2nd October 2017 was a very special day in my life. Never have I felt so joyous, so jubilant, so liberated ever before. The feeling can only be compared to the man who falls in love for the first time.
There is only one small difference. People are often shy to disclose that they are in love while I can’t stop telling everyone that I passed the dreaded VicRoads driving test in a single attempt.
I told my mom, my friends and colleagues. I even to the Gardner who came to cut the grass in front of my house. He gave me one strange look, shrugged his shoulders and got back to his work. He, or anybody for that matter, didn’t know how big an achievement it was for me. Let me explain.
My (Brief) Driving Journey In India
Back in India, I didn’t even ride a bicycle nor did I drive the car except for some feeble attempts to learn driving.
I was like Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory, terrified of driving a car.
After some nagging from my wife, I enrolled in a driving school. But even after completing 10 lessons, I was terrified to the core. My hands would be glued to the wheel and my eyes to the windshield. I was afraid to even look in the mirrors thinking that I would miss something on the road and crash.
After finishing the course, I made the progress good enough to get the car in and out of parking spot without hitting the pillars or neighbour’s car. Learning on a manual car didn’t help either. My biggest achievement was to get the car moving without stalling the engine. Probably I should have bought a Lotto ticket when I did that.
The Great Indian Driving Circus
Now, please understand that learning to drive in India, especially in Pune, is not for the faint-hearted. I was always scared that I would crush the cow or a biker or a pedestrian quite easily. It’s like a mad hurdle race with no rules. So, I wanted to keep a safe distance between my car and the vehicle ahead of me. But somehow bikers or auto rickshaw drivers used to smell my intentions and happily put themselves between us.
Whenever I followed traffic signal, it irked the drivers behind me who used to honk and make angry gestures. Being a newbie, I thought they were just having a bad day. Only later I understood that you are not supposed to watch the traffic light ahead of you but the one of the intersecting road. As soon as that light turns orange, you must put your pedal to the floor irrespective of the signal (or people) in front of you. Driving school doesn’t teach that kind of street smartness.
Parking is another story. There is no parallel parking or angle parking, only parking at will. So if you park your car, there is no guarantee that you will be able to get it out of parking. At one time, I had to make a public announcement in a shopping mall to call for the biker who parked in front of my car blocking my way to get out. Double parking is common.
At my workplace, we used to share photos on the Intranet of the car who parked horribly just to name and shame. Some of those photos left me wondering how these guys got their driving license at all. I mean I can understand parking on the edge of the parking spot, but how could you manage to park halfway between two parking spots? These must be the same people who get two plates full at the buffet and then waste more than half the food.
Why Can’t You Get Driving License, Like Everybody Else?
Like Sheldon Cooper of TBBT, I didn’t have Indian driving license. Though I was not busy making impressive scientific discoveries like him, I had my own reasons.
Of course, getting a driving license in India, especially in old days was pretty easy. You don’t have to drive a car to get the license. Just pay some extra money to the driving school or license agent and you will get a license without leaving the comfort of your home.
Nowadays, you have to take the test. A path will be created by placing traffic cones at certain points. Most probably it will look like number 8. You need to drive the car along the path without hitting those cones. That’s it! Still pretty easy.
Even then, I didn’t get my driving license. Why? you would ask.
First of all, I was living in Mumbai for the most part of my life. In Mumbai, if you drive your own vehicle, there are only two reasons. Either you are so stupid that you choose stressful driving over cheap and easily accessible public transport. Or you just want to show off your wealth.
Neither was the case with me. Besides, I never really thought of moving out of Mumbai. So it never occurred to me to get a driving license.
In retrospect, I was being too naive.
It only occurred to me to get a license when I started Australian PR process. However, it was too late by then. As per the VicRoads (Road Transport Authority for Victoria) rules, you need to hold an overseas driving license for at least three years to be eligible to get full Australian driver’s license. So getting a fresh Indian license was as silly as buying CD for iPad. So I ditched that idea, focused my energy on other preparations and decided to worry about driving later when I move to Australia.
The Need For Driving License
Melbourne and most of the metro cities in Australia have excellent public transport, especially if you live in and around CBD area. In Victoria, you can use one travel pass for all the modes of transport i.e. Train, bus and tram. So when I moved to Melbourne, getting a driving license was not a priority for me.
It proved to be a big mistake.
As I was alone at that time, I had a lot of time to prepare for driving test. At least I could have got my learner’s permit and be ready for driving test later in the year. But what’s done was done.
When my family joined me in late 2015, need for car started to take form. Living without a car is almost like living without a phone – you can get through most parts of your daily life but it takes a lot of time and energy, especially if you have kids.I won’t bore you with details but you can imagine how crazy it is to push the pram in a freezing rainy weather of Melbourne.
After almost a year of hardship without a car, I finally bought a car in June 2016. As you can imagine, since I didn’t have the license, I had to get the help of my friend to test drive and bring the car home.
But just buying a car was not enough, since neither my wife nor I had the driving license. As my wife had Indian license which was more than 3 years old, we decided that she should try to get full Australian driving license first. But before that, let’s discuss another important topic of converting overseas license to Australian driving license in Victoria.
How To Convert Overseas License In Victoria
Whether you need to convert your overseas license to Australian one depends on which type of visa you got. If you are on a temporary visa like 457 work visa, you can continue to drive on your overseas license for as long as you are in Victoria and your license is valid. However, if you are a permanent resident, you can’t drive with an overseas license for more than 6 months in Victoria after you entered Australia. Pretty brutal, isn’t it?
Secondly, if you have a driving license from any of the recognised countries, you don’t need to take any knowledge test or driving test. At of now, below countries are recognised by VicRoads and doesn’t require driving test:
- Isle of Man
- Bosnia & Herzegovina
There are few more countries which are recognised but you still need to take the driving test if you are below 25 years of age.
- Hong Kong(must be held for 12 months)
- Czech Republic
- South Africa
- The Republic of Cyprus
- South Korea
If you have a driving license from any of the above two lists of countries, you can simply visit any VicRoads centre, pay the license fees and get the full Australian driving license. Sadly, India is not on the recognised countries list. So to get the Australian license using Indian license still requires road law knowledge test, hazards test and driving test.
But before that comes another hurdle. You need to get Driving License Extract (DLE) letter from Indian RTO. DLE is basically an assurance from RTO office that the driving license given by them is genuine. This is especially important if:
- your Indian license is not a chip-based smart card, but rather in the form of a booklet or
- your name on the Passport differs by even a small margin from your name on DL.
Getting DLE is simple.
You need to write a letter requesting the same (some RTO may have a specific form which you can fill). You need to submit it along with a self-attested copy of your driving license to RTO office along with the fees. RTO will then issue DLE within few hours (or days, depending on RTO). Please make sure that DLE has your name as per the passport and has proper stamp and seal.
You need to then submit DLE along with your passport and driving license to VFS global (India Consulate services) who will verify it and issue Indian Driving License Verification (IDLV) certificate. When getting a full Australian driving license, You need to submit the IDLV along with Indian driving license and passport to the VicRoads.
Recently, however, VicRoads changed its rules. They don’t ask for IDLV anymore. Instead, you need to book a license verification appointment at VicRoads centre. VicRoads nowadays does an independent verification of your driving license instead of relying on Consulate certificate. So it is better to call VicRoads before going IDLV route. That will save your time and money.
Thankfully, when my wife got her Australian license last year, she didn’t have to go through all this hassle. VicRoads didn’t ask her to provide DLE or IDLV. VicRoads office at Heatherton was happy with her smart-card license along with passport and marriage certificate. This was pleasantly surprising given the horror stories that I heard about VicRoads not accepting Indian licenses without IDLV. It was even more shocking that they accepted her driving license with the maiden name even though her passport had the married name. Maybe it was her lucky day or the officer was very generous, but it worked in our favour anyway.
In the next part, I will tell you how I embarked on the journey to get the Australian Driving License. It was not easy but if I can get it, you definitely can. So if you have Indian license, that’s great but if you don’t, don’t lose your sleep over it. You will get there eventually, like me.