For members


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

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.

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

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READ MORE: British residents’ UK driving licences no longer valid in Spain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

Member comments

  1. 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.

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


What is the latest on Gibraltar’s Brexit status?

With 2023 approaching and negotiations between Gibraltar, the UK, EU and Spain dragging on for yet another year, what is the latest on Gibraltar and Brexit? Will they reach a deal before New Year and how could it affect life in Gibraltar and Spain?

What is the latest on Gibraltar's Brexit status?

As British politics tries to move on from Brexit, the tiny British territory at the southern tip of Spain, Gibraltar, has been stuck in political limbo since the referendum all the way back in 2016.

Gibraltar, which voted in favour of Remain during the referendum by a whopping 96 percent, was not included in the Brexit deal and has instead relied on a framework agreement made between the UK and Spain on New Year’s Eve in 2020.

After that framework was laid out, it was hoped that the various parties – that is, the Gibraltarian government, Spain, the EU, and the UK – would build on it and quickly find a wider treaty agreement establishing Gibraltar’s place on the European mainland in the post-Brexit world.

It was thought that Gibraltar could enter into a common travel area with the Schengen zone, limiting border controls and essentially creating a custom-made customs arrangement with the EU.

But since then, the negotiation process has stopped and started, with no deal being made and uncertainty dragging on through 2021.

Despite all parties still being relatively optimistic in the spring of 2022, no resolution has been found and 2023 is approaching.

Relying on the framework agreement alone, uncertainty about what exactly the rules are and how they should be implemented have caused confusion and long delays on the border.

The roadblocks

Progress in the multi-faceted negotiations to bash out a treaty and determine Gibraltar’s place in the post-Brexit world have repeatedly stumbled over the same roadblocks.

The main one is the issue of the border. Known in Spain and Gibraltar as La Línea – meaning ‘the line’ in reference to the Spanish town directly across the border, La Línea de la Concepción – the subject of the border and who exactly will patrol it (and on which side) has been a constant sticking point in negotiations.

Madrid and Brussels have approached the British government with a proposal for removing the border fence between Spain and Gibraltar in order to ease freedom of movement, Spain’s Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares said in late November 2022. There has been no immediate response from London.

The Gibraltarians refuse to accept Spanish boots on the ground and would prefer the European-wide Frontex border force. The British government feel this would be an impingement on British sovereignty. There’s also been the persistent issues of VAT and corporation tax considerations, as well as the British Navy base and how to police the waters around it.

Though there had been reports that the ongoing British driving license in Spain fiasco had been one of the reasons negotiations had stalled, the British ambassador to Spain Hugh Elliot categorically denied any connection between the issue of Gibraltar’s Brexit deal and British driving licence recognition earlier in November.

READ ALSO: CONFIRMED: Deal on UK licences in Spain agreed but still no exchange date

On different pages?

Not only do the long-standing sticking points remain, but it also seems that the various negotiating parties are on slightly different pages with regards to how exactly each seems to think the negotiations are going.

Judging by reports in the Spanish press in recent weeks, it appears that many in Spain may believe the negotiations are wrapping up and a conclusion could be found by New Year. This perception comes largely from comments made by Pascual Navarro, Spain’s State Secretary to the EU. Speaking to reporters in Brussels, Navarro claimed that negotiations have advanced so well that they were now only working ‘on the commas’ of the text – that is to say, tidying it up.

According to Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, though negotiations are ongoing, “we’re not there yet”. (Photo: JORGE GUERRERO/AFP)

“No issue that is blocked,” he said. “All of the text is on the table.” A full treaty, he suggested, could be signed “before the end of the year.”

Yet it seems the Gibraltarians don’t quite see the progress as positively as their neighbours. Last week the Gibraltar government, known as No.6, acknowledged Navarro’s optimism.

According to Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo however, though negotiations are ongoing, “we’re not there yet”.

No.6 remains positive and hopes for a deal, but in recent weeks has also published technical contingency plans for businesses to prepare for what they are calling a ‘Non-Negotiated Outcome’ – effectively a ‘no-deal’ in normal Brexit jargon.

The UK, however, seem to be somewhere in the middle. Like Navarro, the British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly recently suggested at a House of Commons select committee that only “a relatively small number” of issues remain to be resolved.

However, he also acknowledged the possibility of a non-negotiated outcome. “I think it’s legitimate to look at that [planning for a non-negotiated outcome] as part of our thinking,” Mr Cleverly said. “But obviously we are trying to avoid an NNO.”

Election year

If no deal is found by New Year, that would mean that negotiations drag into 2023 – election years for both Picardo and Pedro Sánchez, Spain’s Prime Minister.

Gibraltar is expected to have elections sometime in the second-half of the year, and Sánchez has to call an election by the end of 2023.

In many ways, Spanish domestic politics has the potential to play a far greater role in Gibraltar’s fate than British politics. In fact, the shadow of Spanish politics looms over these negotiations and the future relationship between Spain and Gibraltar, the UK and Spain, and the UK and EU.

If Sánchez’s PSOE were to lose the election, which according to the latest polling data is the most probable outcome, then it would be likely that Spain’s centre-right party PP would seek to renegotiate, if not outright reject, any deal made.

READ ALSO: Who will win Spain’s 2023 election – Sánchez or Feijóo?

If PP are unable to secure a ruling majority, however, they may well be forced to rely on the far-right party Vox, who have often used nationalist anti-Gibraltar rhetoric as a political weapon. If Vox were to enter into government, which is unlikely but a possibility, it’s safe to say any agreement – if one is even reached before then – would be torn up and the Spanish government would take a much harder line in negotiations.

As the consequences of Brexit churn on in Britain, in Gibraltar uncertainty looms.