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Driving In Spain

Driving In Spain
Driving in Spain is allowed on a foreign licence as a visitor but non-EU residents need to exchange for a Spanish licence after six months.  What is involved?  You will also need to understand what items and documentation you need to carry in the car with you and what the penalties for traffic violations.

Driving Licence in Spain

EU Licences

The minimum age for driving a car or motorcycle with over 125cc capacity in Spain is 18 (15 for a 50cc motorcycle and 16 for up to 125cc).

An EU driving licence is valid in Spain as long as it is current. Exchange of an EU licence is therefore entirely voluntary.  If your European licence expires, you must renew it in order to continue driving. This renewal involves exchanging your licence for a Spanish one.

If the driving licence has an indefinite period of validity (ie. no expiry date), or is valid more than 15 years for group 1 (AM, A1, A2, A, B and BE), or more than five years for group 2 (C1, C1E, C, CE, D1, D1E, D and DE), you must renew it two years after establishing your ordinary residence in Spain.

Non EU Licences

Drivers must register within six months with the Central Register of Drivers and Minor Offenders (Registro Central de Conductores e Infractores) of the Provincial Traffic Headquarters (Jefatura Provincial de Tráfico) of their place of residence.  A medical examination will be required at an Authorised Drivers Check Centre (Centro de Reconocimiento de Conductores Autorizado) to show mental and physical fitness.

Reciprocal arrangements are inplace for some countries which means that their citizens can exchange their licence without having to take a Spanish Driving test:

Citizens of Algeria, Andorra, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Dominical Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Japan, Korea, Macedonia, Morocco, Nicaragua, Peru, Panama, Paraguay, Philippines, Serbia, Switzerland, Turkey, Tunisia, Ukraine, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

Citizens of many countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, will however, have to take the full Spanish driving test to get a Spanish license.

UK Drivers

Visitors to Spain can drive using their UK licence.  However, if you stay for a longer period you will have to exchange your licence for a Spanish licence.   You can drive on your UK licence for six months but must then exchange your UK licence for a Spanish licence if you wish to continue to drive in Spain.

Reciprocal arrangements came into force on 16th March 2023 which mean that UK citizens do not have to take the Spanish driving test to exchange their licence. 

A six month period from 16th March 2023 has been agreed for those who are already resident in Spain with UK licences to be able to drive in Spain on their UK licence in Spain.  During this six-moth period drivers must exchange their UK licence for a Spanish licence.  If the licence is not exchanged during this period for a Spanish licence it will not be possible to drive in Spain on yiur UK licence.  You will, however, be able to apply for the exchange after this transitional period.

Spain and the UK have also agreed to provide each other with information on vehicles and their owners for the purpose of investigating traffic offences related to road safety, especially in cases of speeding, not wearing a seat belt, failure to stop at a red light, driving while intoxicated, driving under the influence of drugs, not wearing a crash helmet, driving in a prohibited lane, or illegal use of mobile phones.

If you have a licence issued by Jersey, Guernsey or the Isle of Man

If you hold a valid licence from Guernsey, Jersey or the Isle of Man you must obtain a Spanish licence within 6 months of becoming resident. You cannot currently exchange your licence for a Spanish one. You must apply for a Spanish licence as a non-EU national, which includes taking a driving test.

Disabled drivers

If you have a UK Blue Badge and live in Spain, you must return it to the original UK issuing authority. You can apply for a new Spanish disabled parking card. The process is different in each region of Spain. Contact your local town hall or social services department for further information.

The driving licence may also have to be converted to a Spanish licence if a traffic offence is committed.

Process for exchanging for a Spanish driving licence

You need to make an appointment with the nearest Jefatura u Oficina de Trafico to exchange your licence.  Before your appointment you will need to have your psicotécnico test (health/eyesight test).

Documents required when exchanging a foreign licence for a Spanish licence:

  • Application form (in Spanish)
  • Proof of identity (passport original and copy)
  • Proof of residence (Certificate of Registration in the Central Aliens Register – the NIE number
  • Valid driving licence to be exchanged (original and photocopy)
  • Two recent passport-sized photographs
  • Written declaration stating that the applicant has not been banned or suspended from driving
  • Written declaration stating that the applicant does not hold another driving licence of the same class in another country

Documentation and other Items

Drivers must carry the following items in their vehicle at all times and are subject to fines if they do not do so:

  • Spare tyre and the tools to fit it
  • Reflective vests for driver and passengers
  • Two warning triangles

Drivers are also expected to carry their current driving licence (Permiso de Conducir), vehicle logbook (Permiso de Circulación) and ITV (Vehicle Inspection) paperwork. The roadworthiness sticker should be placed in a visible position on the windscreen

Certified photocopies are acceptable. Certification can be provided by an authorised notary or some town halls and local traffic departments may also provide certified photocopies.

It is not obligatory to carry a receipt proving up-to-date payment of road tax and your car insurance policy and receipt of payment, but it is recommended.

Fines And Penalties

Spain has a points system. Drivers start with 12 points (8 points for those with less than three years driving experience).  Points are deducted and fines imposed based on the severity of any offence.  If you lose all your points you lose your licence for six months and have to take a course to prove you are fit to drive.  You are only given 8 points after losing your licence.

You will be guilty of drinking while under the influence of alcohol if you have a blood alcohol level of 0.5g per litre or a breath alcohol level of 0.25g per litre (lower for if the driver has not held a licence for more than 2 years).  The normal penalty is a fine, deduction of six points and suspension of driving for three months.  Higher fines apply if the driver reoffends, is under the influence of drugs or is over double the drink drive limit.  A blood alcohol level of over 1.2g/litre can lead to much higher penalties with much longer suspension of the driving licence, higher fines and potentially community service or a prison sentence.

Road Conditions

Spain generally has good quality roads and there has been a major investment in road improvements, but the financial crisis in 2008 left many projects uncompleted.  In 2017 the Spanish government announced a €5 billion public-private investment programme to build 2,000km of roads.  Although there has been a significant increase in traffic volumes over recent years, Spanish roads are not generally as busy as many European countries.  In coastal areas and resort towns during the season there can be very heavy traffic at times.

Spain’s motorways are split between tolls roads or Autopistas (AP) and the free motorways or Autovias (A).  Autovias do not tend to have service areas, although they have signs to service stations, restaurants and hotels off the highway.  Trucks generally take the free option of Autovias where there is an Autovia and Autopista option between two points, which means the Autopista tends to be faster.

Spain has roundabouts which are unfamiliar to American drivers.  They can also be a source of confusion for British drivers in Spain as Spaniards are taught different rules than those in the UK.  You will often find Spanish drivers taking the outside lane around the roundabout and continuing around until they get to the exit they need to take.  British drivers assume that since they are in the outside lane they will take the first exit and find them cutting across them.  Approach roundabouts with caution and wait to see where the driver is heading.

Public transport between two cities is an option, but it is generally poor in rural areas.  Driving in rural areas is generally quite relaxed with limited traffic and as is the case in most cities public transport is generally the best option to avoid the stresses and delays when driving around the congested road systems.

To assist you in planning your move to Spain download our Guide containing all the information you will need to make the move: