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DRIVING IN SPAIN

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.

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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

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For members

DRIVING IN SPAIN

Driving in Spain: Getting your driving licence when you already have one

South African in Spain Melissa Booyens, who recently passed her Spanish driving test despite having had a licence from her home country for 14 years, offers her tips to others in the same situation, talks costs and tells us about the pros and cons to expect.

Driving in Spain: Getting your driving licence when you already have one

Starting my life in Spain as a non-EU national came with its own set of complications and bureaucracy that EU nationals are fortunate enough to not usually experience. 

With many official processes, I’ve learned that if your home country doesn’t have an “agreement” with Spain on certain matters, it means you have to start from scratch with it.

This is often the case with driving licences. Except for a handful of non-EU countries, most non-EU nationals cannot simply exchange their driver’s licence for a Spanish one but rather need to resit their theory and practical driving exams.

READ ALSO: Who can exchange their licence and who has to resit the exam?

As a South African licence holder, my driver’s licence needed to be changed for a Spanish one after six months of residency in Spain. 

It’s frustrating knowing that no matter how much experience you have driving (I got my licence when I was 18 and have driven regularly ever since), your licence won’t be valid here after a certain period of residency. 

But it’s just one of those things in life where you have to bite the bullet and get on with it. 

After a few months of studying and practical classes, I can now proudly say that I’m a Spanish licence holder. Fortunately, I managed to pass the theory and practical exam the first time round. 

I know there are plenty more foreigners in Spain who are in the same boat as I was, not least the UK licence holders who are now not sure whether they will have to resit their driving exams.

So I’d like to share some tips for foreign drivers who have to get their licences again in Spain, as well as give a breakdown of some of the conclusions I’ve drawn from my experience of doing it and passing.

 

The positives

You familiarise yourself with the road rules and signs of Spain

This may seem unnecessary since a lot of road signs are internationally understood, but there seems to be a few that are different and come with their own sets of rules.

You get to better understand the roads in the place where you live in Spain

It may seem silly, but each country and city even has its own eccentricities in terms of road structures and rules. 

Here in Tenerife, there are certain areas where the roads seem put together randomly and then sprinkled with road signs and warnings. It doesn’t always make sense as to why they chose to do it that way, and as a foreign driver you may misunderstand them (because who wouldn’t?).

 

You improve your Spanish

I chose to do the theory test in Spanish (you can also do it in English) and felt it helped my Spanish improve to a certain extent. 

As a result, I also understood my driving instructor better during practicals as I knew the names of the manoeuvres and actions in Spanish already. 

As you probably know, you have to do your practical driving exam in Spanish, and I felt that thanks to that linguistic prep, I could understand the examiner far better during the exam, even though he was sitting behind me and his voice was slightly muffled as he was wearing a mask.

READ ALSO: The essential Spanish you need to pass your practical test

 

 

The negatives 

You spend a lot of money

Based on my experiences, getting a licence in Spain requires a fairly big financial investment, even if you’re a seasoned driver. 

When you work with a Spanish driving school (which you sort of have to if you want to understand the DGT’s complicated MO), it comes with some extra expenses but the process of getting a driving licence in itself is already expensive.

There’s the matrícula (the registration) which is €50, the tasas de tráfico – €93,12 and the processing fee – €35 which you pay all before taking your first theory test. 

You can use the DGT website to do practice exams, but that login expires after 30 days and from there you have to pay €5 every time to use it for another 30 days.

You have two opportunities to pass the theory exam. If you don’t pass it on the third, you have to pay your tasas again.

When you pass your theory exam, you can start thinking about your practical lessons. On average a driving class costs around €25,50 for 45 minutes. 

Unfortunately, you are forced to book double sessions because the areas where the exams take place are usually on the outskirts of the city, so driving there and back already costs you half an hour of your precious 45 minutes.

All in all, I spent €459 on classes. Admittedly, I probably did more classes than necessary because I didn’t have the correct strategy from the start (I have a tip on how to do fewer classes further down).

That brought me to a total of €647, which did feel like an unnecessarily high expense for something that I already had.

READ MORE: How much does it cost to get your driving licence in Spain?

 

Driving schools want you to do as many classes as possible

How many driving lessons you do is up to you and your instructor but you may they discourage you from taking too few classes. 

They seem to always say that the roads are tricky, that you have to be ready for the exam, that you have to do at least a certain number of classes, even though you already know how to drive.

There is no minimum amount of classes that you have to do. And ultimately you can decide on how many classes you want and ask to do your exam.

 

You have to put the L square in your car

Your driving school will tell you after you pass your practical exam that you have to put the “L” sign in the back window of your car for a year to indicate that you are a new driver. This doesn’t seem fair or to make sense considering your driving experience, but there you have it.

 

My tips for passing your Spanish driving test

  • Instead of studying the DGT rule book, start practising exams directly on the DGT website. You can look up doubts in the book from there, but ultimately it is a big waste of time to study the theory first, and the theory exam is based on the questions in the practice exams anyway.

  • If your Spanish is reasonably good, do the theory in Spanish. It will help you understand your instructor and examiner better and overall give you more confidence in the practical test. I’ve also read that the translation into English of the theory exam isn’t always clear.

  • Don’t make the same mistake that I did and take a few classes a month in an unorganised fashion. Take one or two classes to familiarise yourself with your instructor and the roads. Then, ask for an exam date a month in advance. From there you can plan to have some intensive classes in the weeks right before the exam to learn the exact routes and areas where the exam takes place. It will also be fresher in your mind right before the practical exam.
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