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DRIVING

UK introduces new car sticker requirement for driving in Spain

There have been a lot of big changes in travel between Spain and the UK since the end of the Brexit transition period, but now the UK has introduced another - a new sticker requirement for British drivers.

UK introduces new car sticker requirement for driving in Spain
Photo: Denis Charlet/AFP

If you intend to drive your British vehicle in Spain – or anywhere else in the EU – you will now need a “UK” sticker on your car.

This replaces the GB sticker or magnet that was previously needed when driving abroad, and the UK government guidance states: “If you have a GB sticker, cover or remove it.”

The new rule will come into effect on September 28th, 2021 for British registered cars driving in the EU, with the exception of Ireland, which does not require a sticker or magnet.

The UK government specifies: “You will need to display a UK sticker clearly on the rear of your vehicle if your number plate has any of the following:

  • a GB identifier with the Union flag (also known as the Union Jack)
  • a Euro symbol
  • a national flag of England, Scotland or Wales
  • numbers and letters only – no flag or identifier

“If your number plate includes the UK identifier with the Union flag (also known as the Union Jack), you do not need a UK sticker.

“If you’re in Spain, Cyprus or Malta, you must display a UK sticker no matter what is on your number plate.”

A screenshot of the UK government’s webpage on number plates.

The British government has also registered UK – rather than GB – as its new international symbol for traffic.

The UN said it had received “a notification stating that the United Kingdom is changing the distinguishing sign that it had previously selected for display in international traffic on vehicles registered in the United Kingdom, from ‘GB’ to ‘UK’”.

No official explanation has been given for the change and The Local has asked the UK’s Department of Transport to explain the switch.

The difference between Great Britain and the UK is the inclusion of Northern Ireland – GB refers only to England, Scotland and Wales while UK includes England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The new UK stickers will be available online, and in post offices and garages for around £1.50 (€1.75).

Clearly displaying the country of origin of your vehicle is an international requirement and if you are stopped by Spanish police without one you can be issued with an on-the-spot fine (although it’s unclear how bothered Spanish police will be about the intricacies of UK vs GB).

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BREXIT

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?

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