If you drive in Uruguay, NO drinking alcohol

There's zero tolerance. Not even a glass. The police are hot on breathalysing tourists right now. And the consequences could be worse than you think.
By Karen A Higgs
Best Beaches in Rocha, Uruguay
Last updated on January 12, 2017
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The sun is up. The beach was great and the meal at that tiny beach-side bar was amazing. So was that small glass of Uruguayan tannat wine. Now time to jump in the car for that five-minute ride back to the hotel.

Then… BAM! It’s the police. They hand you a breathalyser. And yes, you only had the one glass, one tiny glass, but this is Uruguay and there is zero alcohol tolerance for drivers.

What happens next?

The police take your licence on the spot. And you’ll be fined the equivalent of 500 dollars.

In addition, you won’t be allowed to drive for the rest of your time in Uruguay, unless you’re staying for longer than six months that is!

But worse is to come, if you are from the USA or the UK.

US nationals can only get their licence back once they get back home. And they will be slapped with the corresponding penalties for a drink-driving offence back in the US.

Brits will have their licences sent to the Embassy which in turn then sends the licence to the DVLA in the UK. According to official sources, it’s likely that the licence would not be returned to you once you are home, but that you would have to request a replacement (and explained why).

Other nationals will find their licences are sent to their Uruguayan consulate. Argentinians are luckier as they have a consulate in Punta del Este (serving Maldonado and Rocha) as well as Montevideo. Most people will have to go to Montevideo.

Additional word of warning: No bribes

Perhaps contrary to your experience in other Latin American countries, do not try to bribe the Uruguayan police.

This is likely to get you into more trouble than you are already in.

So no drinking and driving in Uruguay

According to the Uruguayan paper, El Observador, in the first three days of 2017, police tested 300 drivers for alcohol in beach resorts including Punta del Este and Jose Ignacio. Seventy tested positive.

None of them were seriously drunk, and the highest levels of alcohol were at the limit that is legal in most countries (0.08). They all had their licences confiscated.

So… if you are going to drive here, forget the one for the road. Really. Not even a sip.

And what the hell. Taxis are cheap and plentiful in Uruguay. Go by bike. Or you just got another good reason to splash out on that beach-side cabaña you really wanted to stay at anyway 😊

Don't drink and drive in Uruguay - stay on the beach instead

This article is based on information in “Tourists taken by surprise by relentless zero tolerance” by El Observador [in Spanish]

Photos: Leo AlvarezJimmy BaikoviciusMarcelo Campi

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10 Responses

  1. Will a previous misdemeanor dui (in the us) prevent someone from visiting or getting residencey in Uruguay?

    1. Hi Patrick, you can absolutely visit. The authorities do not ask travellers for their criminal record. I think it likely that you can get residency too, but you’d have to consult with a lawyer. Hope this helps, Karen

  2. Semi related question. I had heard that drinking on public is legal in Uruguay…. do you know if that’s true? I can’t seem to find info one way or the other online. We are here for the foreseeable future during the quarantine and would still live to have a bottle of wine in the park or something!

    1. Hi Kris, this question made me laugh. You probably found nothing online because drinking in public is pretty much only an issue in muslim countries and… the US as far as I know! Here in Uruguay and my native UK, we take drinking in public for granted. Enjoy your wine at a safe distance from others!! Stay safe, Karen PS If you’re not there already, do sign up for our Discover Uruguay group on Facebook. We are sharing lots of tips to get through the Coronavirus quarantine in Uruguay there. See you there.

  3. Hi!
    I am from Uruguay.
    0 tolerance is true.
    The thing about US Citizens that would get there licence when they arrived un the US…it’s new for me.
    Bribes, forget it NOT A CHANCE for real!!!

  4. Thanks for this informative piece. Had no idea how bad it is for Americans, really scary!! It’s a shame as everyone should be able to enjoy a glass of wine with a meal. I hope this law will be overturned in time. I believe the winery industry in Uruguay is fighting it as well they should.

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