Everything you need to know about driving in Spain explained

Keep up to date with DGT rules

Keeping up to date with DGT rules. Credit: Grisha Bruev/shutterstock

Are you planning a holiday in Spain and need to know the rules of the road? Perhaps you live here and want to get some wheels but don’t know where to start? Following Brexit, the regulations around who can legally drive in Spain have become a contentious issue. That’s why we have put together this explainer on everything you need to know about driving in Spain, including licenses, car registration, and maintenance laws.

Spain is a wonderful country with so many landscapes, making it the perfect location to explore or for a great road trip. However, the rules of the road might differ from other countries and you may need to provide paperwork you wouldn’t normally carry with you.

If you’re planning a trip or preparing to get your Spanish license, keep reading to find out everything you need to know about driving in Spain.

Driving in Spain

In terms of rules and regulations, driving in Spain is similar to driving in many other European countries. For example, you drive on the right and overtake on the left. Many of the road safety legislation and vehicle equipment requirements will be recognisable to EU/EFTA citizens in particular. The driving culture is pretty laid back, and Spain has one of the lowest rates of fatal traffic accidents in the EU.

Low emission zones (LEZ) are currently in place in Spain and Barcelona, with additional environmental rules on cars in Sevilla, Valencia, and Valladolid. However, the Spanish parliament recently passed legislation requiring towns with more than 50,000 residents to adopt an LEZ by 2023.

The Directorate-General for Traffic (Direccion General de Trafico – DGT) is responsible for Spain’s road transport network.

You can drive a car in Spain if you are at least 18 years old and hold a valid driver’s licence. Citizens from EU/EFTA nations can use their home country’s driving licence, but they must register with their local authorities and replace it with a Spanish licence when it expires. Nationals from outside the EU/EFTA can use their existing international driving licence in Spain for six months before having to exchange it for a Spanish one. They can also obtain an international driving permit (IDP) that is valid for up to a year.

If you have a licence issued in another language, you must get it translated into Spanish or have an IDP accompany it.

driving in spain
Image – NadyaEugene/shutterstock

Driving licenses in Spain

In Spain, driving licences are issued by the DGT. Licenses are currently issued in credit card format, with the holder’s portrait and signature, as well as information such as name, date of birth, issue and expiry dates, and a unique licence number. They are typically valid for ten years.

Obtaining a driver’s license in Spain

You must be a Spanish resident and pass a two-part driving test to obtain a Spanish driving licence (written theory and practical). Unless you are exchanging a foreign licence, in which case you must meet standards specific to your country of origin.

Exchanging your foreign driver’s license in Spain

If you have been living in Spain post-Brexit, you will most likely have heard about the issues surrounding swapping your UK license for a Spanish one. This is still an ongoing issue that the Euro Weekly News has been following closely.

EU/EFTA nationals are only required to renew their licence when it expires, which essentially means exchanging it for a Spanish licence unless they wish to renew it in their home country. If your EU driving licence has no expiration date, you must exchange it for a Spanish one after two years. Residents of various EU nations must additionally exchange their licence after two years if it has been valid for more than five years – failing to do so can result in a fine of €200.

You have to follow the same conditions as Spanish license holders, including:

  • Undertaking relevant medical checks from a Spanish doctor.
  • Reached the minimum age in Spain for the category of vehicle you want to drive.
  • Renew or exchange the license after two years. If an EU license is renewed in Spain, it converts it into a Spanish license, which then hass to be renewed every 10 years.

Non-EU citizens normally need to exchange their licence after six months of moving to Spain (or one year if driving on an IDP). Around 25 countries, including Brazil, Japan, and Turkey, have agreements with Spain that allow for a straightforward exchange. Other nationals, such as those from Australia or the United States, must take the Spanish driving test in order to obtain a complete licence.

For one year, non-residents can use their valid driving license as well as an international driving license. If your residency is not approved before your foreign driving licence expires, you will be driving illegally. However, if residency is given at any stage, the six-month rule then applies.

To exchange a foreign licence in Spain, you must first schedule an appointment with a police station or traffic office (in Spanish). You’ll need to fill out an exchange form and provide ID, proof of Spanish residency, and your current driver’s licence.

driving in spain
UK drivers license. Image – Yau Ming Low/Shutterstock.com

Taking a driving test in Spain

To obtain a Spanish licence, citizens of numerous countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, will need to complete the entire Spanish driving test. Many British nationals are also going down this route post-Brexit, in order to keep driving on the road as negotiations are still ongoing.

You must submit an application to the Provincial Traffic Headquarters (Jefatura Provincial de Trafico). You will require the following:

You must take driving lessons from a reputable driving school (ie. a family member does not qualify). Look for ‘autoescuela’ on the internet or in the Paginas Amarillas (Spain’s Yellow Pages).

The exam is divided into two parts – a written theoretical test (see sample test questions) and a practical test. Both are normally taken in Spanish, although you can bring a translator with you and there are English-speaking examiners in some areas of Spain.

Registering and maintaining a car in Spain

All vehicles in Spain must be registered with the DGT. When you purchase a new car from a dealership, the dealer will normally register it for you. You can also do it yourself on the internet.

If you want to bring a vehicle into Spain, you must re-register it. You will need to provide proof of ownership as well as a certificate demonstrating that the vehicle fulfils minimal road rules, such as an EU Certificate of Conformity. The vehicle must be inspected at a licenced vehicle inspection (Inspeccion Tecnica de Vehiculos – ITV) station.

Vehicles from the EU/EFTA will only need to provide proof of VAT payment. Vehicles imported from outside the EU are typically subject to additional import tariffs. You will receive a registration number and be able to obtain Spanish licence plates once you have registered the vehicle. If you want to operate an imported car in Spain before the registration process is finished, you will be given interim green licence plates.

Cars in Spain are required to undergo mandatory ITV maintenance tests when they reach the age of four, and then every two years until they reach the age of ten. Following that, inspections are done on an annual basis.

driving in spain itv
Image – alvarog1970/shutterstock

The costs of driving in Spain

Driving and keeping a car in Spain isn’t cheap, and Spain is the eighth most expensive European country, according to the 2021 Car Cost Index, with an average yearly cost of €944.

In addition to the initial fees of a driver’s licence, lessons, and tests, as well as any initial expenditures related to purchase or importation, you’ll need to budget for the following:

  • Car insurance costs an average of €356 per year in Spain in 2019.
  • Taxes – In addition to the one-time registration tax, which is based on CO2 emissions and can be up to 15 per cent of the purchase price, you will have to pay annual road tax (Impuesto Sobre Vehiculos de Traccion Mecanica – IVTM), which is mostly based on your vehicle fuel type and municipality.
  • Maintenance – If your vehicle is four years old or older, it must pass an ITV, which typically costs €35-40 every two years (or every year for cars older than 10 years).
  • Road tolls – Vehicles must pay tolls on Spanish motorways.

You will also need to pay general maintenance and repair costs, parking costs, automobile club memberships and any fees associated with LEZ.

General road rules and penalties in Spain

The Traffic and Road Safety Code of Spain (Codigo de Trafico y Seguridad Vial) contains information on the country’s road rules, regulations, and standards (in Spanish).

The following are some of the most important general rules:

  • Vehicles pass on the left. On main roads, any vehicle longer than 10m or weighing more than 3.5 tonnes should maintain a space of at least 50m from the vehicle in front.
  • Seatbelts are required for all passengers. Children must be at least 12 years old to sit in the front passenger seat. All youngsters under 1.35m tall must be restrained in a child safety seat.
  • Drivers approaching from the right have priority, however, vehicles from either direction have priority at roundabouts.
  • Travelling to mountainous places in winter necessitates the use of snow chains.
  • It is prohibited to sound the horn unless you are in an emergency, avoiding an accident, or alerting to a serious occurrence (e.g. a crime).
  • Minor infractions can result in fines of up to €100. You will usually be expected to pay the fine on the spot if you do not have a residency permit or a Spanish NIE number.

Driving without a license in Spain

Driving a vehicle without a valid licence is a very serious offence in Spain. If you are stopped by Spanish officials and are unable to provide your licence, you may be fined roughly €500. Furthermore, you could face a two-year driving restriction or even a six-month jail sentence.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. Do remember to come back and check The Euro Weekly News website for all your up-to-date local and international news stories. Remember, you can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram.

Written by

Laura Kemp

Originally from UK, Laura is based in Axarquia and is a writer for the Euro Weekly News covering news and features. Got a news story you want to share? Then get in touch at editorial@euroweeklynews.com.