How To Get A Driver’s Licence in South Africa As A Foreigner

Yesterday I picked up my actual driver’s licence finishing my almost two year long ordeal of trying to get it. My problem had nothing to do with my skills: I passed both theory and the practical test at my first attempt. The two serious problems that I did encounter were confusing bureaucracy and problems with driving schools. I really hope my experience will save you some time.
I’m pretty sure some tips will be useful to any foreigner living in South Africa but I was doing the test specifically in Cape Town so Cape Town expats may find it more useful than others.

1. Get A Traffic Register Number

You won’t get anywhere without a traffic register number. Because you’re a foreigner, unless you’re a permanent resident, you don’t have an ID. You need this number to be able to apply for your driver’s licence. I was also asking myself why they can’t just use my passport number but computer says no, so just get over it. You’ll also need the TR number if you ever want to buy a car.

The only place where you can apply for a traffic register number in CT is the Cape Town Civic Centre Motor Vehicle Registration Centre. If anyone tells you anything different just ignore them and don’t want to waste your time like I did. To get a traffic register number you officially just need: your passport, your permit, some pics of you. This is what they’ll tell you at the call centre. In reality, it will all depend on the official you’re dealing with.

Some officials will ask you to bring in additional documentation to check whether your permit is legit. Yes, it’s Home Affairs job and HA has already issued your permit but some officials don’t trust us, foreigners.

People with straightforward permits will struggle the least, if asked for additional documentation. On a study permit they may want a confirmation from the University that you study with, on a work permit/critical skills a work contract. I was and am on a spousal visa with the right to run my own business and oh boy… Every person would tell me something else and once I had all the docs the previous person asked me to bring the next person was unhappy. I was asked among other things for: an affidavit confirming that I live with my husband, our marriage certificate, confirmation that I’m self-employed (like from whom, from my mom?) etc. Eventually I got pissed off and with a lot of fake confidence handed in the three things that are officially needed and it worked! If you’re struggling for whatever reason just keep coming over and over again, someone will eventually take your application in.

Once the docs are in the TR number will take between a week and two to be issued. Got it? Cool, now you’re ready for your next step.

2. Get a Learner’s Licence

With your traffic register number you can head to any exam centre to get an appointment for a theory test to obtain your learner’s licence. You’ll also need more pics and some cash but in this case the call centre will be helpful and tell you exactly what’s needed.

A month is enough to prepare. Once you have a date, start learning. Buy the newest K53 in CNA or any other place that sells books and magazines. When you’re familiar with most road signs and rules start doing tests. Your manual should have some but you’ll find a lot of them online too. It’s really not enough just to study because the questions are tricky and if you’re not familiar with the way they’re asked, you’ll fail.

Come to your test appointment on time with the docs you were asked to bring. They’re quite strict about being on time. If you’re just a tad late you may end up publicly shamed instead of not let in but I wouldn’t risk it.

You’ll know your results after more or less half an hour wait. If you’ve passed you’ll get your Learner’s Licence on the spot. It’s an A4 document that’s not super handy but now you can officially drive as long as there’s a licensed driver with you in the car.

3. Get A Driving Instructor

Stock image, not Kevin 😀

You may want to cover the basics (what’s what? how to start the car?) with a licensed driver you know, before you get a driving instructor. My search for a proper driving teacher was a tragedy that I’ll summarise for you because it’s also funny, when it’s not you.

My first instructor wasn’t the worst person in the world but he was often late or cancelled on me last minute. He was also a bit of a sexist douche. Last but not least, in 12 lessons he didn’t teach me the Observations, which is absolutely the most important thing in defensive driving that you’ll be tested on. If you don’t do them, you’ll fail as the marking system basically marks you down for every mistake you make. So every time you forget to do observations you lose points.

The instructor from the second driving school I tried arrived with a car that had no speedometer because apparently “a good driver knows the speed they’re going at”. The third school made a good impression on me with the first lesson so I bought a package with them. Getting lessons after I paid was a real fight, the instructors wouldn’t pitch or cancel most of the time. After two months and four lessons, when they started rejecting my calls, I gave up. I knew I wasn’t going to get my money back and fortunately I bought their smallest package. I was not the only one to have this experience. There’s also this story. And this one. And many many more… The school is still somehow managing to have positive Google reviews, which tempted me and is surely tempting someone even now.

Anyway, the instructor you SHOULD get is Kevin. It’s thanks to a friend’s referral that I met him. He’s honestly just great. He’s knowledgeable, reliable, patient and just a nice person. You can contact him on: 0828806318.

4. Get A Test Date

Apart from lessons with my instructors I did quite a bit of driving with my husband. Beware, though, it may slightly upset your marital bliss! I’d say that if you survive one of you learning to drive together you’re meant to be :p

When you feel ready and your instructor seconds that, get an appointment for a practice test. You’ll need more pics and more money but the call centre will tell you exactly what here as well.

My waiting time for the test was a month and a half with the Gallows Hill traffic department. One piece of advice I can give you is: listen to your instructor (especially if that instructor is Kevin) instead of studying the practice part from your K53 manual. It’ll just confuse you.

5. Just Do It

Arrive with a car in good shape (I was mostly learning to drive in our car) at least 15 minutes before your test. Try not to stress (right…I was literally shaking) and ask the Universe for an examiner who’s a pleasant person. It really helps if someone’s not trying to intimidate you on top of how stressed you are.

Don’t worry if you fail. A lot of people don’t manage the first time round. If you manage to pass, you’ll get a temporary licence straight away. It’s unfortunately another A4 document you’ll have to carry with you when driving. I’ve waited another month for my actual licence and didn’t get the sms promised until after I called to enquire and the licence was already there, so call to ask after more or less a month.

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