Driving in Spain: Licenses and Regulations

15 March 2021

Driver's Licenses in Spain

Information on driver’s licenses and regulations in Spain.

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."

“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.

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