If you're moving abroad to Spain, you might be planning to take your UK vehicle with you. After all, this will help you first to transport your belongings, whether you're relocating to one of Spain's sprawling metropolises like Madrid or Barcelona, or a rural village in Alicante or Murcia. What's more, once you're settled in, driving your own car is a great way to explore Spain's spectacular scenery, whether that's the Ciudad Encantada (Enchanted City) high in Cuenca's mountain range, or the gorgeous, unspoilt beaches around the coast of Valencia.
With this in mind, you'll be pleased to hear that, when you move to Spain, your UK driver's license is initially valid. However, there are specific rules that apply once you've lived in there for a certain length of time. These rules differ for EU/EEA (European Union/European Economic Area) citizens and non-EU/EEA citizens, which is of course complicated by the UK's uncertain outlook for Brexit. So please find here the current rules for your driver's license for EU/EEA citizen and non-EU/EEA citizens, plus some helpful tidbits for when you're cruising Spain's highways.
Rules for EU/EEA citizens driving in Spain
While the UK remains part of the EU, the rules regarding EU/EEA citizens driving in Spain will apply to you. First and foremost, these are:
- You must be above Spain's minimum legal age for the vehicle you're driving. If you're driving a car, this is 18 years old.
- When you move to Spain, you're allowed to use your existing UK driver's license for up to two years.
- You must register your details with Spain's traffic authorities, the Registro Central de Conductores e Infractores (Central Register of Drivers and Offenders), after you've lived in Spain for six months. To do this, visit your Jefatura Provincial de Tráfico (Provincial Traffic Headquarters).
- Once you've registered with Spain's traffic authorities, you'll have to take a medical exam at a Centro de Reconocimiento de Conductores Autorizado (Authorised Driver's Recognition Centre). This is to demonstrate that you're of sound mind and body to drive, in the same way as Spanish drivers.
- You must renew or exchange your UK driver's license into a Spanish driver's license, once you've lived in España for two years. If you don't do this and you're caught driving, you could be liable for a fine of up to €200.
- Then, you'll have to renew your Spanish driver's license every 10 years up to the age of 65, and every five years after that.
It's worth noting that, if you have issues with penalty points, Spain's authorities can compel you to get a Spanish driver's license.
In addition, you're free to exchange your UK driver's license for a Spanish driver's license at any time. To do this, first inform the UK's Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), then visit your Jefatura Provincial de Tráfico (Provincial Traffic Headquarters) in Spain. You'll need to provide the following documents and ID:
- A valid UK passport
- Your NIE (Número de Identificación de Extranjero, Foreigner’s Identification Number) card
- Your UK driver's license to be exchanged
- Two photographs (32 by 25mm)
- A completed application form
- A written declaration that you have not been banned or suspended from driving
- A written declaration that you do not hold another driver’s licence of the same class in another country
- At least two photocopies of all the above
Rules for non-EU/EEA citizens driving in Spain
Depending on the outcome of Brexit, the rules for EU/EEA citizens driving in Spain may continue to apply to Britons or not. If the rules for EU/EEA citizens no longer apply, then when you move to Spain, you'll be subject to the Spanish authorities' stricter regulations for non-EU/EEA citizens driving in Spain. These are:
- You're allowed to use your existing UK driver's license in Spain for up to six months.
- You must always carry an International Driving Permit (IDP), or official translation of your UK driver's license. You'll have to apply for an IDP outside of Spain, and it's valid for up to a year.
- After six months, depending on the rules after Brexit, you'll either have to exchange your UK driver's license for a Spanish one, or take the full Spanish driving test.
- Assuming that more lenient rules apply after Brexit, to exchange your UK driver's license for a Spanish one, you'll need the following:
- A valid UK passport.
- A valid Spanish residence permit.
- Your UK driver's license to be exchanged.
- A medical fitness report, from an Authorised Drivers’ Recognition Centre (Centro de Reconocimiento de Conductores Autorizado).
- Two photographs (32 by 25mm)
- A completed application form.
- A written declaration that you have not been banned or suspended from driving.
- A written declaration that you do not hold another driver’s licence of the same class in another country.
- At least two photocopies of all the above.
Tips for driving in Spain
Now that you know what rules might apply regarding your UK driver's license both before and after Brexit, please find below some handy tips for driving in Spain, both in the busy streets of Madrid or las autopistas (the motorways).
- You drive on the right-hand side in Spain.
- The speed limits are the following: 50km/h on urban roads; 90 km/hr on non-urban roads, no hard shoulder; 100 km/hr on non-urban roads, hard shoulder; and 120 km/hr on motorways.
- Keep your driver's licence, vehicle log book and vehicle inspection documentation with you at all times.
- You must have an inflated spare tyre, reflective vests for driver and passengers, plus two warning triangles in the car.
- To use your mobile while you're driving, use a hands-free kit.
- Metropolises like Madrid, Barcelona and Pontevedra are instituting regulations to limit access to their city centres for older, more-polluting cars. These regulations differ for each city. So to find out if you can drive in the city centre, Google the restrictions beforehand.
- Spain's motorways are a mix of public, where they're free, and private, where you'll have to pay tolls. Typically, the toll motorways are newer and less busy, but whether you actually save much time arriving at your destination varies from one to the next. Also, they’re often far less scenic. If you wish to avoid tolls when you're driving in Spain's motorways, be sure to enter this in your GPS.
- Spain's motorways are maintained at the state level, autonomous community level, and provincial level. As such, the quality of the roads can differ widely, depending on whether you're cruising Madrid's famous M-30 or a local highway in Guadalajara. In the worst cases, the motorways can be little more than dirt tracks, and won't have been maintained in decades.
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