Jamaica Magazine

"Retiree Jamaican Driver’s License – Then & Now "by An American Retiree in Jamaica

In just seven years the procedure for obtaining a Jamaican driver’s license has changed dramatically. Perhaps the process has remained the same but is now being strictly enforced, but I don’t know for sure. No regard or courtesy is given for foreign license holders regardless of how long they have been driving. All applicants are considered new drivers. The only exception is they aren’t required to take a road test.

I got my Jamaican driver’s license within a few weeks of moving here. At that time I had a standard transmission car which my wife couldn’t drive, thus only I went for the local license. I obtained a form from the Motor Vehicle Department of Inland Revenue which required me to get three passport size photos notarized by a Justice of the Peace. Fortunately for me, I had known one from coming to Jamaica for so many years. Once the fee was paid it allowed me to make an appointment at the testing office. Quite to my surprise, I was asked if I was ready to take the test then. I told the clerk that after driving in the US for 45 years I couldn’t be more ready. I was ushered into a small office where the examiner handed me a copy of Reader’s Digest magazine and asked me to read from it. Without my reading glasses, that was impossible. He asked me if I could see the posters on his wall. After reading one he was convinced I could read English. The last step was to drive through an “s” curve configuration of cones. Unfortunately, my hearing isn’t much better than my ability to read without glasses. So….I perfectly executed driving forward through the configuration. With a little smile on the examiner’s face he told me he wanted me to back through, turn around, and back through the other way. I did this with perfection and was able to receive my driver’s license a few days later. That was then. 

Not too long ago I sold my manual transmission car and purchased a white Toyota Corolla with automatic transmission. There was a time when I was having knee problems and had to rent a car for my wife to drive us around in. This got old fast. We decided to purchase this new car in case my knee should act up again. No sooner had we purchased this car than Ann developed a herniated disc and was unable to drive for nearly a year and a half. Shortly after Ann did began driving, I developed rapidly growing cataracts which required surgery. Ann was now able to do all the driving but still lacked a Jamaican driver’s license.  

Her first step in acquiring the long awaited legal status was to obtain the necessary form, three passport size photos each certified by a Justice of the Peace, and pay the $1,800 JA fee. At this point this is the end of any similarities to my experience. The next day she went to the fitness center to make her appointment for her test. She was given an appointment for three weeks later which gave her ample time to study the driving manual and practice her backing skills. That was plenty of time to study the handbook but not nearly enough to master her backing skills. The driving schools have the course laid out exactly the way the official course is set up. Ann considered engaging the services of one of the schools but for the $1,000 JA per hour she felt her 30 plus years of driving would be sufficient. 

The day of her test arrived and she was there nearly one hour before the office opened. Although she had an appointment for 9:00, so did everyone else. She realized this too late to pick the number one ticket but ended up with number three. No problem. Ann was called into a large office where her paperwork was checked and then was told to have a seat until she was called. A few minutes later, she was called into a smaller office where she had to read a paragraph from the local newspaper. The examiner, confident she could read English, handed her a 25 question test to be completed in 15 minutes. This done, she was told to go back to the original waiting room and listen for her name to be called to take the yard test. 

When her name was called, she was told to drive her car around to the back of the building. The examiner asked her to get out of the car for further directions. He pointed out a large tree on the side of a hill, see picture. She was instructed to drive to the tree, park the car and alight from it, and wait for the examiner to wave to her. Then she was to get back into the car and proceed up the hill without rolling back and then follow the road around to the bottom of the hill. Once she reached the cone configuration, she was told to back through, turn around and back through again without repositioning. 

Everything was proceeding perfectly to this point until she reached the curved section of the configuration. She misjudged where the curve began and was about to hit one of the cones when a young man sitting under a tree yelled “Whoa!” The examiner heard what the young man said and quickly chastised him for interfering with the exam, but it was too late for Ann. The examiner told her to park the car and go back into the waiting room until her name was called again. She was then told she failed and to schedule another appointment for just the cone part of the exam. 

A month later and close to an hour of driving instruction and practicing on a driving school course, she was ready for the re-exam. When her ticket number was called she went into the large office and was told that she had to pay for the exam again. This was not mentioned when she made the appointment previously. She drove back to the Revenue Department, paid the $1,800 JA fee again, and returned to the fitness center. The extra 30 minutes this took didn’t affect her place in line. In fact, she didn’t get called in until 10:30, an hour and a half after the office opened. 

This time she aced the course as can be seen in the picture. But the exam wasn’t over yet. Once again she was asked to go back to the waiting room and wait for her name to be called. She was then escorted into a different office where she was given a paper with two “x’s” on it and told to write a short sentence and sign her name. She wrote, “I love Jamaica!” which must have pleased the examiner as she was given a slip of paper signed and stamped to prove she had passed the test. 

Her final instruction from the examiner was to report to the Motor Vehicle Department of Inland Revenue on the following Monday to receive her license. Eager to show off her Jamaican license to her family and friends in the US on her pending vacation, she was an early arrival, but it wasn’t to be. Her paperwork had not been completed and forwarded as anticipated. On Tuesday morning, she called the office first before wasting another trip. At last, the paperwork was finally in.

 The end was in sight! She received two more forms to fill out, had a smiling picture taken, and an interview with a clerk where she had to pass another reading test. ( I found out later this extra reading test is to help catch an illiterate person who paid for their license on the black market.) From there she proceeded to the cashier where she paid $3,000 JA for the privilege of driving for five years. The final stop was back at the Motor Vehicle Department to pick up her long awaited Jamaican driver’s license. Today, Ann is legal in the eyes of both the Government of Jamaica and her Insurance company. Later….

About the author

John Casey