Getting a Nicaragua Driver's Licence

First of all, just let me say that I put this under Residency and Immigration for lack of a closer match, plus the fact that through recent topics, most people should now be aware that to get plates, a driver's license, a license to carry arms, or to do many other simple things, you must be a resident. The first thing they ask for on many instruction lists here is a copy of your cedula. We recently had a link published (I believe by Juanno - for the National Police website, which has very clear lists explaining how to do many things, including getting a driver's license. They really are nice lists that are very thorough and not too difficult to understand. But it turns out that many of the items listed are just wishful thinking at this point. The requirements exist, but only to a certain point. The following is what you really need to do (at least in Matagalpa). Note that this system does not apply to Nicaraguans. They have their own list.

1. Go to BanPro, and ask for a deposit slip (minuta) for Transito. You will need three (3) of them for 3 individual payments. On one, fill it out for a payment of C$100.00, check the "other" box, and write in "seminario". Do second one for C$100.00, check "other", and fill in "examen". Do the third one for C$120.00, and this time, check the box for licensia. Pay your C$320.00, and you will have completed probably the longest part of the entire process.

2. Go to the Red Cross of Nicaragua, pay them C$100.00, and get your eyes examined and your blood typed.

3. Take a copy of your cedula, a copy of your existing driver's license, the three receipts from the bank, and all the papers from the Red Cross to the police (must be before 1:00 pm). Your papers will be reviewed, then given back to you, and all you have to do then is wait your turn for them to ask a few questions (not a test) and take your picture. A few minutes later, you will need to sign the book for your license, and it's all done.

This was by far the easiest official process I have ever been through here. The whole thing, including the bank, was about an hour and a half, and more than half of that was in the bank. However, some people I am sure will be somewhat disappointment in the results. From reading some of the comments on other posts, I got the distinct impression that many feel that they will receive better treatment during police stops if they are not so immediately identified as foreigners. Well, I am sorry to say that foreigners get a different color than Nicaraguans, and your country of origin is also identified, so they spot you right away. On the good side, I have spoken to many transit police in Matagalpa, and every one of them said that you are much more likely to get a break or be given the benefit of a doubt if you have the Nicaragua license, regardless of where you are from. Only time will tell.

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I expected all the posts about what can best be called interpreting the laws. If you go to the How-To section (in Living) you will find a different but not necessarily wrong explanation of how to get a Nicaraguan driver's license.

First, if you need a copy of the law, there is one at which I put out there because, at the time, the national police web site was regularly broken. If you drive here, it is certainly worth reading. While most things are normal, there are some important things such as not moving your vehicle if it is involved in an accident.

I have never seen a this is what we really do document from Transitio but before getting my residency I did read both what the residency law said and what the Migracion procedures said. They were clearly different. You could spout law all you wanted but people in Migracion followed their procedures.

Working with bureaucracy, anywhere, tends to create a situation with what we can call options. I have found that in Nicaragua, the following methods will help you exercise your options:

  • Attitude. Asking firmly and specifically for something will generally get you different results than starting with "Would it be possible to ...". (My driver's license on my second day in Nicaragua was a good example of this.)
  • Knowing someone in the bureaucracy (and this really doesn't mean a good friend or anything, just someone who understands what makes sense) and going to them. (A good example here was when, legally, I needed a vehicle inspection in order to get a permit to take my six month old car out of the country. The person doing the paperwork knew this was a requirement but she also knew it was pretty absurd and didn't make me do it. No propina involved here.)
  • Knowing what the official position is. Expect this to backfire if you try it with government but, for example, printing out the Enitel web page about a particular kind of service before going to order it will likely be an asset..
  • A bribe. The Estelí public registry, for example, seems to take three or four months to do anything without a propina.
  • Where you are requesting the service. For example, that same old Estelí public registry will not let you create an S.A. unless you have a Nicaraguan cédula. Others will.

With all that said, a combination of what you find in the How-Tos and personal experience make a lot of sense.

Note that some of this is related to how government functions in Nicaragua but not all of it. Take opening a bank account as an example. If you read posts about opening a bank account you will find that some people will tell you that you need a cédula, others a passport from any country. You will even find people going to different branches of the same bank at the same time and getting a different answer.

None of this has anything to do with Nicaraguan government regulations. I was fortunate enough to have a bank manager explain it to me. The requirement comes from the US government who pressures the Federal Reserve to pressure the Correspondent Banks to pressure banks in other jurisdictions to keep their act clean.

How that is interpreted varies from bank to bank and over time. While many see this as Nicaraguan flakiness, the US government cannot dictate how things are done in Nicaragua so an indirect threat (of not being able to do dollar transactions through correspondent banks) is all there is. Each bank then picks its own comfort level.


OK, One more time:

Go into the Policia Nacional Web Site at:

Click on Servicios Policiales in the thin yellow header, top right area on the main page.

Then click on the red dot that says: Tramites de Transito Nacional

Then the red dot that says: Licencia de Conducir Ordinario

And there you have it, both locals and ex-pats need a Cedula.

Cedula Ciudadana (Citizens Cedula) for Nicas and a Cedula Residencia for Extranjeros.

Plain and simple I would say.

So Granada Sheriff - I would say "That is the transit law".

P.S. Granada Sheriff, Nicaraguans don't have to leave their country every three months, so your statement "I can do everything a Nicaraguan can except for 2 things: 1. get a license to carry an gun, 2. vote."...Is actually not true. You can't stay more than 3 months without leaving and your rapid re entry is discretionary, not your "right". You cannot have a business (unless its an SA with at least one Nica on the board) and you cannot work. I could go on with a few more things but you get the point

Think about it, why would Nicaragua need to give a Nica license to a tourist that on paper is only here for 3 months?

Plus, did you you tell your home Sate or country you have a Nicaraguan licence? Have a look at the small print on that, your US or Canadian Licence my be void. You should check into that.

This is what Alberta Canada says about it:

It is the law in Alberta that a person must surrender any and all foreign driver’s licences when they obtain any class of Alberta operator’s licence. It is illegal in Alberta to hold a foreign driver’s licence and an Alberta driver’s licence at the same time.

180 days, not 90 days

The initial Visa is 90 days, then you can get another 90 days from Gobernacion anywhere, after that you have to leave for 72 hours. about the license, I have one. You can get one from anywhere if they tell you cannot, then get your lawyer involved. I had a restaurant, a RUC and I paid taxes to the DGI, I have a hotel and pay taxes and hire workers. I have an Illinois Drivers license, and a Nicaraguan drivers license. I got the nica license when my Canadian license expired, but I also have an international drivers license. (Oh by the way, when i was younger and working as courier in Toronto during my University days, I used to go to Alberta to get my drivers from Calgary, so that when i get stopped in Ontario the speeding tickets did not affect my points, pretty much all couriers did this, those were the days though, I think now they have Canada wide treaties). You are right though I am not supposed to have a Canadian and a US drivers license together, it is one or the other.

I could not find my copy of the Ley de transito, but here is a link to the US Embassy how to get a nicaraguan license:

My experience has been that outside managua and granada, getting a license is harder as the police like to interpret the laws their own way. But believe me, the Nicaraguan constitution is one of the best in terms of the rights given to Non Nicaraguas.

Found a reference to the law: Ley 431 article 144 (Ley de transito)

OK, but what we should be doing here is giving the facts.

Like the legal way, the right way etc. We could (and do) fill pages with individual experiences but as you know, you could try that same move with the lawyer the very next day and get a different response.

I think Charlie was right in giving the official line. It's up to each person to find their own comfort level with bending the rules.

In addition, I think one needs to know the official version so that one knows how far anyone is bending the rules for you, (if that is the case).

The Embassy info confirms that the Policia Nacional Info takes precedence. It says:

American Citizen Services Driving in Nicaragua

Regulations related to vehicles are carried out by the Traffic Division of the National Central Police. For specific information concerning Nicaraguan driver licenses, vehicle inspections, compulsory insurance, please visit the website of the National Police in regulations change frequently and may not be current, specific questions should be directed to the Nicaraguan government.

What I am stating is the law

it is the Nicaraguan constitution. It is the legal way. The problem is in some areas of the country, the law interpreted by local police departments, which is not LEGAL. You can own a business, you can get a license Plate, you can get a drivers license, you can own property, you can open a bank account, you can get married, you can sue people and get sued, you can go to jail, you can do everything, but you cannot work for a salary and you cannot own a gun, and you cannot Vote. That IS the law and the constitution.

OK I give up.

The Police web site is wrong.

Article 27 of the Constitution

ARTICULO 27.- Todas las personas son iguales ante la ley y tiene derechos a igual protección. No habrá discriminación por motivo de nacimiento, nacionalidad, credo político, raza, sexo, idioma religión, opinión, origen, posición económica o condición social. Los extranjeros tienen los mismos deberes y derechos que los nicaragüenses, con la excepción de los derecho políticos y los que establezcan las leyes; no pueden intervenir en los asuntos políticos del país. El Estado respeta y garantiza los derechos reconocidos en la presente Constitución a todas las personas que se encuentren en su territorio y estén sujetas a su jurisdicción.

First off, that article only

First off, that article only says all persons are equal before the law, and it clearly allows for laws that will define who has a right to do what. This is the constitution, which mandates governing law, but is not itself the actual law. Now back to Law 431. Clearly you have a different version of the law than the rest of us. The article you cited, article 144, says nothing about who can get a license, but addresses use of a foreign driver license. Article 141 actually addresses who can get a license, and it very clearly only extends the right to Nicaraguan citizens. As a tourist, you have no such right, and if you look at how everything is set up, it is obvious that someone actually thought out the requirements, based the fact that there is no valid reason for a tourist to need a Nicaraguan license. So, either you got away with something, or you did it before the current law was in effect. Either way, the current requirements are very clear. No cedula, no license. And the requirements followed right along with what was listed on the website, except for a few things I didn't have to do. Nobody had their own interpretation of anything, and there were no additional requirements. I am inclined to think that this is likely the way they do it everywhere.

This is how it worked

You go to the Police you tell that you license is expiring. They will ask you to go get the eye exam, blood test, and in my case take a written test. You license will have you Passport number and country of origin as your identification. You will be asked to get supplementary insurance (drivers insurance). Then you will get get your license. Article 144 states that clearly. I think the trouble is that "where" in the country matters. In Granada where there are many foreigners, the police is used to this. Now that is for a drivers license, what about the other documents you mention, like not having a business unless it is an S.A.? I had an S.A. back in 98 and it is a nightmare of paperwork and regulations. The restaurant and other Hotel are just private businesses with a RUC.

Constitution - Law - Regulations - Ministerial Orders.

Having been a bureaucrat once, that is the order of events.

Most laws here will allow for Regulations or Ministerial Orders to be made from time to time that are within the "spirit of the law" but could drastically change the procedure at "the counter".

Here is an old post

There are many old posts.

If, for instance, I had followed the some of the old post instructions for my upcoming wedding, I would have spent whole load of time and money on paperwork I don't need.

Remember, a lot of these rules and post come from a time when there were not a lot of Ex pats here. The more that go through the system, the more it changes and the more different answers you get.

Opening bank accounts varies from bank to bank and town to town. The latest need is a letter of good standing from your US or foreign bank. I didn't need that 4 years ago.

Similarly, did FYL think almost 4 years ago that someone would be taking his post as gospel in 2010?

That is not true

Any natural Person here legally, can get a driver's license and Vehicle Plates. That is the transit law. I have a nicarguan drivers license without residency, I am here as a tourist! i own a vehicle, and property and I can do anything that a Nicaraguan can and have exactly the same right as a Nicaraguan except for 2 things: 1. get a license to carry an gun, 2. vote.

When did you do all that?

It is absolutely true. When did you get your license and plates? Today, your cedula is always the first thing they ask for. My wife couldn't get plates for the truck until she got her cedula, and she is Nicaraguan. There was absolutely nothing we could do until she got her cedula.

i got my first cedula about

12 yrs. ago..and the reasons above are why i got one....drivers lic. and pistol permit..u need a cedula..for just about everything..can u get a bank acct. with out one

yes you can

Get a bank account. Passport and 2 letters from people that knows you.