Coming from the United States the idea of getting behind the wheel here in metro Manila was an intimidating one to say the least. I lived here well over a year before the constant standing in long lines at the malls and inevitable scamming of the cab drivers here finally became to much to deal with. In this blog entry I will go over the process of converting your drivers license from home into a Philippines drivers license and share some of my experiences having now driven here for a year.
The process of converting your license is pretty simple and painless. You will need to obtain a TIN# (or tax identification number) you can obtain this at any BIR office. I went to the one in the PAGIBIG building on Makati Avenue and Paseo. You can download and print the application to speed up the process. Here is a link to the application form http://phlpn.es/27kdn6
There is no fee for getting your TIN number and you must have one to do anything with a government office here. From the time I walked into the BIR office until I had my TIN number was 10 minutes, it was very easy and fast.
The first mistake I made was going to a satellite office in Makati, you can not convert a foreign license at these offices. You must go to the LTO Main Compound, East Avenue Diliman Quezon City (see map below). Like any other government office you will be inundated with fixers at the main gate. I personally never use fixers for anything, I stand in line like everyone else (well most everyone else). The first thing you will need to do is get your application form and fill it out. Then you will have a drug test done and a quick physical. The facilities for this are located right next to the LTO compound. I arrived there at 9am and had my drug screen and the check up done within 30 minutes the cost of this was around $20USD. Once you have your documents from the tests you go back to the main LTO compound where you pay the fee’s and have your picture taken. You will have to present your valid drives license from your home state or country at this time as well. Here are the requirements and fee schedule from the LTO’s website:
1. Must be at least seventeen (17) years old
2. Must be physically and mentally fit to operate a motor vehicle
3. Must not be a drug user or alcoholic
4. Must be able to read and write in Filipino or English
5. Must be clean, neat and presentable (wearing of sando, playing shorts and slippers during photo-taking & examinations will not be allowed).
1. Duly accomplished Application Form for Driver’s License (ADL)
2. Valid Student Permit (at least 1 month old)
3. Medical Certificate with official receipt (from LTO accredited or Government physician)
4. Negative drug test result (from a DOH accredited drug testing center & Government Hospital)
5. Taxpayer’s Identification Number (TIN)
6. Must have passed the LTO conducted written and practical examinations.
Fees and Charges: Application Fee 100.00
Computer Fee 67.63
License Fee 350.00
Computer Fee 67.63
That’s it pretty simple and pain free. I had to wait about an hour while they printed up my drivers license and I walked out that morning with it. Total cost under $30USD and total time was about 2.5 hours.
I also want to share my experience driving here in metro Manila. I bought a used Toyota sedan after getting my license but wasn’t feeling very confident driving here yet. I went to A1 driving school http://a-1driving.com and signed up for a 5 hour behind the wheel course. I have been driving for 16 years in the states but felt it would be good to get some hours with a professional before hitting the road in my car. This turned out to be a good decision. I chose the Toyota Revo and the 5 hour program ran me $90USD, it was broken up over 2 days 2 hours the first day and 3 hours the second day. We basically just drove around hitting small side streets and highways like EDSA and C5. I used the time to ask about what to expect if pulled over by the police, what to expect if I was involved in an accident etc.. I recommend doing this for anyone looking to drive here.
I have been involved in a few accidents here, I have been rear ended twice (at slow speed) once was a cab and once was a SUV both times the drivers of the other vehicles took off and I had to chase them down (in hind sight I should have just let it go). The rules of the road you are used to in the States or Australia or Europe DO NOT APPLY here! It takes a lot of concentration and loosing all your expectations of your fellow motorists. You cannot assume because the light is green it is safe to go thru the intersection. You will have to become an aggressive driver or you will get stuck in traffic constantly, the basic rule is you can cut off anyone with a nicer vehicle than yours. Jeepnys, buses & cabs always have the right of way, don’t test them because they will hit you! I have also found it effective to keep lollipops in the car it is hard to yell and curse at other drivers with a sucker in my mouth. If you do find your self pulled over by a traffic enforcement officer DO NOT give him your license right away, I know back home this is standard but it is not the case here. If you give your license to the officer here you will either lose it (meaning a trip to the main LTO office and losing half a day) or you will be paying a bribe. It is important to know the etiquette of paying a bribe if you do find your self stopped by an officer who will not let you go with just a warning. He will tell you the infraction you made and then hand you a a laminated list (size of a standard brochure) of infractions and the amount of the fine. If you choose to pay the bribe put the amount of the fine in the brochure, apologize for your mistake smile and assure him it won’t happen again and you will be back on your way. I have never been stopped by more than one officer before but I am not sure if there is more than one officer if this will work. Another thing you can do here if you have a friend or coworker related to a police officer is get the officers business card and have him write “please offer assistance” on the back of the card. Believe it or not this works here. Lastly I have a friend who is an American who saw an accident, a SUV hit a motorcycle and the SUV took off. He stopped to see if the guy on the motorcycle was okay, a police officer showed up right away and the man who was hit told the police it was my friend who hit him. Some kids on the street backed up the motorcyclists story and my friend spent several hours at the police station before they believed his story so DO NOT stop at accidents. Other people will and you are only going to open yourself up for some trouble.
Driving here is intense, but not having to be at the mercy of cab drivers is a blessing! The more you drive the easier it gets just never assume you know what the other drivers will do and stay focused!