Everything else.. How To Get Your Driver’s License in Sri Lanka

How To Get Your Driver’s License in Sri Lanka

2017 Jan 25

by Nikita Gomez

For most teenagers a driver’s license symbolizes freedom and independence. For us Sri Lankan teenagers it is our first and only sign of independence as we don’t move out of our parents’ house till marriage (maybe not even then) or start working, but who’s complaining? (Probably our parents!)

Therefore this is a huge milestone for us. While this is something to be rightfully excited about as it is the official sign of us becoming adults (just writing that word sends shivers down my spine) and taking on responsibility, the process to get your license is somewhat tiresome. Make that absolutely annoying. Here are a few facts of how to get your license Sri Lankan style.


Be prepared to waste 3 days of your life

Getting your license essentially takes 3 days; 1 to get yourself registered, 2 to take your medical to ensure you are fit to drive a car, 3 to take your final written and practical test. Seems short and sweet right? WRONG! You have to face the fact that you are just one among the thousands trying to get their license which means endless queues, people shoving you and slow service. Remember the sloths at the DMV in Zootopia? Yeah they weren’t exaggerating. It’s as slow as that, I kid you not.  (Kudos to Zootopia for casting sloths as DMV officers because it couldn’t be more accurate). Not only is it short staffed most of the time but they aren’t particularly accommodating excluding the handful of kind and encouraging people who give you quick smiles, making you feel even more nervous and insecure so that by the time you finally face your exam you are an annoyed and nervous wreck.


Take a good picture.

Ah, this is important! (Nooo it’s not the license itself, please what era are you from? The only thing that matters is the picture!)  As it is a black and white picture there’s no point in wearing any makeup which means you have to rely on your natural looks, and also means that you aren’t allowed to grin so a simple smile is what you have to resort to. So, sit there and look pretty!

Or end up creepily smiling like Sheldon!

Go through a driving school

In my personal experience going through a school is much better than attempting to do it privately. Maybe it is a bit costly but they are specialized and know exactly what they are doing.  Some schools even provide transport to and from the DMV and prepare you well for the exam so that you aren’t completely lost. They also ensure you get the appropriate amount of hours behind the wheel which is exactly what you need if you have never even touched the steering wheel.


Don’t take your written exam for granted.

Everyone worries about the practical aspect of it thus forgetting the theoretical aspect of it. While it isn’t hard it can be tricky as it is based on MCQ’s. This doesn’t make life easier as sometimes the answers have only a single word different.

If you do take the test in English be warned that there are grammatical errors making it harder to understand the question so be careful.


Be armed (with words)

Yes, driving a car can be scary especially in Sri Lanka since most people seem to think they are Vin Diesel in the Fast and Furious (if you don’t get the reference you must be living under a rock). This also means people don’t care that you are a learner. You might as well forget about the red L sign or the fact that the car may have a sign saying DRIVER’S SCHOOL painted on the side. They will honk and shout and have no shame in poignantly over taking you if you are going slowly although most of the time you’re going at the correct speed. In addition it’s good to be equipped with phrases to shout at wreckless drivers (oh please, you’re going to shout at them even if they’re good drivers) because well they should learn a lesson and also why take the blame when you actually bothered to obey the road rules.


Extra expenses

Sometimes one needs to make extra payments (if you know what I mean) in order to pass the exam as even the slightest mistake can be disastrous and just the thought of going through this process again is enough to want to kill yourself. You may not support this practice, but on that day it’s a whole different ball game as you just want to get your license and get out of there. So just be prepared!

It is honestly sad that the situation is as such, but it unfortunately remains a fact and I had many people telling me to have some cash on me just in case.


Pay attention to road signs

You know those yellow lines on the road? Or even those 3 lights that change colour? Yeah well you’re going to have to look out for those signs, learn what they are and most importantly obey them! Why? Because that’s going to be the difference between you passing and failing your test and maybe you going home in one piece as opposed to many.


Don’t be “pandithai”

Nobody likes a panditha driver. Even if you have had experience behind the wheel under your parents supervision be prepared to listen to your instructor and examiner (especially him as he has the power to refuse you your license). They are only trying to ensure you become a good driver. Driving maybe fun but it isn’t a joke.

And of course, go for classes!

Mainly because you are paying good money and also because you probably need it no matter how good you think you are. You don’t have mad driving skills like in the movies or video games, regardless of how long you have been playing it (and no, practice doesn’t make perfect in this case).  Besides our tuk uncles will soon put your ‘driving skills’ to shame with their over taking and cutting across the road showing you that they have better road skills than anyone in a movie.

Good luck to everyone who has yet to get their licenses !