Back at the end of January I started going to driving school and arranging to take the tests in order to get my class B (passenger) Czech driving license or řidičák.
This process turned out to be more challenging and took longer than I imagined. To be clear, I understand the traffic laws here and can say with no hesitation (and many people to confirm) that I am a very good driver. In Canada I had a car, bus and motorcycle license and worked in automotive for a decade. I’m not a new driver by any stretch. My Canadian license was expiring in February so I had to get things in gear.
After attending driving school, there are two parts to the process:
This takes place at the Magistrate Office in Prague 10. This is the only office in Prague for written tests. My school arranged the test date and time and I did not need to pay anything at this time. When you arrive go upstairs and find your instructor, they will register you with the office and take your documents.
You will need you identification – passport or dlouhodoby pobyt (long term residence card) with appropriate stamps and address information to prove you have been here at least 180 days. I also took my approval letter since I was still waiting for my long term residence.
Unless you have learned Czech really well, you will need a certified translator. The questions are tricky, even for native speakers. Likely your school will suggest or supply a translator. My advice here is to be very careful. My recommended translator was busy, so they suggested someone else. This translator had little to no experience with the test and was translating word for word as we went, meaning I was not getting the context and connotation of the words. Had I not studied a lot both in Czech and English it would have been a disaster. Cost of the translator: 1,500Kč
What is the test like?
I arrived early on February 12th and waited for the process to start.
Surprise! Even though I had had a vision and colour vision test at a doctor before I was allowed to attend driving school, there was a ten question colour vision test before I could start the main test. I am colour blind. This surprise threw me off completely and I struggled with the dot test as well as strange mathematical answers to some of the dot tests (not “what number do you see?” but “is the number “65-14, 65+14 or 76-2?”. I did pass, but just.
The main test is 25 multiple choice questions, some text and some with pictures. You have 30 minutes to complete it. With the challenges around the translation I completed it with 30 seconds remaining and passed by only one point. Some of the questions I knew already in Czech, most I had seen during my studies, but a few were entirely new. It would be nice if extra time was given to allow for the translation slowing things down. But a pass is a pass, no matter how slim, and I moved on. At the end you will receive a document confirming you passed.
Driving test (round one)
At the end of the same week I was scheduled to take the driving test. I had the option of going to the school in Dejvická, or meeting my instructor at the Magistrate’s office and being the first to be tested. I opted for the first test which found me there at 7:15AM on February 18th waiting with a healthy fear of the unknown. This fear, it turns out, was not unfounded.
There were a large number of driving school cars waiting in the parking lot behind the magistrate’s office. In the past police performed the test but now it is a dedicated group of magistrates. We waited for our tester to arrive.
There is a possibility they will ask you to do a walk around the car and identify all the mandatory safety equipment, this did not happen for me.
The test itself was from the office to the school location in Dejvická. Here is what happened:
- Magistrate came out and sat in the back of the car, directly behind me.
- I said good morning in my best Czech and apologized for my poor language skills. No response.
- He identified himself, his badge number and title and then explained the procedure to my instructor.
- I was instructed to leave the parking area and follow instructions.
- We went through the city, I was careful to not exceed the speed limit in any way.
- At one point we came to a no entry road, but I was given no instructions to turn so I slowed to a stop while waiting for instructions (my mistake was to hesitate). In the end I made a decision and turned left before instead of entering the no entry road.
- I was told three times to put both hands on the wheel, even though at the time I had both hands on the wheel (I was aware and very careful about this rule).
- We went through Karlovo náměstí and then through a series of smaller streets before rejoining the main road and going to Dejvická.
- We parked, nose in, in a normal parking spot.
I was then informed that I had failed due to not yielding to traffic on my right while going through the small streets around Karlovo náměstí. In the Czech Republic, if you are not on a main road you have to give way to traffic from the right, a rule I am very well aware of. There was no discussion, no debate, and I understood the magistrate when he called me špatný řidič which is Czech for bad driver.
This is one of the intersections in question, the sign is informing you to yield to traffic on your right:
Although I know I was aware of these intersections as I went through them, there was no traffic and nobody to yield to. I was really quite shocked at this turn of events, and then angry. Later in the day I felt slightly better when I learned the magistrate had failed all seven students at the school that morning. Statistically improbable. Worse still, the next test date was not until March 3rd, and of course would cost me an extra 880Kč!
Driving test (round two)
My Canadian license was set to expire on February 25th (my birthday). I took the opportunity before that to drive as much as possible around Prague and also away for a weekend in Žatec. I focused on the areas and routes between the school and the magistrate office. This made me feel better about the process and helped confirm that the assessment of me was incorrect – I actually look for traffic on my left and right even when I do have the right of way. I also took advantage of an offer from my instructor to do one more driving lesson the Sunday before the test.
I arrived at the magistrate’s office early on March 3rd, very nervous and concerned about the prospect of another bad experience. I was pleasantly surprised:
- The magistrate was late, he arrived at 7:45. This pleased me as it meant more morning traffic which I actually find easier to concentrate in (and ignore the test). He sat in the rear passenger seat so I could turn to speak to him.
- Again I used my best Czech to great him and explain I speak very little Czech. This time he acknowledged me. He was not friendly, but he was polite and spoke slowly so I could understand him.
- My instructor explained my driving history and what the issue was during the last test.
- I was instructed to drive to Dejvická via the more direct highway route using Barrandov most and the tunnels. My instructor told me where to turn if necessary.
- During the trip the instructor and the magistrate chatted about various things. I just drove carefully, watching the speed limit, and keeping two hands on the wheel.
- We arrived in Dejvická, I parked on the street and the test was over. No issues.
After waiting for a few moments at the school (and paying the extra 880Kč) I was given documents to take to the license registration office (registr řidičů)..
What license registration office?
This part of the process was a bit of a surprise to me. My instructor explained to me I would need to take all the documentation to the registration office at Vyšehrad, complete a form, supply a photo and then wait for 20 days while they process it. I was also told to wait until the next day for my test results to be entered into the system.
I decided to go to the office on the way home to get the required form to fill out and return the following day. This was fortunate as it turned out that two trips were not necessary. I needed:
- Test and training document supplied by the school and stamped by the magistrate.
- My dlouhodoby pobyt AND passport as I needed to prove I had been in the country more than 180 days.
- A photo (available in the office next door for 125Kč).
A very helpful woman explained in careful Czech that everything was now done on the computer and I could apply immediately as she would enter it into the system. I went off to get photos and she was nice enough to wave me back to her window to finish with me. Spend enough time at government offices here and these small acts of cooperation and kindness are truly appreciated. Other than a 50Kč fee to be paid when I pick up the license, there were no other fees.
I was given a small piece of paper and told to come back on March 23rd for my license. On further investigation I learned that is the maximum processing time and current processing information can be found online – 16 days at the time of this writing.
Wrapping it up!
- Driving school (as noted this is pricing for Czech students) : 10,980Kč
- Medical examination: 400Kč
- Translator: 1,500Kč
- First driving test: 700Kč
- Second driving test: 880Kč
- Photos: 125Kč
- License fee: 50Kč
Update: it was in fact 16 days. The day my application date appeared online, I went to pick up the license and was in and out in under five minutes.
What next? Even before passing the second test, I had already purchased a used car – an entirely new adventure you can read about in my next post.