Driving in Spain: Licenses and Regulations

Getting a Spanish driver's license can be expensive because you have to take classes. The good news is you can study for and take the test in English."

Posted by Dreamer

Tagged: legal, spanish driving license, eu driving license, international license, spanish driver's license, non-eu driving license, vehicle insurance, non-eu driver's license, eu driver's license

Information on driver’s licenses and regulations in Spain.

“There are few things in life as difficult or intimidating as getting a Spanish driver’s license,” says American expat Sal DeTraglia of Sal DeTraglia’s Virtual Tapas Bar. “It is a process akin to trying to solve Fermat’s last theorem while sitting on death row in a Texas prison. If you don’t believe me, just ask anyone who has been through it.”

With that pleasant image in mind, do you really need to go through all the trouble of getting a Spanish driver’s license? Well, the answer is that it depends.

EU citizens are in luck and spared from having to go through the whole process. As a nonresident, an EU driver’s license is valid in Spain, and vice-versa. If you are a resident, then you must alter your license. There are two options: either get your EU driver’s license “stamped” or you exchange your license for a Spanish driver’s license.

As a non-EU citizen, you have our condolences; you will need to get that Spanish driver’s license after all. Depending on your nationality, non-EU driver’s licenses may be valid for the first year after arrival in Spain. After that, you are officially required to have a Spanish driver’s license. (Some expats, however, have been known to use their home-country license for years without problems. Not recommended, but possible.)

For US drivers, bear in mind that because each state has its own rules, foreign countries make agreements with individual states! That means that your New York driver’s license is valid (for the first year) in Spain, but your Massachusetts driver’s license is not (whether the police know which states are valid is another question).

For Canadian drivers, you are currently required to have both your provincial driver’s license and an International license, which are valid for up to a year of living in Spain. If and when you get your residence, these are valid for only six additional months at that point. You can get your International driver’s license from many registry offices or CAA offices (or the provincial equivalents) by showing your valid provincial license, spending a half hour, and approximately CDN$30.
Now for the fun part…

To get a Spanish driver’s license you must: join a driving school and pass a medical exam, written exam, and behind-the-wheel exam.

Is that all? Yes, but going back to Fermat’s theorem, it’s not as easy as it sounds. It can be a long, treacherous road fraught with pitfalls, but as Sal says, “I am now the proud owner of a 23 centimeter long piece of tri-folded, non-laminated, pink cardboard with my photo stapled onto it.” A proud owner, indeed, but keep in mind that newer driver’s licenses are now of the plastic card variety and look similar to a DNI.

Speed limits have been lowered from 120km/h to 110km/h as of early 2011. This is supposedly to save fuel consumption. There’s no way they’re going to enjoy the extra revenues generated by those speeding fines though, right?
Getting a Spanish driver’s license can be expensive because you have to join a driving school and take classes. It doesn’t matter how many years of experience you have driving in your own country. Driving in Spain is considered a different animal, and of course, you’ll need the driving school’s car to take the behind-the-wheel test.

Then you’ll need to pass a medical and eye exam. Fortunately, this part won’t be too difficult. “The doctor certified me as fit because I was able to open the door to his office,” admits Sal, “and as having good eyesight because I was able to grasp the doorknob without first feeling around for it with my fingertips.”

Next comes the written exam. The good news is that it’s multiple choice and you can choose to take the exam in English or watered-down Spanish if you don’t feel up to the full-blown Spanish deal. The bad news is that the scope of the exam “goes well beyond the standard rules of the road,“says Sal. “Questions pertaining to automobile mechanics, first aid, and technical specifications for vehicles ranging from scooters to quads to automobiles to delivery trucks are not only fair game, but are fairly common. Having taken both the State of Illinois Bar exam and the Spanish written driver’s exam, I can say with certainty that I walked out of the former feeling much more confident that I had passed.”

Finally, you must take a behind-the-wheel exam. Your instructor will sit in the passenger seat and the examiner in the back. “The exam lasts for thirty minutes and takes place in live traffic,” Sal tells us. “Drivers can expect to face such delights as city streets, winding alleys, roundabouts, construction zones, hills, and the universally-despised parallel parking maneuver. If you’re unlucky (and many are), the latter two will be co-mingled.” You’ll receive your results from your instructor once the examiner has gone. Like the written exam, if you fail, you can take it again.

And that’s all there is to it, folks.

Then if you find yourself with a traffic violation, you might want to take a look at http://www.todomultas.com (in Spanish only) to appeal your fine.

Last updated 08 03 2011

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Comments

If you'd like to ask a question for discussion, please mosey on over to the Spain Forum. See our posting rules and instructions here.

21/Aug/2009:
Tigger said:

I am new to this site - it's amazing, so full of helpful info. However, please can someone help me :- Solo wrote in 2006 about wanting to set up a transfer service for golfers and was wondering if a SP license was required. Expatriator replied that it didn't sound like a Public Service vehicle/transfer so probably no license would be required. I have recently been contracted to provide a transfer service to and from an airport to a local company. I invoice the company monthly, they pay me. I do not take money from the passengers. No-one can 'hire' my vehicle. I do not have a meter etc etc. Does anyone know - do I require a license. Help would be appreciated as this job is important to me. Thank you.

 
23/Aug/2009:
foxbat said:

I have opened this as a new thread on 'Legal Issues in Spain' in the Main Forum under the thread title 'SP licence?'

My reply is too long to be covered in this area.
Its only my take on the situation...

 
26/Aug/2009:
susanspain said:

Tigger - I can only suggest you go to a 'good' motor gestor, or even a specialist lawyer. Although you are not acutally taking money directly from the clients, you are still being paid by the company, so it is really a paying service after all.
Not sure of the legalities - so as I say, check with the experts (just be warned they may give you rubbish/incorrect advice, so even try a couple of above before making any final decisions!).

Other approach would be to check with your Insurance Broker... I am sure the underwriter would say you are infact taking paying passengers and therefore, need the correct commercial licence and insurance.
Good luck.

 
01/Jul/2010:
Jeffrey said:

It looks like some things may have changed since the original posting regarding US drivers. There is no reciprocity agreement between the US & Spain if you've chosen to live there. You're OK with your state driver's license and an International Driving Permit (which is valid for one year and is available at any AAA office even if you're not a member of AAA).

"U.S. citizens who are residents of Spain must obtain a valid Spanish driver’s license. At this time, there is no agreement between the United States and Spain for the validation of a U.S. driver’s license; therefore, holders of a U.S. license must attend a Spanish driving school and take the Spanish exam. You can find more information on the Spanish Minister of the Interior’s website."

Here's the link:
embusa.es/cons/acstraveling.html

 
16/Jul/2010:
wilfb said:

Hi,

I need help registering a UK car on Spanish plates. I understand a Gestore might assist. Does anyone know of such a person in the Jalon area or near?

 
23/Sep/2010:
gerhill said:

Hola,

Thanks for a great site full of information. I was wondering if you could help me find the answer to a question I have regarding the Spanish Theory Driving Test.

I have come across a couple of sites in which they said that the Spanish government have brought in new legislation that the English Theory Driving Test will no longer be available when 2011 comes.

Do you know if this is true or not, I don't know how to research this information on Google since my Spanish is weak.

Thanks.

 
18/Oct/2010:
Jackred said:

Hello to all,

I am new to this site, which I find brill.

I was randomly stopped in my Spanish registered car. All my paper work was correct, however, I was fined 500 euros for driving with a EU driving license. The Guardia said it was invalid as it had not been chipped, they failed to put on the fine that it was an EU license, they just put an invalid license. They stated, it was a new law that just came in over the last few months.

I have been resident in Spain for almost 4 years, my EU license is valid from 2007-2017. Is this fine correct as I get conflicting advise. I was aware, I needed a medical, but thought that it was due after 5 years. that is after 2012.

Thanks.

 
05/Nov/2010:
El Casareño inglés said:

Hi Jackred,

To me this sounds like another moneymaking scam from Bent Guardia officers. It is certainly worth an appeal. Even if Spain changed the law on chipped licenses, they still MUST accept licenses valid in other EU member states. We've been through this type of situation before and Spain eventually recognized they were in the wrong.

You can exchange your valid EU license for a Spanish/EU one at any time up until 2017 (provided you still have some sort of residence in your home member state). You don't need a medical to exchange the license. You only need a medical when you renew your Spanish license. So, in your case, you might not need to take a medical until 2027, depending on your residence status and age!

 
29/Mar/2011:
benjamintarraf said:

Dear reader, could you please help us with the following:

My wife came from Iran and has a Spanish NIE, but her driver's license is from Iran. Is there a possibility to change this to a Spanish drivers license? Maybe there is a possibility to change it by being a Expat?

Thanks in advance.

 
11/Aug/2011:
Driving instructor said:

Hi to all of you,

Just to let you know that in Madrid we do Theory Driving courses in English, from Sept onwards it will be done in 3days, only one weekend!! we've got a 95% of passing first time, check our web Autoescuela Gala,and find out more.
un saludo a todos

Thank you.

 

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