For members


Which tourists need an international driving permit to drive in Spain?

If you’re travelling in Spain as a tourist and want to be able to drive here, then you'll want to know if you require an international driving permit to do so. Read on to find out if you need one, depending on where your licence is from.

international driving permit spain (1)
Do you need an IDP for Spain? Photo: Rudy and Peter Skitterians / Pixabay

An International Driving Permit or IDP is a translation of your original licence from your home country, proving to the relevant authorities that you can drive and which vehicles you are able to drive.

Because the permit is simply a translation of details, you will not be required to take any type of practical or written tests to obtain it. In Spain, the IDP is valid for 12 months.

The Director General de Tráfico or DGT stresses the IDP is a complementary permit and that if you use one, you always have to have your foreign driving license and your passport with you in order for it to be valid.

But who needs to apply for an IDP and who can just use their foreign license on its own?

Tourists from EU countries

According to the DGT, drivers with licences from EU or EEA countries do not need an IDP. If travelling around and driving in Spain, those from the EU or EEA can just continue to use their normal license here.

If you are in Spain for more than six months however, you should technically exchange your licence for a Spanish one.

Non-EU countries

The DGT recommends that all tourists from third countries who want to drive in Spain apply for an IDP before they arrive, but do stress there are exceptions.

If you have a licence from a country where your licence is written in Spanish, such as most South and Central American countries, you will not need an IDP.

You will also not need an IDP if your licence is from a country that was issued in accordance with Annex 9 of the Geneva Convention or with Annex 6 of the Vienna Convention.

This includes the vast majority of countries in Europe, many African and Asian nations but unfortunately not English-speaking nations such as the United States, Canada, New Zealand or Australia. You can check the full list of countries that don’t need an IDP here. If your driving licence was issued in a country that’s not on the list, then you technically need to get an IDP.

It’s also worth noting that while the permit is valid for one year, you can only use it for a maximum period of six months at a time, since you should not be using it if you reside in Spain.

If six months has elapsed and you are still in Spain, you should exchange your driving licence for an equivalent Spanish one, or if this is not possible, then get a new Spanish licence.

There are a few exceptions, however.

Tourists from the UK

According to the British government website, tourists who hold a valid British licence do not need an international driving permit to drive in Spain. 

But, if you only have a paper driving licence or your licence was issued in Gibraltar, Guernsey, Jersey or the Isle of Man, then you may need to apply for one.

Tourists from the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

As mentioned earlier, American, Canadian, Australian and New Zealander tourists in Spain do technically require an IDP if they wish to drive in Spain during their stay.

The US government website confirms that “citizens visiting Spain who want to drive in here must obtain an international driving permit prior to their arrival in Spain”.

The Canadian government states that “Canadian travellers may drive during their visit in Spain if they hold a valid Canadian provincial driver’s licence and an International Driver’s Permit (IDP). To obtain an IDP, contact your local Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) office or visit the CAA website”.

And according to the Australian Embassy in Spain, “Under Spanish law, Australians on a 90 day Schengen Visa may drive a vehicle in Spain if they hold a: valid Australian State or Territory Driving Licence and valid International Driver’s Licence. To obtain an International Driver’s license contact your relevant State or Territory Automobile Club, such as the NRMA, RACV, RACQ etc”.

Reality and consequences

As often happens in Spain, what is the law in theory doesn’t always apply in practice or is up to the individual’s intepretation of the rules. 

Some car rental companies will not rent you a vehicle if your licence is from a country where you need to have an IDP to drive in Spain. However, many other rental companies will have no issue at all with renting a car out to you, so it could be just a case of asking around. 

Likewise, Spanish Civil Guard or National police will not necessarily ask you for an IDP either if they stop you, which is pretty unlikely in the first unless you’ve committed a driving offence or they’re carrying out random road checks.

Could you be required to have an International Driving Permit by a Spanish police officer? Yes, it is possible, and depending on their interpretation of the infraction it could result in a fine or your vehicle being confiscated. But in the majority of cases, Spanish police will be willing to turn a blind eye to minor infractions committed by tourists.

Some foreigners on online forums have commented that it felt like an unnecessary money-making scheme to need an IDP for Spain, whilst other tourists who were pulled over by traffic cops in Spain commented that they should have had one.

Our advice is that it’s still worth going to the trouble of getting an IDP if you’re required to have on, just in case. 

If your licence isn’t in English or in a Roman alphabet language, the chances of you being asked for an IDP are likely to be higher. 

READ ALSO: What you need to know about getting an IDP in Spain for travel overseas

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


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?