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DRIVING IN SPAIN

British residents’ UK driving licences no longer valid in Spain

The British Embassy in Madrid has announced that the UK-issued driving licences of people who’ve been residents in Spain for more than six months will no longer be valid from May 1st 2022, adding that they will “rapidly accelerate talks” to find a solution but giving no further grace period to drivers left in limbo.

British residents' UK driving licences no longer valid in Spain
“Driving a vehicle without a valid licence is illegal in Spain,” the UK embassy in Madrid has told UK licence holders living in Spain who will not be able to drive from May 1st. (Photo by MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP)

UK Ambassador to Spain Hugh Elliott posted a last-minute announcement on Friday evening, just hours before the April 30th deadline for UK licence validity, confirming one of the worst case scenarios for British driving licence holders living in Spain. 

“We’re not there just yet. And we will not have reached an agreement in time for the end of the current grace period (April 30th),” Elliott said in the Facebook video post regarding the fact that Spanish and British authorities have still not been able to reach a deal over the mutual exchange of licences.

“What does this mean for you? It means that if you have been resident in Spain for longer than six months, your UK-issued licence will no longer be valid to drive here from May 1st (2022).”

So British driving licence holders who have been living in Spain for more than six months and did not manage to complete the exchange process yet in time, cannot drive in Spain with their UK licences from Sunday May 1st 2022.

“We know this will cause significant difficulties for those who have not yet been able to exchange their licence,” Elliott regretted. 

“I am relieved that most of you were able to exchange your licence as advised before the end of the transition period.”

There are no official stats on how many drivers will be affected by this, but with the latest British population stats in Spain pointing to 407,000 residents, it’s likely to be thousands.

“Driving a vehicle without a valid licence is illegal in Spain,” the UK Embassy stressed.

“If you are affected by this change and need to drive, you should not wait for the outcome of the negotiations and should take immediate steps to apply for a Spanish licence – as we have been advising for some time now.”

Spanish authorities have previously given UK driving licence holders four grace periods (of three or two months in length each), but there has been no further extension of UK licence validity granted this time.

So does this mean there is no deal and UK drivers residing in Spain will have to sit their driving exam again to get a Spanish licence?

It’s still unclear. According to the British ambassador, Spanish and British authorities have “agreed to rapidly accelerate talks next week in the hope of reaching an agreement soon as we already have in almost every other EU Member State”.

READ ALSO: Driving licences – How does situation for Britons in Spain compare to rest of Europe?

“You can be assured we are doing all we can to secure a long-term solution swifty,” Elliott concluded. 

The UK Embassy in Madrid reminded viewers that this does not affect visiting motorists from the UK or Gibraltar or UK licence holders who have recently moved to Spain, or British tourists visiting Spain. You have six months from the date you get your residence document to take a Spanish test.

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 (some need an international driving permit from the very beginning, not Brits). 

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

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

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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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