UK Embassy asks Spain to extend British driving licence validity again

The UK ambassador to Spain on Tuesday said he had requested another extension to the validity of UK licences in Spain past the looming December 31st deadline, adding that “negotiations are progressing” regarding a licence exchange deal.

uk driving licence exchange spain
This is the third extension UK authorities request from the Spanish government for the validity of UK driving licences in Spain. Photo: Michal Jarmoluk/Pixabay. Insert:

UK Ambassador in Spain Hugh Elliott on Tuesday took to the Embassy’s Facebook Page ‘Brits in Spain’ to offer the latest update for UK licence holders. 

“I know you’ve been really concerned about whether you will continue to be able to drive using your UK driving licence in Spain beyond the end of this year,” Elliott said in the video message.

“As I have said in the past, the UK government that includes our team here at the embassy, have been working really hard to reach an agreement with Spain so that you, residents here, can exchange your UK driving licences without taking a test.”

A deal between Spanish and British authorities could also potentially enable anyone who didn’t register their intent to exchange their UK licence for a Spanish one before December 30th 2020 to carry out the exchange anyway.

It is unclear yet if any future agreement would be beneficial just to British residents who are protected under the Withdrawal Agreement or other UK licence holders who have moved or will move to Spain to become residents since Brexit came into force on January 1st 2021.

“Now, those negotiations are progressing but they haven’t yet reached a conclusion,” the British ambassador in Madrid stressed. 

“So what we’ve done is to ask the Spanish government for an extension to the current December 31st 2021 deadline. 

“That’s in order for you to be able to continue to drive on your UK driving licence here in Spain in the new year.

If granted, this will be the third extension Spain gives British licence holders since Brexit meant their UK-issued documents became unrecognised by the common EU framework, the first extension being announced in June 2021 and the second one in October.

“I’m expecting them to grant this extension before the end of the year,” Elliott said confidently. 

A third extension would give UK licence holders who reside in Spain and registered their intent to exchange more time to do so at Spain’s often-overburdened DGT traffic authority; and for those who didn’t register their intent, more time to drive legally in Spain and potentially sit their Spanish driving test as a safeguard.

“This is a message for British citizens resident in Spain and for other residents driving with a UK driving licence, and I know that does include some Spaniards,” Elliott highlighted.

“Many of you have also rightly pointed out that Spaniards resident in the UK are able to exchange their Spanish licence for a UK one without taking a practical test”. 

After a long wait for answers, UK licence holders in Spain are now hoping that a reciprocal agreement can finally be reached to solve this Brexit-induced obstacle.

Unless Spain has a bilateral agreement with a third country for the recognition and exchange of licences, most non-EU driving licence holders have six months from their arrival in Spain to use their foreign licences.

After that, they have to sit theory and practical tests and get a Spanish licence from scratch.

This doesn’t apply to British tourists with UK licences visiting Spain who are for example renting a car during their holidays. The issues affect UK licence holders who are residents in Spain.

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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?