BREXIT: Spain extends validity of UK driving licences until October 31st 2021

Spanish authorities have extended the validity of UK driving licences in Spain for an extra four months, giving more British drivers in Spain the opportunity to complete their exchange for a Spanish one in time or sit their Spanish driving test before the deadline. 

driving licence uk spain exchange
Photo: M.R./Unsplash

The Spanish government on Tuesday announced it would extend the validity of UK driving licences in Spain post Brexit until October 31st 2021 rather than the previous deadline of June 30th. 

The UK Embassy in Madrid shared the news on its Facebook page on Wednesday, saying: “We know that many of you have been anxious that the recognition of UK driving licences was set to end on June 30th. 

“We are pleased that the Spanish Government yesterday announced that UK licences will continue to be recognised until October 31st 2021 for those of you who were resident in Spain before December 31st 2020 – even if you did not get your residency document until after the end of the Transition Period. 

“This extension applies whether you registered your intention to exchange your licence with the DGT before December 30th 2020 or not. 

If you want to read the Spanish government’s announcement in English, click here

“Please note that if you arrived after January 1st 2021, your licence will only remain valid for six months from your arrival in Spain.

“This does not affect the current arrangements for driving licence exchange. 

“If you did not register to exchange your licence with the DGT before 30 December 2020 and wish to exchange your UK driving licence now, you would need to follow the DGT process for non-EU nationals, which includes taking a driving test. 

“However, negotiations are underway between the UK and Spanish Governments on arrangements for the future exchange of UK driving licences without the need for a practical test. As soon as we have further information on this we will share it here.” 


What does this really mean for British driving licence holders in Spain?

  • If you’re a resident who registered your intent to exchange your British licence for a Spanish one before December 30th 2020 but this exchange hasn’t been processed due to backlogs at Spain’s DGT traffic authority, you have more time to continue using your UK licence in Spain while the exchange is carried out. 

  • If you’re a beneficiary of the Withdrawal Agreement and you registered your intent for the licence exchange before December 30th but you haven’t received the carta de resolución for the new TIE card (results letter for approval of residency) which you need for the exchange, you also have more time to continue using your UK licence while both these processes are being completed.

  • If you’re a British licence holder who didn’t register your intention to exchange your licence for a Spanish one before the end of 2020, you have an extra three months during which to drive with your UK licence in Spain and take your Spanish driving test to be able to continue driving in Spain after the new deadline has passed. In essence, it gives you more time to plan ahead and avoid a limbo period where you can’t drive in Spain. 

“It’s good for those who only had until June 30th, but even so, if they hadn’t registered their intent to exchange before December 30th 2020, then unless there is another extension their UK licence ceases to be valid thereafter,” Anne Hernández, the head of rights group Brexpats in Spain, told The Local. 

“We hope it’s the start of things to come because to register intent one needed a NIE which those newbies awaiting their TIE residency card did not have so it rather discriminated against them.

“We must make this clear. All this announcement means is that Brits now have until October 31st to take their driving test. If they didn’t start the process before December 31st, they can’t exchange. 

“They’re still discussing arrangements for exchanges, but who knows if they’ll sign something before October 31st?

“We’re still hoping they agree to something eventually but we might end up with a series of three month extensions!

“At least it’s good news though that these UK drivers will not be driving illegally until November 1st.”

As mentioned earlier, the usual deadline for non-EU licence holders to be allowed to drive in Spain is six months from the day they arrive.

After half a year in Spain, they have to get a Spanish licence or they won’t be legally allowed to drive in the Spanish territory. But for Brits who are beneficiaries of the Withdrawal Agreement, their status is not considered non-EU.

“There are two types of British residents, Hernández told The Local.

“Those who are beneficiaries of the Withdrawal Agreement and those who are not, the latter are third country nationals and can drive for six months from the date of arrival on a UK licence. The residents with a TIE as beneficiaries can drive until October 31st.

Spanish authorities also announced in late May 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. 

“If the TIE beneficiaries pregistered before December 31st 2020, they have until December 31st 2021 to exchange, but can only drive until October 31st,” the Brexpats in Spain head concluded.


Member comments

  1. On the 20th December 2020, I called the registration line and was told it was all sorted and I would get a confirmation number via email.
    I never received that.
    I tried calling back and did get a few return messages, but on eventually getting through, the new call handler couldn’t find me on their system. Is there any way of checking whether the first call handler actually processed my registration?

  2. > The usual deadline for non-EU licence holders to be allowed to drive in Spain is
    > six months from the day that they arrive.

    Does this apply for each “day of arrival” if each stay is less than six months?

    > There are two types of British residents, Hernández told The Local.
    a) Those who are beneficiaries of the Withdrawal Agreement
    b) those who are not,

    Only SOME of those placed by Anne Hernandez in the second group are actual
    third country nationals – and so definitely limited to six months driving on a UK
    licence from the date of arrival in Spain.

    The situation still seems unclear for others in her second group who have a UK
    licence but are NOT “third country nationals”. These are people resident in UK
    and holding the nationality of a UK member state (thus having no restriction on
    their time in Spain as they hold EU citizenship). Under the residency tests of each
    of Spain and UK it is possible to be “ordinarily resident” in BOTH countries.

    Will the UK driving licences of this group be recognised in Spain with a new
    six-month allowance for each arrival, from UK or elsewhere, into Spain?

  3. “However, negotiations are underway between the UK and Spanish Governments on arrangements for the future exchange of UK driving licences without the need for a practical test. As soon as we have further information on this we will share it here.”

    .. and the band played believe it if you like!!!!!!

    .. Don’t hold your breath.

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INTERVIEW: The lawyers calling for a better visa for British homeowners in Spain

A group of lawyers is campaigning for a new visa which would allow non-resident British second-homeowners in Spain to freely enjoy their properties post-Brexit without having to show the high level of savings currently required.

INTERVIEW: The lawyers calling for a better visa for British homeowners in Spain

As most Britons are now fully aware of, since Brexit came into force, UK nationals who aren’t EU residents can only spend 90 days out of 180 days in Spain and the Schengen Area.

This has proven very problematic for Britons who own a second home in Spain who, when purchasing their Spanish properties, were under the impression they would always be able to split their time freely and flexibly between the UK and Spain without having to become Spanish residents (as long as they respected Spain’s residency and fiscal rules).

It used to be an ideal situation for these ‘part-year dwellers’, the best of both worlds some may argue, but the UK’s exit from the EU has complicated things enormously for them. 

Estimates based on Spanish government data suggest that in 2020 the number of Britons who owned property in Spain was anywhere between 800,000 and 1 million.

There are now 407,000 UK nationals who are residents in Spain in 2022, and although there is no exact data on the number of Britons who own or rent property long-term in Spain without being residents, it could easily be in the hundreds of thousands. 

READ ALSO: Is it true Britons are leaving Spain ‘in droves’ after Brexit as UK tabloids claims?

They are undoubtedly of great economic importance to some parts of Spain, as evidenced by the Valencian government’s announcement last November that they would push the national Tourism Ministry to make it easier for non-resident British nationals to spend more than 90 out of 180 days in the region without having to apply for a visa.

There hasn’t been a public update on this front since, but Spanish law firm Costaluz Lawyers has recently put the issue back on the table, proposing a new type of visa for British second-home owners. 

The Local Spain spoke to María Luisa Castro, the lawyer who’s been leading the campaign, to learn more about it.

“We propose a new visa that caters to British property buyers who want to live in Spain but don’t have the necessary funds for the current visa options,” Castro explained. 

“We’d like to make it very simple with just two main requirements. Firstly, applicants would have to show that they have owned a property in Spain for at least three years and secondly that they have proof of an income of at least €1,130 a month, roughly half the funds required for the non-lucrative visa”.

Castro also stressed that as part of this potential visa, applicants should have to fulfil conditions for health insurance and have a clean criminal record, a standard practice for most Spanish residence visas.

“But the main condition would be property ownership and sufficient funds,” Castro emphasized.

READ ALSO: What are the pros and cons of Spain’s non-lucrative visa?

The campaign calls on British second homeowners to sign a petition to get the Spanish government to listen to the proposal and meet demands.

“We need 500,000 signatures in order for the issue to be discussed by the Spanish government, but we are also gathering signatures to give these people a voice and create awareness. We hope to be able to lobby both the UK and the Spanish governments to start bilateral negotiations” she explained.

Castro believes that there is definitely a need for this type of visa, especially for Britons, who now have to deal with stricter rules and have fewer options since they became non-EU nationals after Brexit.

“There are thousands of British property owners in Spain who bought their properties many years ago as second homes, but also as a place for future retirement or for health reasons,” she said.  

Crucially, even though the petition states non-EU citizens, Castro believes that it should really only be made available to Britons.

“It is not simply the fact that they are homeowners that means they should be considered for a new type of visa, but the fact that they had full-time ownership rights in the past, which makes the current restriction a loss of acquired rights”.  

In other words, Castro argues that those from other non-EU countries bought properties in Spain knowing that they could only stay 90 days out of every 180, but those from the UK bought them on the basis that they would have greater flexibility in this regard.  

“We hope that a visa which requires proof of finances, plus the evidence of being a homeowner with a retirement plan in Spain will be sufficient,” she said.

Another lawyer, Fernando del Canto, from Del Canto Chambers law firm, has previously argued that ownership plus health and retirement associated rights are being infringed upon by the Schengen limitations as per the European Human Rights Convention (EHRC). “A bilateral or reciprocal agreement between the UK and Spain on this particular matter is needed,” he said. 

The EHRC states that “every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of their possessions. No one shall be deprived of their possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law”.

Judging by the above, it is open to interpretation as to whether it means that Britons’ rights are being infringed upon or not.

Nonetheless, Castro believes that the 90-day rule has had a huge negative impact on British non-resident homeowners and on Spain itself.

“We are frequently contacted by clients desperate to keep staying here for longer periods, as part of an acquired lifestyle and for health reasons. Now they need to explore the possibilities of the non-lucrative visa, which on many occasions, they cannot afford”. 

She believes there is a risk that Britons could stop buying in Spain, “particularly those who bought a property for retirement”, and that many of her British clients have already felt forced to sell their Spanish properties because of Brexit limitations.

READ ALSO: What worries British second home owners in Spain most about Brexit

Britons have historically accounted for the largest group of foreign property buyers in Spain. In 2018, they represented 24.3 percent of the market share. The figure dropped to 20 percent in 2019 and by late 2021 Germans had surpassed Britons as the main foreign buyers in Spain.

This however may have had more to do with Spain’s coronavirus restrictions for non-EU travellers and the UK’s own complex traffic-light system than only as a consequence of Brexit, as in early 2022 UK nationals were back at the top of the property podium again.

So despite the new setbacks, it appears that Spain is still an attractive location for budding British second-home owners, but perhaps more so now for those who can afford the golden visa or non-lucrative visa. 

But how likely is it that such legislation will be approved?

READ ALSO: Can Spain legally offer more than 90 days to Britons?

Castro firmly believes that the Spanish government will listen to foreign homeowners’ demands. “If we get a good number of signatures and the UK government is also lobbied, it will create awareness. Retired people are an increasing source of economic strength for our country.

“Currently, only those buying properties over €500,000 can apply for residency based on property purchase (through the golden visa). Other EU countries have lower financial thresholds”, she explained.

READ ALSO: What foreigners should be aware of before applying for Spain’s golden visa

Castro encourages second homeowners to do whatever they can to help this visa proposal become a reality, as well as signing the petition.

She advises them to make their voices heard through blog posts, newspaper articles and writing to local politicians.