Driving in Spain: Who can exchange their licence and who has to resit the exam?

Which countries have bilateral driving agreements with Spain? Who needs to exchange their licence for a Spanish one or get an International Driving Permit? And which drivers have to take the Spanish driving test instead?

Driving in Spain: Who can exchange their licence and who has to resit the exam?
Cars drive by on Madrid's emblematic Gran Vía.Photos: Yolanda García/Pixabay, Matan Ray Vizel / Pixabay

Drivers from the EU and EEA

Those with licences from the EU and the EEA are allowed to drive in Spain with their current licences, as long as they have not expired. If your licence doesn’t expire in less than 15 years, you can carry on using your EU licence, but are also free to exchange it any time you want. According to the DGT, this process is voluntary.

According to Spain’s DGT, if it expires in 15 years or more, or doesn’t have an expiry date on it, you should exchange it for a Spanish one. Whenever your licence does expire, you should also exchange it for a Spanish one. 

When you want to exchange your licence for a Spanish one or if it expires, you can do so through the DGT in a process called renovación del permiso comunitario

You must, however, register with their Provincial Traffic Headquarters or local DGT office within your first six months of residing in Spain. 

Once you have registered, you will be obliged to take a medical test in order to prove that you are fit to drive. You can get this done at one of the authorised centres (Centro de Reconocimiento de Conductores Autorizado)

If you do want to exchange your licence, you will need the following documents to present at your local DGT office. 

  • An application form
  • An ID card or passport
  • Proof of residence in Spain
  • A valid driving license
  • Two recent photographs
  • A declaration that you haven’t been banned or suspended from driving
  • A declaration that you don’t hold another driver’s license from another country

Those with UK driving licences

The conditions have changed for British licence holders driving in Spain, now that the UK has officially left the EU and the Transition Period ended on 30 December, 2020.

There are currently ongoing negotiations between Spain and the UK. The British government website states that it has offered EU driving licence holders the possibility of continuing to drive in the UK without the need to exchange their licences for British ones.

“You can drive in Great Britain until you’re 70. If you’re 67 or over when you become resident, you can drive for 3 years. After this time you must exchange your licence. You do not have to retake your test,” reads the British government website.

Whether this will be reciprocal with Spain will likely be decided in the coming weeks and months. 

The latest from the British Embassy in Madrid is: “If you live in Spain and have a valid UK driving licence, you will be able to continue using this to drive in Spain until June 30th 2021.

“If you want to exchange your UK licence for a Spanish one, the process to follow depends on whether you registered your intention to exchange with the Spanish Traffic Authority (DGT) before December 30th 2020”.
1. *If you registered with the Spanish Traffic Authority (DGT) before 30 December 2020*
If you were resident in Spain before January 1st 2021 and registered with the DGT before December 30th 2020, you should request an appointment with the DGT to exchange your UK licence by June 30th 2021.
To exchange your licence you will need:
• proof you are registered as a resident in Spain (e.g. TIE – Tarjeta de Identidad de Extranjero; green EU residence certificate)
• your UK licence
Read DGT’s guidance on how to get an appointment (in Spanish with English translation) here
The DGT will exchange your UK licence for a temporary driving permit (‘autorización temporal para conducir’) until your Spanish licence is processed. This document is valid in Spain only.
2. *If you did not register with DGT before December 30th 2020*
If you did not register with DGT before December 30th 2020 and want to exchange your UK driving licence, you should follow the DGT process for non-EU nationals. This includes taking a driving test.
“The UK government is in discussion with the Spanish government on future driving licence exchange without the need for a practical test.”
Your valid UK licence will continue to be recognised in Spain until June 30th 2021.
3. *Driving in the UK with a Spanish licence*
You can use your Spanish licence in the UK for short visits, or exchange it for a UK licence without taking a test.
The UK Embassy will update the ‘Driving in Spain’ section of their Living in Spain guide if there are any changes to the rules, as soon as information is available here.

Citizens of Andorra, Switzerland, Monaco, Japan and South Korea

With driving licences issued in these countries, tourists can drive in Spain for 90 days. If you’ve moved to Spain, you can drive up for to 6 months after obtaining residency (also with the international driving permit).

After that period, licence holders from these countries have to exchange their licences for Spanish ones and can’t drive until the process is completed.

The licence exchange can’t be completed if the original licence was obtained after Spain signed an agreement with said country (check with your local consulate) and if it was obtained once the driver was already a legal resident in Spain (only in Korea’s case is it allowed to have been obtained the licence after being a legal resident in Spain).

The documents required for the licence exchange are:

  • An application form
  • A valid national identity card or passport
  • A residence permit and valid residence card
  • A medical fitness report from a recognised medical center (such as the Authorised Drivers’ Check Centre (Centro de Reconocimiento de Conductores Autorizado)
  • A current valid driving license
  • Two recent ID-sized photographs
  • A declaration in writing that you have not been banned or suspended from driving
  • A declaration in writing that you do not hold another driver’s license of the same class issued by another EU country
  • An official translation of your driving permit by a consulate or embassy for South Koreans
  • An official translation of the driving permit for those from Japan

In terms of the requirement for international driving permits, the DGT recommends that all licence holders from countries which do not have an exchange agreement with Spain should get an IDP. It is unclear whether this group would be required to get one (check with your consulate). 

Driving licence holders from non-EEA countries Spain has a bilateral exchange agreement with

Drivers from Algeria, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Dominical Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Macedonia, Morocco, Nicaragua, Peru, Panama, Paraguay, Philippines, Serbia, Turkey, Tunisia, Ukraine, Uruguay, and Venezuela can exchange their licences for Spanish ones within their first six months of residency in Spain.

They will need all the same documents for those from Andorra, Switzerland, Japan and South Korea, apart from the translations as necessary for Japan and South Korea. 

According to Spain’s Directorate General of Traffic (DGT), drivers with licences from these countries do not have to take out international driving permits to start driving in Spain either. 

Citizens of other non-EEA countries such as the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand 

Those with a driving licence from outside of the EU who are not nationals of the countries with special agreements with Spain (listed just above) are allowed to drive in Spain for a maximum of six months before they need to get a Spanish licence. The six month grace period starts from the time they register for residency.

If their foreign driving license is not in Spanish they must however get an official translation of it or apply for an International Driving Permit (IDP) before they start driving in Spain.

This includes those with driving licences from English-speaking countries such US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

So if you are staying in Spain long-term and become a resident here, you will have to resit your driving test in Spain (theory and practical), as Spain doesn’t have an exchange agreement with most non-EEA countries.

Non-EEA drivers who are spending sporadic periods of time in Spain should know that the IDP is only valid for a period of 12 months, but your current driving license will need to have at least 6 months of validity remaining. After this time however, it can be renewed. 

To get the IDP you need the following documents:

  • Signed copies of the front and back of your current driving license.
  • Two passport-sized photos (See application form for requirements)
  • A completed IDP application form 
  • To pay your fee

Taking a Spanish driving test

If you’ve been driving in Spain for a while, then you’re probably used to the road rules and differences of Spanish driving, but if you haven’t, then you will probably be expected to take a few lessons before re-sitting your exam.

You are able to sit your theoretical driving test in English, but the practical part of the test will be conducted in Spanish (although knowing just the specific driving vocabulary should be enough). Several driving schools can teach you both in English and Spanish to help you prepare and get to know the Spanish terms and vocabulary that your examiner might use.


Can I still drive in Spain if I’m a tourist?

Yes, but whether you need to take out an international driving permit before you hire a car in Spain will depend on the criteria listed above.

In theory, you could be prevented from renting a vehicle if you don’t have an IDP when Spanish law states you should have, but in practice plenty of car hire companies will still allow you to hire a car. If you’re stopped by police and you don’t have an IDP when you should, they could fine you €200.

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Anger grows as no solution found yet for in limbo UK drivers in Spain 

British drivers living in Spain are becoming increasingly disgruntled at the lack of solutions two weeks after they were told their UK licences were no longer valid, with the latest update from the UK Embassy suggesting it could still take "weeks" to reach a deal. 

Anger grows as no solution found yet for in limbo UK drivers in Spain 

There is growing discontent among UK licence holders residing in Spain who are currently in limbo, unable to drive in Spain until they either get a Spanish driving licence or a deal is finally reached between Spanish and UK authorities for the mutual exchange of licences post-Brexit.

Since May 1st 2022, drivers who’ve been residents in Spain for more than six months and who weren’t able to exchange their UK licences for Spanish ones cannot drive in Spain.

There are no official stats on how many Britons of the 407,000 UK nationals who are residents in Spain in 2022 are affected; according to the UK Embassy the “majority exchanged” as advised.

But judging by the amount of negative comments the last two updates from the British Embassy in Madrid have received, hundreds if not thousands are stuck without being able to drive in Spain.  

May 12th’s video message by Ambassador Hugh Elliott left many unhappy with the fact that the forecast for a possible licence exchange agreement will be in the “coming weeks”, when two weeks earlier Elliott had spoken of “rapidly accelerating talks”. 

Dozens of angry responses spoke of the “shocking” and “absolutely ridiculous” holdup in negotiations that have been ongoing for more than at least a year and a half, and which the UK Embassy has put down to the fact that Spain is asking the British government to give them access to DVLA driver data such as road offences, something “not requested by other EU Member States”.

Numerous Britons have explained the setbacks not being able to drive in Spain are causing them, from losing their independence to struggling to go to work, the hospital or the supermarket, especially those in rural areas with little public transport.  

“I know personally from all the messages you’ve sent in, just how incredibly disruptive all of this is for many of you,” Elliott said in response. 

“If you are struggling to get around you may find additional advice or support from your local town hall, or charities or community groups in your area and the Support in Spain website is another very useful source of organisations that can provide general support to residents.

“And if your inability to drive is putting you in a very vulnerable situation, you can always contact your nearest consulate for advice.”

There continue to be disparaging opinions in the British community in Spain over whether any pity should be felt for UK licence holders stuck without driving, as many argue they had enough time to register intent to exchange their licences, whilst others clarify that their particular set of circumstances, such as arriving after the December 2020 ‘intent to exchange’ deadline, made this impossible. 

OPINION: Not all Brits in Spain who didn’t exchange UK driving licences are at fault

So is there any light at the end of the tunnel for drivers whose UK licences aren’t valid anymore in Spain or soon won’t be?

“The agreement we’re working towards now will enable UK licence holders, whenever they arrived in Spain or arrive in the future, to exchange their UK licence for a Spanish one without needing to take a practical or a theory test,” Elliott said on Thursday May 12th of the deal they are “fully committed” to achieve.

READ ALSO: How much does it cost to get a Spanish driving licence?

And yet it’s hard for anyone to rest their hopes on this necessarily happening – sooner or later or ever – in part because the embassy advice for those with UK licences for whom it’s imperative to continue driving in Spain is that they should take steps to get their Spanish licence now, while acknowledging that in some places there are “long delays for lessons” and getting your Spanish licence “doesn’t happen overnight”.

READ ALSO: What now for UK licence holders in Spain?