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DRIVING

Exchanging your British driving licence for a Spanish one: What you need to know

Thanks to the increasing possibility of Britain leaving the EU without a deal, exchanging a UK driving licence for Spanish one has suddenly become an urgent issue for Brits living in Spain.

Exchanging your British driving licence for a Spanish one: What you need to know
Photo: anyaberkut/Depositphotos

Officially the rules, that were updated in 2013, require residents in Spain to exchange their licence for a Spanish one within two years of residency (depending on the sort of licence they had).

However given the option is voluntary, many long-term residents never got around to it.

But now, with a no-deal Brexit looming, it is more important than ever to exchange your British licence for a Spanish one.

UPDATE: No, Brits in Spain don't have to apply to exchange their driving licence before Brexit day

If there is no deal between Brussels and London, those who have not swapped their British licence for a European one before Brexit D-Day on October 31st may be forced to retake their driving tests in their adopted country.

A sudden rush of last-minute applicants means appointments at offices of the government's Direccion General de Traffico (DGT) around Spain are filling up quick, so there is no time to lose.

The process of exchanging a driving licence issued by an EU country for a Spanish one should be quite straightforward, but of course, as anyone with experience of Spanish bureaucracy knows, there can be hiccups along the way.

There are two options to swap your driving licence for a Spanish one. The result is the same but the processes are slightly different.

You can either RENEW your licence or EXCHANGE it and it all depends on how long you have been resident in Spain, your age and when your licence expires.

Renewal guidelines:

According to Article 15, paragraph 4 of the Spanish Regulation General Drivers, it is compulsory for drivers to renew their EU/EEA driving licences whose validity is:

  • permanent (never expires);
  • 15 years or more on date of issue for Group 1 (AM, A1, A2, A, B and BE);
  • five years or more on date of issue for the Group 2 (BTP, C1, C1E, C, CE D1, D1E, D, DE).

In addition, holders of EU/EEA driving licences who have Spanish residency must also renew their driving licence if it’s already expired or close to the expiry date.

For all other cases it is likely to be the exchange option.

DGT explains it HERE.

Once you have decided what to go for follow follow this step-by-step guide to simply the process.

Make an appointment

The first challenge is to secure yourself an appointment  – Cita Previa – at your local DGT office.

You will need to go to the DGT website and choose the right options from the drop down menu.  

Choose either: 'Renovación de permisos de conducción comunitarios' for renewals OR 'Canje de permiso de conducción europeo' to exchange

Once there, put in your location and choose the Reino Unido option, then cross your fingers, say a prayer and click “continuar”

The chances are you will be told that all the available appointments for the coming days have been filled and to check back later. Repeat the request several dozen times over the course of a week and you might be luckily enough to snag yourself a slot.

Insider tip 1: If the nearest office to you is full try one in a neighbouring town or city, For example the first available appointment for the central Madrid office was a 6 week wait. But in Alcala-de-Henares (just a short train ride away) it was possible to get one within a week.

Insider tip 2: Some people have reported that they were able to apply for an 'exchange' at a 'renewal' appointment. Don't bet on it, but it might be worth a try!

Get the right paperwork


Photo: Billiondigital/Depositphotos

Once you have secured the appointment, make sure all your paperwork is in order.

You will need:

  • Your British driving licence (or if it is lost or stolen then a certificate of entitlement issued by DVLA and translated in Spanish)
  • Your ID, take passport, NIE and Padron. In some places it has been known to ask for your National Insurance Number in the UK so they can check up with the DVLA
  • A medical certificate (For renewal only).
  • Two recent photographs, passport size.
  • Application form.

You can download the form, print them off and take them with you. HERE.

The process

At the first appointment you must present the filled in renewal/exchange form, present your originals of the documents required and handover copies. The DGT will then verify the authenticity of the licence with the DVLA and once verified they will contact you and tell you to make a second appointment.

This is when you need to take the medical test. (For renewal only, not exchange)

At the second appointment you hand over your original driving licence and medical certificate and will be issued with a temporary Spanish driving licence which is valid to drive in Spain until your new licence is issued.  

After a few weeks, the final, original Spanish driving licence will be sent to your home by post.

About the medical certificate

Photo: Deposit photos

You only need to make an appointment for a medical after you have made your application at the first appointment with the DGT, it only has a validity of three months so you don’t want it to expire before your second appointment.

The medical test is carried out at a centre approved by the DGT. They will be able to give you a list of the approved centres at the first appointment. There is also a list of approved centres on the DGT website HERE:

The medical test is very basic and is designed simply to check that you have no physical disabilities to prevent safe driving. You will be asked a series of questions about pre-existing medical conditions and take a simple eye and hearing test.

How much will it cost?

You will have to pay an application fee at your first appointment. This can be done using a bank card but cannot be paid in cash.

Fee for renewal is €24.10  and for exchange is currently (Feb 2019) €28.30

NB: If your driving licence is lost or stolen:

If your UK driving licence is lost or stolen, you can apply to the DVLA for a ‘certificate of entitlement’ in Spanish that can be used to apply for a Spanish driving licence.

More Information: 

If you have been through the process, then let us now how the experience was and whether you can offer any tips to those planning on doing it soon. Leave a comment below or email [email protected]

This article was updated on September 26th, 2019.

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For members

SPAIN AND THE UK

Liz Truss: What does the new UK PM mean for Brits in Spain?

Following the announcement that Liz Truss will replace Boris Johnson as the UK’s new Prime Minister, political correspondent Conor Faulkner analyses what this could mean for Brexit and the 400,000 UK nationals who reside in Spain.

Liz Truss: What does the new UK PM mean for Brits in Spain?

On Monday September 5th, it was announced that members of UK’s Conservative party had finally elected a new leader and thus a new Prime Minister, after Boris Johnson was forced to resign at the start of the summer.

Beating rival Rishi Sunak with 57 percent of the vote, just 80,000 Conservative party members elected the former Foreign Secretary as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.

READ ALSO: ‘Iron weathercock’ – Europe reacts to Liz Truss becoming new UK PM

But what, if anything, does her election mean for Brexit and the 400,000 Britons living in Spain? 

Will she be a continuity politician or will she forge a new path (for better or worse) in British-European relations?

Truss the Remainer

During the 2016 EU referendum campaign, Liz Truss campaigned for Remain. “I don’t want my daughters to live in a world where they have to apply for a visa to work in Europe,” she famously said.

Having once been a member of the Liberal Democrats and decidedly more pro-European, Truss’s conversion to Euroscepticism came after she had voted Remain in the EU in the June 2016 referendum.

Did the much hallowed Brexit benefits become clear to her in the aftermath of the result? Possibly. Or, as Brexit became a litmus test of loyalty and Conservatism, did her position shift to fit the intra-party politics of her party?

Although one may hope that her former pro-European positions might mean a softening in UK-EU relations in the post-Johnson era, Truss’s dependence on the Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative parliamentary party during her leadership campaign suggests she may be kneecapped in her ability to strike compromises with the EU.

Truss the Foreign Secretary

Owing to Truss’s tendency to be a bit of a political flip-flopper and change her positions at the whim of career progression, it is therefore quite difficult to predict her future behaviour with regards to Spain. We can, however, make some educated guesses based on her time as Foreign Secretary.

Going off her tenure in the Foreign Office, it seems Truss may view relations with Spain more positively than perhaps with other EU member states or the block as a whole.

In December 2021, Truss travelled to Madrid to meet with her then counterpart José Manuel Albares to build “closer economic, tech and security ties” with Spain, and to “support” the 400,000 Britons living in Spain. 

“We’re significant trading partners, with the UK as Spain’s biggest European investor,” she said, “and the UK as the top destination for Spanish investment. By boosting our trading ties even further, both Spain and every region and nation of the UK will benefit.”

Yet, Truss has also strongly hinted that she would be willing to overhaul Article 16 and put the Northern Ireland protocol at risk. If she is willing to jeopardise peace and potentially break international law to appease her political base in England, particularly within her own parliamentary party, one must wonder about the seriousness with which a few hundred thousand Brits up and down Spain’s costas will be taken. 

Reaction in Spain

Spain’s leading newspaper El País believes Truss will continue the populist strategy of Johnson. Truss was, even in her acceptance speech on Monday, loyal to her predecessor. 

She “promises citizens a rose-tinted future, without clarifying how she intends to achieve it”, the paper believes.

Sue Wilson, Chair of Bremain in Spain, told The Local that she expects Truss to “carry on with the policies of Johnson, and be led, presumably, by the same right-wing forces of the Conservative Party.

“I suspect that, as far as what affects British citizens in Spain, that continuity will simply mean we remain invisible and left to our own devices,” Wilson added.

“Britons in Spain have been left in bureaucratic limbo since the Brexit vote six years ago. Whether it be the ongoing confusion over driving licenses or renewing residency or getting new TIE cards, many Britons abroad have felt abandoned by the UK government.”

Wilson and other members of Bremain in Spain will take part in the National Rejoin March in London on Saturday September 10th to “deliver a warning to the new PM about the impact of Brexit on the spiralling cost of living crisis in the UK”,  to express a “clear and loud message” that “Brexit has failed” and to promote “Rejoin the EU” as a “mainstream” call to action.

“For six years now, Brits living in Europe have been dealing with fear, uncertainty and stress, thanks to Brexit. We have already lost important rights, and many are concerned that even those secured could be at risk. Truss plans to proceed with the Protocol Bill which threatens the legally binding international treaty that secured those limited rights. In the process, she seems determined to do further damage to UK/EU relations and our international reputation.”

Anne Hernández, head of Brexpats in Spain, told The Local Spain: “Our problem as Brits in Spain might be if she actually applies Article 16, meaning a no deal Brexit, and she has threatened that. Although I’m not sure how that might affect our rights.”

The overriding feeling among UK nationals in Spain about Truss in No. 10 is the feeling of trepidation that Hernández describes.

With its fourth leader in six years and the third to take the helm of Britain in the post-Brexit world, for Brits abroad Truss’ rise to Downing Street has prolonged that uncertainty. 

With her apparent willingness to simply tear up internationally binding agreements, many will worry if the situation in Spain will be taken back to square one.

One would hope that her previously positive interactions with the Spanish state could mean that she lends a hand in resolving some of these lingering administrative issues affecting Britons in Spain, but the propensity to change her politics when it suits her make this unpredictable, and her reliance on Eurosceptic forces within her party make it unlikely.

How about Gibraltar?

This unpredictability could be of particular concern for UK nationals in Gibraltar. After voting Remain by a whopping 96 percent, the tiny British territory was not included in the main Brexit deal that came into effect from January 2021, and complicated multilateral negotiations between Gibraltar, London, Madrid and Brussels have rumbled on without resolution. 

Truss’ rhetoric on Gibraltar during her tenure as Foreign Secretary was as combative as her anti-EU talking points during the Tory leadership campaign, continuing the us-against-them language: “We will continue to defend the sovereignty of Gibraltar.”

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