EXPLAINED: What the licence exchange extension means for British drivers in Spain

The UK Embassy in Madrid has announced that British drivers who registered their details to exchange their UK driving licences for Spanish ones before the end of last year will get an extra six months in which to carry out the swap. But what does the extension not cover for British drivers?

EXPLAINED: What the licence exchange extension means for British drivers in Spain
Will British licence holders in Spain be able to drive in Spain after June 30th 2021?Photo: Pau Barrena/AFP

“If you registered your details to exchange your UK driving licence for a Spanish licence before the end of last year, the deadline of June 30th 2021 has been extended until December 31st 2021, to allow you more time to complete your licence exchange” wrote the British Embassy in a Facebook post on Thursday May 28th.  

“If you have attempted to complete the exchange of your licence since January 1st but your application was rejected due to your TIE being dated to 2021, the DGT office will get in touch with you directly to arrange for the completion of the exchange. If this is your situation, and you do not hear anything after a few weeks, you should request an appointment with the DGT. “

This is good news overall, especially given that processing delays in Spanish residency applications meant many British drivers in Spain faced missing the deadline for exchanging their UK driving licences for Spanish ones by June 30th 2021, and would consequently have to sit their exam again.

READ MORE: How residency hold-ups could mean many Brits in Spain need to sit their driving test again

“The DGT has also confirmed that both the green residence document and the TIE are valid proof of residence when completing the exchange,” the British Embassy added.

“You can see the Spanish government’s bilingual nota aclaratoria that states the ongoing validity of the green residency certificate here

However, “the current date for recognition of UK licences for driving in Spain for those who are resident in Spain remains 30th June 2021”, the UK Embassy stressed. 

“This means that we don’t know yet whether British licence holders will be able to drive in Spain from July onwards,” Anne Hernández, head of Brexpats in Spain, told The Local.

“I worry people will interpret this extension of the period in which to process the licence exchange as an extension of the validity of their UK licences, when so far it is not that.”

“This applies whether you registered before December 30th 2020 or have not yet started the process to exchange your UK licence for a Spanish licence,” British diplomatic sources clarified. 

“What happens if these people don’t get to exchange their licence before July or August? Can they continue driving on the road?” Hernández asked.

“What happens if they get into an accident? Will they still be covered by insurance?

“If they get stopped by police, will the officers have a list of Brits who pre-registered before December 30th 2020 but haven’t been able to process the exchange? I don’t think so.

“The extension is a solution for those who haven’t been able to process their licence exchange, either because they’ve not received their residency approval (carta de resolución) firstly or haven’t been able to get an appointment. 

“But my concern for them is what happens if they drive in Spain after June 30th 2021.”

In the meantime, the UK continues to discuss arrangements for the future exchange of UK driving licences without the need for Brits to have to sit a Spanish driving test, negotiations which have been ongoing since 2020.


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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?