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Q&A: How to pass Spain’s driving test and get a Spanish licence

Q&A: How to pass Spain's driving test and get a Spanish licence
Photo: AFP
Jake Peterson who has succesfully gone through the whole process in Madrid gives The Local readers the lowdown.

What are the necessary steps? How long does it take? What do you need? Let’s go over the biggest questions and explain the whole process.


Photo: AFP

Is it as bad as everyone says it is?

This question is the question I hear the most when I tell people I got my licence. The answer to this is “it depends”.

It depends on a lot of things, including but not limited to:

  • Do you already know how to drive?
  • Are you familiar with Spanish road signs?
  • Can you drive stick (manual)?
  • How comfortable are you driving?
  • Do you have experience driving in foreign countries?
  • Do you have a prior driving record?
  • How long are you willing to wait on bureaucracy?
  • Do you have roughly 1000+ Euros you’re willing to spend?
  • Are you OK with taking the driving and theoretical exam multiple times?
  • How patient are you?

Depending on how you answer those questions, your experience will vary.

Personally, I was comfortable driving, had two years of experience driving in Spain, knew how to drive stick (manual for British readers), and I still hated the whole process.

So yes, it’s just as bad as everyone says.

Do I need to get my licence?


Photo: AFP

 

Whether or not you need a licence is your choice, but let’s dispel some misconceptions real quick.

In order to rent a car in Spain (and most parts of the EU), you need to have an international driver’s permit or IDP.

However, many rental car places, from my experience, just don’t care about that. You show your American licence, sign some papers, and you’re good.

It’s kind of like jaywalking. Everyone knows what you’re supposed to do, but the probability of having a cop stop you for jaywalking is almost zero.

In the States, you can just go to the closest AAA office and get it there. It cost me about $25.

You can also drive with that permit as long as you have your accompanying passport. If you ever get pulled over, you can show the police your international licence and passport.

I know people who have simply renewed that permit every year and never gotten their Spanish licence. It’s illegal but I met someone who had been doing it for 15+ years and never had an issue.

However, If you have residency in Spain you can only use that international permit for up to six months. Then, since you’re living here, you are legally required to get your actual licence.

How long does it all take?


Photo by Luke Chesser on Unsplash

From start to finish, expect the entire process to take around six months.

Personally, I started studying in September, passed both exams at the end of November, and received my licence in January.

From studying to passing both exams, many people take about 5-6 months before they can breathe easy. For inexperienced drivers, expect to wait up to eight months.

What documents do you need?

While we’re all used to getting 1000 documents for any bureaucratic process here in Spain, you’ll be happy to know that the list here is quite small.

  • Two photographs (35X32mm)
  • Health document (obtained from any Centro de Reconocimiento de Conductores) plus a photocopy
  • Your residence permit (NIE or TIE) 
  • Receipt showing you have paid the correct fees (currently €92,20). You can find the Expedición de permisos de circulación form HERE

The health document is something you obtain after going through a physical and mental test to make sure you are fit to drive.

It’s a basic sight, auditory, and reflexes exam that takes about 20-30 minutes.

This document does have a 90-day expiration on it, so you have to take this test within 90 days of your driving exam.

Many people obtain this document right before they’re about to take their test. You’ll have to call ahead to the place for an appointment, but they’re usually not too busy.

Congratulations, that’s it. The rest is going to be taken care of by your autoescuela.

So you register at a driving school?

Yes, the easiest thing to do is register at your local driving school.

There’s really no wrong driving school (autoescuela) to go to and there are some English options in the center of Madrid and you may be able to find some along the costas, but If you not everything will be in Spanish.

The majority of schools, while they may not speak English, will be able to give you the option to take practice tests online in English.

ASK BEFORE YOU SIGNUP THOUGH.

I have a friend who didn’t ask and now he’s stuck without any English prep exams.

Personally, I went to Autoescuela Ernesto in Carabanchel (Madrid) because it was close to my house and they had the option to take practice tests in English.

Do you have to register at a driving school?


Photo: AFP

 

I’m sure you can do it solo, but there’s no point in going down that route.

Going to a traffic school is just so much easier. Or else you’re going to have to deal with the DGT (Dirección General de Trafico) personally and that is best avoided if you can.

Paying the registration fee is going to save you a huge headache. I know zero people who went solo.

Wait, do I actually need to do all this?

If you are from one of the following countries (deep breath): Algeria, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Japan, Korea, Republic of Macedonia, Morocco, Nicaragua, Peru, Panama, Paraguay, Philippines, Serbia, Switzerland, Turkey, Tunisia, Ukraine, Uruguay or Venezuela, you’re in luck!

You can trade-in your licence for a Spanish one by filling out some forms and paying a small fee. I’m not going to go through that here because it varies country by country a little bit, but you can FIGURE it out.

Also, if you’re from the EU or the EEA, you’re good to go. You can already use your licence and go reverse down the highway for kicks and giggles.

What about Brits? 

Photo: AFP

 

If you are resident in Spain before December 31st 2020 when the transition period comes to an end then under the current rules for citizens of countries in the EU you can transfer your British driving licence for a Spanish one.

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

But it is increasingly difficult to get an appointment with DGT and time is running out. 

As it currently stands and unless some new arrangement is put in place especially, then from January 1st 2021 Brits who live more than 6 months in Spain will have to get a Spanish driving licence and that means taking the test.

OK, so what do I do now?

First, you have to pass the theoretical exam before you can get behind the wheel.

You’re going to start studying for the exam, almost immediately after you signup, until you end up taking it.

What is the theoretical exam like?

Do you remember multiple-choice tests in high school where both A and D would look correct and the teacher would say “jUSt pIcK tHE BEsT oNe!”?

The theory exam is 30 questions of that stinking pile of garbage. In order to pass, you have to answer 27 questions correctly.

The general consensus is that 20ish questions are gimmees/somewhat obvious if you’ve been driving for a while. Even though the answers may seem similar, you should be able to work it out on your own.

Some of them are as easy as this:

What happens to your judgment and perception if you take drugs before driving?

A. You make better decisions

B. You make worse decisions

C. You can drive as fast as you want

The rest of the questions are completely random and have those “alike but not similar” multiple choice answers. My personal favorite was a picture of a random road with the question “What’s the speed limit?”

Sounds fun. How do I prepare?

While you can go to classes, those are time-consuming and boring. I stayed at home and took a bunch of practice tests over and over again through the school’s platform and this website.

My system of studying was to take 5 practice tests each day and keep taking them until I passed. Then, I would write down the number of each test, put it in a cup, and draw three randomly.

So one day I would take tests 55-60 and then test #34 and test #5. Once I took each test five times via the random selector, I would remove it from my cup.

I did that every day for about 2.5 months. It was a BLAST.

Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t go to class, but the classes are for people who are learning to drive for the first time in their lives. A lot of information will be stuff you (likely) already know.

I’ve heard it’s best to take the exam in Spanish. Is that true?

While it was true that the English version of the test was a garbled mess, it’s improved over the last few years. Now it’s only a slightly garbled mess.


If you opt for English version then be prepared for garbled questions such as illustration above!

It is still FULL of errors, misspellings, and phrases that don’t make any sense (change of direction actually means change lanes), but after taking a few tests you can figure out the lingo.

If you’re fluent in English, take it in English. Don’t try and prove to everyone how good your Spanish is by taking it in Spanish. No one cares.

The exam is available in Spanish, English, French, Italian, German.

Important tip: If you want to take your Spanish driving test in English, you must indicate this on the form when you register for the exam! Otherwise, you will be given the test in Spanish

I’m ready to take it! Can I go now?

No!

Prepare to be frustrated!

If you (wisely) registered with a driving school, the driving school will tell you when you can take the exam. The DGT assigns days of the month your school can go take the exam.

Those in smaller pueblos have less of a wait time, obviously.

Typically, each driving school has two days per month when you can take the theoretical exam. It depends on the school, but my school had days that were separated by about two weeks.

There was an option to take the exam on the 15th and the 30th, for example.

The school has zero say in their calendar and you’re at the mercy of the DGT. Generally, they know about 2-3 weeks in advance.

How many times can I take it?

As many times as you want!

If you fail, however, you have to wait till the next period when the exam period is open again.

So if you took it on the 15th on one month, you will have to wait until the 30th to possibly take it again. That is, if, your driving school has room for you to go with them.

If not, you’ll have to wait till the following month.

But you fail twice, then you have to pay the government fees (more on that later) again.

You can find your results here and they’re usually uploaded 6-8 hours after taking the exam.

I passed (hooray), what now?


Photo: AFP

Now that you passed, you’re going to start preparing for the practical exam. 

After you passed the theoretical exam, your school will call you to start setting up the practice classes.

We were called in order by the length of time we’d been with the driving school.

So, if Maria José finally passed the test after her 117th time, she would be called before me.

This was how my school did it, I don’t know if it’s universal or not.

Typically, classes are available all day, every day (except Sundays). I recommend you choose some times with heavy traffic to get you used to driving in difficult situations.

I’m pretty comfortable driving, do I have to take practice classes?

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to take a single practice class. But, it is highly recommended.

Why?

Because when you go to the exam, you’ll be testing in the school’s car. I took two classes to get used to the car and jot down any tips from the instructor.

Do I have to drive a manual car?


Photo by Alok Sharma on Unsplash

No, you don’t have to drive a stick shift (manual) car but when you receive your licence, you’ll only be allowed to drive an automatic. If you have an automatic, more power to you.

Plus, it is very hard to find a school with an automatic car. My school didn’t have one.

If not, it’s time to learn stick shift.

I didn’t kill anyone during my classes and I’m ready, what now?

TIME TO WAIT AGAIN. WHO ELSE LOVES WAITING?

Just like the theoretical exam, you’re going to have to wait until your school calls you. There are only two days each month (again) to take the exam.

Once you’re called, you’ll head back off to the DGT and take the exam.

Similar to waiting for practice classes, you’ll be called in order of how long you’ve been with the school. There was a month gap in between me passing my theoretical exam and being called for my practical exam.

What’s the practical exam like?

Photo: AFP

The practical exam is where everyone usually poops their pants out of fear. Most Spaniards have taken the exam multiple times before passing. Taking it four, five or even six times is not unheard of.

You go with your driving instructor in the school’s car and wait until an examiner comes out to meet you. You’ll usually go in a group of 5-6 and the examiner will determine the schedule.

You’ll also do the test with another student in the car. They will go and then you will go, or vice versa.

I was the last one of the day and sat around outside waiting for it to be my turn. The exam itself lasts anywhere from 20-30 minutes but it goes by quickly.

My examiner, I’m convinced, was a robot. Here was our first interaction.

“HELLO Jacob, I am examiner Robot McRobot Face. I will be doing your exam. Please hand me your NIE. I am now taking your NIE. I have confirmed that your NIE matches the records that we have. Thank you. I am now returning your NIE.”

From there, they’ll sit in the back seat and tell you where to go. If your Spanish isn’t up to snuff, you need to be very upfront with this because their directions are meant to make you think and confuse you.

They’ll tell you to turn the wrong way down a one-way street, give very detailed directions, or give specific directions to park.

Your instructor is not allowed to help you at any moment.

For example, we would be driving along a road and the examiner would say “at the third rotunda after this one, take the second exit and continue on straight.”

My examiner also asked me random questions about the defrost button, my review mirror, and how to turn the lights on and off.

How can I pass?

The best thing you can do is stay calm and drive like a normal human being with your safety meter cranked up to 1000.

Imagine you’re driving with a grandmother who comments about everything or your in-laws who are always casting a watchful eye in your direction.

Personally, I thought back to the first time I ever drove with my grandfather who did not stop commenting on my driving for two hours straight.

Let pedestrians cross with plenty of time, NEVER go over the speed limit, check your blind spots often, and use your blinker like your life depends on it.

Basically, be the textbook driver.

I passed, now what?


Photo: AFP

Usually, results will be posted about a day after your exam. If your instructor got along well with the examiner, he/she may be able to find out for you immediately after the exam.

From there, you’ll have to go to your driving school and receive a temporary licence which will last you three months. You can only drive in Spain with this and not anywhere else.

What happens if I fail either test?

When you pay the government fee to take the tests, you get a 2-in-3 kind of deal. You get three chances to pass both tests.

So, if you fail the theory test once, then you get another chance to retake it with no cost. But then you have to pass the practical exam on your first try.

It works the other way as well if you fail the driving test the first time you get another chance to pass.

But, if you fail either two times, then you have to pay the fee again. If you passed the theoretical exam, you don’t have to go back and take it.

However, you’ll need to keep paying the government fee for the practical exam. This is how the whole process can be so incredibly expensive.

How long does it take to get my physical licence?

While they claim it only takes about six weeks, it took me about 10 weeks to receive my hardcopy. You can check the status of it here.

You haven’t talked about the price of all this. How much does it cost?

Prepare to be…shocked. Here’s a breakdown of what I spent. This is almost as cheap as you can go.

  • Health document-25€
  • Driving school registration-59€
  • Theory exam-92€
  • Two driving classes-50€
  • Practical exam-123€
  • TOTAL-349€

The average, depending on who you ask, can range anywhere from 800-1200€. I met someone who had spent over 2000€ (and she had failed her driving test for the third time).

Anything else I should know?

Spanish bureaucracy sucks and this is no different. Be prepared to sit around and wait as much of the process is out of your hands.

Take lots and lots of practice tests until you can answer them in your sleep. It is like a second job but it beats bleeding cash.

It’s tough but by no means is it impossible. As soon as you get your licence you can start to ignore all the road rules just like everyone else does.

Good luck!

Jake Peterson is an avid traveler, writer, and SEO specialist. Since moving to Madrid seven years ago, he’s traveled to almost every continent and eaten way too much Spanish ham. While living in Madrid, he has worked remotely for companies in Asia, Europe, and North America. When he’s not traveling or working, he’s either playing basketball, dreaming about his next PC build, or taking care of his newborn daughter.

For more of his writing check out his blog at The United States of Spain and follow his page on Facebook.
 
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