Brexit For Members

OPINION: Not all Brits in Spain who didn't exchange UK driving licences are at fault

Anne Hernández MBE, Brexpats in Spain
Anne Hernández MBE, Brexpats in Spain - [email protected]
OPINION: Not all Brits in Spain who didn't exchange UK driving licences are at fault
Some British residents here have been misadvised and, looking for loopholes, believe that their International Driving Permit will cover them. It does not, warns Anne Hernández. Photo: TravelPriceWatch/Unsplash

Brexpats in Spain head Anne Hernández, who has helped hundreds of Britons in Spain get their UK licences exchanged for Spanish ones, explains how bureaucratic setbacks have prevented many from exchanging and why UK nationals should avoid so-called loopholes to continue driving in Spain.


It is easy to criticise the latest developments regarding the UK driving licences of British residents in Spain.

I have heard plenty of comments of the sort of ‘you’ve had six years to exchange it’ or ‘why is Spain doing this to us?’.

READ MORE: British residents' UK driving licences no longer valid in Spain

All in all, it is quite unfair to pass such comments without understanding the personal circumstances of those who have still been unable to exchange their UK licence.


Firstly, not all Britons living in Spain have been here since before the Brexit vote in 2016. 

Many applied for residency post 2020 and some residence applications have been unexpectedly rejected, thereby delaying the licence exchange application. 

There are UK licence holders whose licence renewal invalidated their initial application for an exchange to a Spanish licence, as they were given a different issue number.

And admittedly, there are those that have rested their hopes on the British authorities reaching a deal with Spain and not taken the advice of the UK Embassy in Madrid vis-a-vis registering intent to exchange or preparing to take a driving test in Spain.

Before December 30th 2020, a British resident here could register their intention to exchange and were given one year to do so. 

They needed an NIE to register which some did not have because they were still in the throes of applying for their residencias or because they had not arrived here before then. 

After the UK left the EU, the Spanish Royal Decree 38/2020 legally extended permission for British residents to drive until April 30th 2022.

And they can still exchange provided they registered their intention before December 30th 2020 and the UK validated their licence before January 1st 2021.


Otherwise the UK driving licence for British residents here ceases to be valid after six months from date of arrival or from the date of obtaining residencia


This includes but is not limited to the USA, Canada, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, Africa, South America, Iceland, Greenland, and third countries of which the UK is now in the same category. 

Spain and the DGT have changed nothing in their laws and rules, except as an act of goodwill during the Covid lockdown extending the period to use UK licences thereby allowing the applicant time to pass a theory and practical driving test. The theory test can be done in English but the practical is in Spanish. 

With the vast number who will be needing to take their test, I rather envisage there will be long waiting lists at the driving schools where the theory tests have to be done and passed before the practical can be applied for, so it will not be a quick fix.

Knowing how inconvenient the loss of one’s driving licence can be, some British residents here have been misadvised and, looking for loopholes, believe that their International Driving Permit will cover them, it does not. 

The IDP is not a stand-alone document, it has to accompany a valid driving licence. 

Others think that by renting a Spanish car they are covered, they are not. 

Others, I don’t doubt, will be surprised when they are caught driving their vehicle without a valid driving licence which not only invalidates the insurance but can carry a fine of up to €6,000 and potentially a 6 month prison sentence in the worst cases.

The recent update from the British Embassy came on April 29th but there is really nothing to update. 

The negotiations have been ongoing for some time and we are assured will continue to try to bring a successful conclusion. 

However, if the use of your vehicle is imperative, they are recommending you apply for your Spanish driving licence tests and not wait for the outcome of the negotiations.

This does not affect visiting, tourist motorists or those sent here to work on a temporary basis from the UK. Visitors to Spain are able to use a UK licence for up to six months from the date of entry, without the need for an IDP.

READ ALSO: Which tourists need an international driving permit in Spain?

One word of warning, if you are not a resident but are on the padrón, we recommend you deregister if driving your UK plated vehicle here because being on the padrón is equivalent to being a quasi resident and you are not permitted to drive a non Spanish plated vehicle if you are a resident. 

We have dealt with cases where the vehicle was impounded and big fines imposed.

READ MORE: What will the driving test for UK licence holders consist of and why are negotiations taking so long?


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andy_bonar 2022/05/06 13:27
At last, an article that shows up the holier than thou evangelists for what they are and finally points out what a lot of us have been saying.. 'Many were not able to transfer to a Spanish licence prior to the cut off date because we hadn't moved in time and got our NIE and residencia etc. etc. etc. Kindly don't tar all of us with the same brush.

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