger along the words of the question. I was looking at a word or two that I was drawing blanks on. I should know these words. I dunno. OK. I think I know what that question is asking. Why would it ask me this? I have no idea what it’s talking about. What kinds of crossings are there? What do they mean by crossings? Animal crossings? Pedestrian crossings? People doing Catholic crossings? I’ve driven in this country for 14 years and I needed to know this? I never hit a crossing before and haven’t hit too many people in crossings before. And these multiple choice answers? What does the first one even mean? I have no idea. The second one? Maybe. The third one? That answer doesn’t even make sense!

As you can imagine. This is taking some time. The gal reached over and took the mouse. I thought, “Uh-oh. I’ve blown it. She won’t even give me the exam.” I was right. She wouldn’t give me the exam. She proceeded to click “B.” And another question popped up. I began trying to decipher that one but before I could read two words, I heard a “click” and the next question popped up. Again, I couldn’t read more than a word or two before another “click” and another question. The guy working next to her laughed. I tried really hard to refrain from laughing. I am quite sure I smiled while sucking in my cheeks and trying very hard not to belly laugh. In about 40 seconds, I had passed my test with a 100% and I have no idea what the questions or the answers were other than for #1 (btw, there are “regular and irregular crossings…who knew?).

Hardest test I’ve ever passed but never took!

Then I waited a couple minutes for another lady to print up a paper to take to the cashier. I paid the cashier about $120 USD (in pesos of course) and followed her directions to go to the line for my photo. Got my photo taken after a 5 minute wait and received my “PERMANENT” DL about 5 minutes later.

In theory, I will never have to get another DL in Mexico for as long as I live. I asked the last lady what if I change my address? What will I need to do? She looked a little puzzled at first and then said that I’d have to come in and ask for a change of address and pay the same amount again. What?! Another $120 USD just to change my address?! Oh. I get it. That’s why she looked so puzzled. Nobody would ever ask this or be dumb enough to change their address. Just leave it for life and don’t worry about it. No one will ever ask. No one will ever care.

And such is Mexico:

Don’t ask. Don’t tell. Just survive the system. And all will be well.


About alanbeth

What’s up? or rather, ¿Qué pasa? Hola, I’m Alan. I’m a missionary living in Mexico. We have a heart for MK Education and so we teach at a local Christian school with MK students as well as nationals and foreign students as well. I occasionally write or have a pic to share with you at my blog, Knowing Your ABCDs, which you can read with a click on the button above. You can read my blog with a click on the button above.
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