Denver and Colorado in general have a lot to offer a Chicago transplant.
Here’s a short, not-even-close to comprehensive list:
- Sunny skies
- Endless outdoor activities
- Four National Parks
- A balanced state budget
- Vibrant economy
- Minuscule 2.3% unemployment rate.
Needless to say, there’s a reason why many Chicagoans are moving to Denver Colorado!
However, there’s one surprising place Illinois has Colorado beat: The DMV
Yes, you read that right.
Colorado has a worse DMV than Illinois. You might be asking how that’s possible. As a long-time Chicago resident, I spent unrecoverable days’ worth of my life in seemingly endless lines at the Lexington Street Secretary of State Facility. I’d rank going to the DMV right up there with filing my taxes and getting a root canal.
So how can the Colorado DMV be worse than Illinois?
If you’ve spent any time in Illinois, you know doubt have heard the name Jesse White, the Secretary of State. His name was plastered on express ways signs, outside and inside the DMV, as well as other government offices. There was even a lawsuit about it years ago, that resulted in the state court deciding politicians could no longer put their name on tax-funded signage.
Love or hate the guy, (and opinions certainly vary), Jesse White did one thing well: reform the Illinois DMV. Long, long lines become far shorter. Time spent at the DMV went from hours to thirty minutes or less on a good day. The improvements were noticeable across all Secretary of State Offices in the Chicagoland area.
Someone needs to do the same thing here in Colorado.
When I first moved to Colorado, I felt so proud of my new state that I wanted a new mountain-green license in my wallet. So days after moving into my short-term apartment, I perused the Colorado Department of Revenue webpage, made a list of the required paperwork to get a new-resident license, and arrived at the Golden CO DMV location bright-and-early on a Monday morning. I smiled at the man who opened the doors for the thirty of us lined up outside. I had my paperwork in hand, and despite the throng of other people entering the facility, wasn’t planning on letting this bureaucratic necessity put a dent in my mood.
I could see the north face of Green Mountain from the parking lot. I’d biked those trails just the day before. I was in Colorado. The start of a new, exciting life that I’d put several years into making happen. I wanted to be here, and no amount of paperwork or dealing with steely-faced bureaucrats was going to change that!
And then the man who opened the door pre-screened my paperwork and sent me home without a license. Why? Because in Colorado, you must provide proof of your social security number when getting a new license. I pulled up the Department of Revenue webpage on my phone, and scanned the same information I’d read before drive out to the DMV. Sure enough, I found the requirement, after nearly ten minutes of searching.
It wasn’t very clear on the webpage, which they have since changed. It’s still not great. Here’s what it says, verbatim:
The Identification Requirements chart shows the documents you need to present to a driver license employee to prove the following elements: full legal name, date of birth, identity and lawful presence. In some cases, a single document may be all you need. However, you may need to bring multiple documents to prove all four elements. All documents presented must be certified originals, certified amended originals or true copies certified by the issuing agency. If you cannot prove each of the required elements with the documents set forth in the chart, then you may be referred to Exceptions Processing to prove the required elements with additional/alternative documents.
You will need to present your proof of your Social Security number.
Why is the proof of SSA requirement broken out in its own line? It’s easy to miss, if you read the larger paragraph that comes before it—especially if you click on the link that explains the Identification Requirements. And why not use BULLET POINTS to make processing the information easier?
Outside the DMV, I ran into another new resident to CO who’d made the exact same mistake that I had.
Frustrating, but solvable. I drove back to my apartment, pulled out my US Passport and my most recent paystub that showed my SSN, and drove back to the DMV.
The place was now entirely full. 100+ people at 9:45am on a Monday morning.
I took my number, sat down, and started to wait.
10:30 came and went.
I went to the next-door Subway, bought a BMT with Chipotle sauce, and came back to find my number was still dozens of numbers away from being called.
They didn’t serve me until almost 1pm. I didn’t get my license until after 3pm.
It took, all told, over 6 HOURS to get a license!
I’ve since learned that the DMV location off of 6th in Golden is among the slowest in the Denver area. I don’t know if that is true. It may be that other locations are far faster. But I’m now scarred in a way that I’ve needed hours of counseling to get over.
Not really. But you get what I mean.
So, if I had to pick something I miss from Chicago (aside from the Lakeshore path or the plethora of awesome hole-in-the-wall ethnic restaurants), I’d pick the DMV.
Jesse White, they may have forbid you form plastering your name on expressway signage, but you’ll always be a hero to me.
Planning your own trip to a Colorado DMV? Here’s a few helpful tips:
- Bring more documentation than you think you’ll need
Bring your IL (or other state license), your passport, and something that documents your SSN. Also bring proof of residency in CO. Generic mailers won’t work. Bring a utility bill, signed lease, or other proof of residence.
- Arrive at your local facility early
I tried to do this, but not having my proof of SSN ruined that plan. Get there at least 15 minutes early so that you spend as little tile having your will to live destroyed as possible.
- Use Google to find out which locations have faster service times
Google search has a nifty feature that will let you check the busiest times at a business (or government office) and even tell you if the business is more or less busy than usual in real time:
You can use this information to either plan to visit at a less-busy time, or to strike when the iron is hot and visit when the business is less busy (like when I took this screen shot).
- Hope for the Best / Plan for the Worst
Even if you do everything right, you may end up at the DMV for far longer than you anticipated! Don’t make an annoying task more stressful by not giving yourself enough time to complete your business. Plan on it taking half a day. If it takes less than that, awesome.
Bad DMV experience aside, I’m still THRILLED to live in the Denver area. My only regret is not moving here sooner. If you’d like to learn more about why my wife and I moved to Denver, read this post. If you’re considering moving from Chicago to Denver, you’re in the right place! You can find information on neighborhoods, schools, activities, crime rates, and a whole host of other topics here at the Chicago to Denver Blog.
Have a specific question? Drop it in the comments box below and I’ll get back to you. I promise I will be faster than the Colorado DMV!