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Driving licences: UK ambassador says hold up could be resolved 'in coming weeks'

Alex Dunham
Alex Dunham - [email protected]
Driving licences: UK ambassador says hold up could be resolved 'in coming weeks'
The wait for a licence exchange agreement is proving very troublesome for people in rural areas, those with mobility difficulties and others who need a car for daily life. Photo: Andreas Strandman/Unsplash

The UK Embassy in Spain on Friday laid out some useful information but gave no estimated date for the long-awaited deal on the exchange of UK driving licences. However, Ambassador Hugh Elliott said the hold-up could be solved “in the coming weeks”.

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On Friday October 14th, the British Embassy in Madrid published its latest update on the driving licence debacle which has kept an unnamed number of UK licence holders living in Spain off the roads since May 1st.

More than five months since that date, Spanish and British authorities are still unable to reach an agreement during negotiations that have lingered on for at least two years now.

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The latest ‘news’ included in Friday’s Facebook post is that “Ministers raised the issue again with their Spanish counterparts during our annual UK/Spain “Tertulias” summit last weekend in Oxford and we have continued to make progress on the outstanding points this week”. 

But there was still no exact date or rough timescale provided to give affected drivers an idea of when they can drive again in Spain, a situation which is proving very troublesome for people in rural areas, those with mobility difficulties and others who need a car for daily life.

However, in an interview with Spanish daily El Periódico de España published on the same day, UK Ambassador Hugh Elliott stated “I trust that in the coming weeks we’ll be able to resolve the remaining problems”. 

It was also the first time that Elliott gave an estimate of how many people may be affected by the driving licences debacle: “It’s a very unfortunate situation, with thousands of British residents in Spain who are currently unable to drive.”

On the embassy’s Facebook page, the reactions to the post have been mixed, with some calling for a “proper update” or for the embassy to be more candid about the reasons for the hold-up and a timescale.

“We appreciate you would like to understand exactly what the hold-up is, but as we have said before, there are some details we cannot go into, as that could risk derailing the negotiations – which is the last thing that any of us want,” the UK Embassy stressed.

The UK Embassy in Spain did mention that they will be “meeting one of the groups specifically lobbying on this issue to discuss their, and your, concerns”. 

This is the “Invasion of the British embassy in Madrid for the DL exchange issue” group, whose head Pascal Siegmund is due to sit down with Hugh Elliott along with three other members of the group on October 18th.

The rest of the British Embassy’s Facebook post was made up of a Q&A confirming certain information and providing extra detail with regards to doubts such as how the exchange agreement would become legislation, who the deal will cover, appointment availability for licence exchanges and other matters. We’ve included it word for word below.

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Note that the UK Embassy isn't suggesting the deal isn’t 100 percent certain anymore, nor recommended that people who need to drive take their Spanish driving test rather than wait. 

That doesn’t mean that they won’t change their rhetoric, they have done so previously, but it does seem that as things stand it’s more a case of when rather than if there will be an agreement for the exchange of UK licences into Spanish ones.

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What happens once the agreement is final?

“Once the negotiation teams have agreed on the text, it will then go forward for final legal and political approvals. On the Spanish side, this means going through the ‘Consejo de Ministros’ (Spanish Cabinet). On the UK side, it will be approved by relevant Ministers.

Then it will be published in the BOE (state bulletin) and should come into force the same day. You will then have six months to exchange your UK licence for a Spanish one (without having to take a test) and during that time you will be able to drive using your valid UK licence.” 

Will the agreement only apply to those who were here before the end of 2020 and registered their intent to exchange? 

No. The agreement will apply to anyone holding a UK licence, whether they were here before the end of 2020 or whether they move here in the future.

Will there be enough appointments within that six months? 

It will be for the Spanish Government to administer the process and ensure the provision of appointments. This is something we have raised throughout negotiations and Spain is conscious of the potential number of UK nationals who may need to exchange during the six-month window. 

We would encourage you to get an appointment as soon as you can and not leave it until the last minute, remembering that you do not have to exchange in the town/region where you are resident if there is greater availability elsewhere. 

Do I have to complete the exchange process within six months of the agreement coming into effect?  

No, but you will only be able to drive on your UK licence during this six-month window. After that, you can complete the exchange, but will not be able to drive on your UK licence while you are waiting to do so. 

My UK licence has expired. Will I still be able to get a Spanish licence without taking a test? 

The fact that some people’s licences have expired, or are about to, has been taken into account by the negotiating team. Expired licences shall be accepted provided that they were valid at the time that the licence holder entered Spain.

I renewed my UK licence with the DVLA when I was already resident in Spain. Can I still exchange it without taking a test? 

All valid UK licences issued prior to this Agreement entering into force can be exchanged. However, you should not renew your UK licence with the DVLA if you are no longer resident in the UK. 

Once the Agreement is in place, you must not try to renew a UK licence with the UK authorities if you are resident in Spain. If you do so, you will not be able to exchange it for a Spanish one.

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