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Getting a Valid Driver’s License in Spain

Driving in Spain can be quite the adventure and getting your driver’s license in Spain is a whole other type of adventure in and of itself.

Fasten your seatbelt and get ready to ride through some of the essential steps with me.

Step 1 – Understanding Who Can Legally Drive In Spain

The legal driving age in Spain is 18 years old. Those who are under 18 cannot drive legally in Spain, even if they hold a legal license from their home country.

(Sorry young US citizen – you may be able to drive at 16 back home but not here.)

Anyone over the age of 18 who has their own valid national driver’s license from their home country can continue to drive a car in Spain legally for either the first six months after gaining their official residency (for non-EU/EEA citizens) or for the first two years of residence (for EU/EEA nationals).

After that initial grace period your adventure in Spanish bureaucracy will begin.

Step 2 – Following Your Legal Process According To Your Specific Situation:

If you are an EU/EEA citizen (plus Iceland, Norway and Lichtenstein) who is a legal resident in Spain, you’ll have to obtain a Spanish driver’s license either by exchanging your foreign license or renewing your foreign license.

You can legally drive in Spain using your existing driver’s license for the first two years of residence in Spain, although – important! – after six months you must register your details with the traffic authorities. You can do this at your Registro Central de Conductores e Infractores of the Provincial Traffic Headquarters (Jefatura Provincial de Tráfico).

Once you’ve registered you’ll need to take a medical examination at a Centro de Reconocimiento de Conductores Autorizado.

You must adhere to the same conditions as Spanish license holders. This includes:

  • Undertaking any necessary/required medical checks.
  • Renewing or exchanging the license after the first two years’ residence in Spain. If an EU license is renewed in Spain it effectively converts it into a Spanish EU license, which then needs to be renewed every 10 years up to the age of 65, and every five years after 65.

If you don’t obtain a driver’s license in Spain after two years of residency and are caught driving, you can face a fine of approximately €200.

In order to exchange your EU/EEA license to that of a Spanish driver’s license you’ll need to go to the Provincial Traffic Headquarters. You’ll need to have the following documents with you to be processed:

  • Application form
  • Valid passport or national identity card
  • Proof of residence (Certificate of Registration in the Central Aliens Register, i.e. your NIE number or Número de Identificación de Extranjero or Empadronamiento)
  • Valid driver’s license to be exchanged in Spain (original and photocopy)
  • Two recent photographs (32x25mm)
  • Declaration in writing that you haven’t been banned or suspended from driving
  • Declaration in writing that you don’t hold another driver’s license of the same class in another country.

In other words, if you are an EU/EEA citizen your process is a lot more simplified and with a lot longer grace period than that of any Non-EU/EEA citizen. Live it up while you can and know that you’re saving a lot of time, money and energy in NOT having to take the Spanish driving test.

***As for any UK citizen who is currently looking for information related to how Brexit could/would affect their driver’s license in Spain – I would recommend staying up-to-date via the GOV.UK website.

For any Non-EU/EEA citizens (like myself) you’ll need to get you driver’s license in Spain by either exchanging your foreign license if your country has an agreement with Spain (lucky!) or you’ll be required to take a Spanish driving license test (like myself). This includes the theoretical (written) test and the practical test as well.

All Non-EU/EEA citizens may legally drive in Spain using your existing foreign driver’s license for up to six months after you’ve received your residency in Spain. If your foreign license is not in Spanish, you must always carry an official translation or an International Driving Permit (IDP) which is only valid for one year and must be applied for outside of Spain in your home country.

While waiting for your residency to be approved you may legally drive using your existing foreign driver’s license for up to one year as long as you have your IDP on hand with your legal license from your home country.

So who are some of these lucky 20 some-odd nationalities who can just exchange their license over to a Spanish one?

Citizens of Algeria, Andorra, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Dominical Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Japan, Korea, Macedonia, Morocco, Nicaragua, Peru, Panama, Paraguay, Philippines, Serbia, Switzerland, Turkey, Tunisia, Ukraine, Uruguay and Venezuela

Be sure to always check with your home country’s consulate in Spain or the Spanish traffic authority as agreements between countries are always changing.

Diplomats and international staff can also exchange their license regardless of their nationality – contact the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for more information.

In general, in order to exchange your Non-EU/EEA license you’ll need the following forms to be processed (*some countries may need extra translations or forms from their consulate/embassy – make sure to always double check):

  • application form
  • valid national identity card or passport (original)
  • residence permit, identity card or foreign passport, along with the Certificate of Registration in the Central Register of Foreigners for EU foreigners or residence permit for non-EU: original effect. Valid residence card.
  • Medical fitness report from a recognized medical center (such as the Authorised Drivers’ Check Centre (Centro de Reconocimiento de Conductores Autorizado)
  • valid driver’s license to be exchanged (original and photocopy)
  • two recent photographs (32x25mm)
  • declaration in writing that you haven’t been banned or suspended from driving
  • declaration in writing that you don’t hold another driver’s license of the same class issued by another EU country.

Once again, your process is a lot more simplified than that of any Non-EU/EEA citizen who’s country doesn’t have an agreement regarding this legal process. Live it up while you can and know that you’re saving a lot of time, money and energy in NOT having to take the Spanish Driving Test.

Alrighty, we have now come to the highlight of this article – The Spanish Driving Test!

Step 3 – The Spanish Driving Test:

It may be frustrating for many Non-EU/EEA citizens having to go through it all again to get a driver’s license in Spain – if they have a license and experience driving in their home country. It’s even more frustrating when you realize that most Spanish drivers do whatever the hell they want and only follow about 60% of the rules in the written and practical tests.

What’s my advice? Just bite your tongue and push through it and get it done. This is the land of “titulitis” and bureaucracy as well as “no pasa nada.” It is what it is, sadly. But I had a great practical training teacher and am grateful for the training I received from both tests in the end.

I am originally from the US and am sadly from the generation that never learned how to drive a manual car. I am extremely grateful that I not only learned another skill but that I also pushed myself and was able to learn it in Spanish (¡toma ya!).

There are options in Spain – depending on where you live – to get your tests done in English (or a variety of other languages) as well as taking the Practical Test with an Automatic car only.

  • *Note – if you take the exam with an automatic car, you’ll legally only be able to drive an automatic car in Spain.

You must apply to take the tests at the Provincial Traffic Headquarters (Jefatura Provincial de Tráfico)Most people end up going through an Autoescuela (Offical Driving School) who will do all of this for you including signing you up for all of the necessary tests as well as providing you with the necessary supplies which will all be included in whatever price you are estimated to pay in total.

I signed up through my local Autoescuela (shout out to Autoescuela 2000 in San Fernando de Henares & Coslada in Madrid).

I initially decided to try and take the written test in Spanish but since I switched jobs shortly after signing up and started working 40 hours a week in Spanish, my brain was fried by the end of the day and so I decided to take it in English instead.

My Autoescuela didn’t have any classes in English but they were able to request the English language book and test booklet for me from the DGT at no additional cost.

  • *Note: This is available through ANY Autoescuela – as the DGT issues the books to the schools. All you need to do is speak with your local Autoescuela requesting that they order these two books for you in English from the DGT. (See the photo above at the beginning of this article.)
  • *Extra Note: The English in these books is a strange mix of British English and a sort-of literal translation from Spanish. Either way, the questions could be understood and it should be noted to always keep an eye on the prepositions as those are the tricks they use in the Spanish version of the test and they did a similar thing when translating it into English.

My Autoescuela offered unlimited classes in Spanish with a teacher to prep for the written test, included in the initial price that I paid. They also had a simulator of a manual car that I could practice on as much as I needed. They also had an online application with practice tests that I used either there at the school or at home.

I took advantage of all of these resources but in the end for the Written (Teórico) test I primarily just read my English course book as well as going through the questions in the English test booklet and paying close attention to the ones I got incorrect.

One of the best tools that helped me study while on-the-go as well as helping me realize which questions I kept getting wrong were several apps for my phone that I was able to download for free – yes, they even had the questions in English!

Here are a few of the Apps that I used or tested on my phone while studying for my written exam:

  • AeolCloud
  • TodoTest

If you’re looking for an Autoescuela that has both tests and all of the preparatory and driving classes in English – be prepared to pay more for it.

Here is a list of a few of the Autoescuelas that can help you get a driver’s license in Spain:

What you’ll need to sign up for these tests:

  • A certificate of mental and physical fitness from the Centro de Reconocimiento de Conductores Autorizado
  • An application form
  • Two passport-sized photographs
  • Your residence permit
  • Proof of address in Spain
  • A declaration that there are no suspensions or legal cases preventing you from driving
  • A declaration that you don’t already hold a similar license.

How much is it to get a driver’s license in Spain?

Well, that all depends on:

  1. Where you live
  2. How many times it takes you to pass the written test
  3. How many classes you end up taking through your Autoescuela
  4. And how many times it takes you to pass the practical test
  • *Note – It’s important to understand that you only get one time to fail one of the tests without having to pay an extra fee (tasa) to try again. For example: I didn’t fail my written exam – I passed on my first try so I was then able to take the practical exam at least twice without having to pay an extra fee (tasa) again. I know others who failed their written exam their first time, passed the written exam their second time and then felt a lot of pressure to pass their practical exam on their first time or else they would have to pay this extra fee again.

Here is my personal example:

  • Autoescuela matrícula – €30 
  • Examen teórico – €92
  • Abono 10 classes – €215 (I got 2 of these before my first practical test – so €430 total)
  • 2 classes that were free and included in the price of my matrícula
  • 2 more classes right before the first examen práctico – €43 total (so €21.50 each class)
  • Examen práctico #1 – €123
  • 5 more classes before my second examen práctico – €107.50
  • Examen práctico #2 – €123

My total cost was around €948, including the medical checkup and such it came out to around €1000.

I would estimate that as a general minimum – although I know people who spent only €800 and others who spent close to €1500.

It is all relative to how many classes you and your teacher feel you will need, as well as how you do on your actual exams.

  • *Important – Do not feel rushed at all but there are time limits on how long you can wait between each test. Your written test is valid for up to 2 years from the time you take it – BUT your Practical test scores are only valid up to 6 months.
  • What does this mean? You can take your time after your written test but once you take your first practical test (and if you fail) then you have to keep the momentum up or if you wait longer than 6 months between your next practical test (you guessed it!) you’ll have to pay another fee (tasa).

Here is my personal example:

I signed up in November 2015 but didn’t take the Written test until December 2016.

I started taking my practical classes in spring/summer 2017 and I took my first practical test in October 2017 (which I failed by one mistake! Argh!) and my second and final practical test in December 2017.

In the end – do what works best for you and your personal situation but still be aware of your time limits.

  • *Note – You can (I had to) request a change of teacher if you feel that the teacher doesn’t work for you. I had two initial classes with a teacher but his teaching style just made me nervous and more anxious, so I went and talked with the reception at my Autoescuela and they made the switch. In the end, it’s your time and your money – don’t waste either!

Congratulations! You’ve managed to get a driver’s license in Spain!

A full driver's license in Spain
image source

Once you pass the practical test, you’ll receive your temporary license until your official one arrives at the Autoescuela and you’ll also get your green L sign/plate to place in the back window of your car. You’ll have to have your green L sign/plate there for 1 year (from the day you passed your test). Some people decide not to do this but it will help you avoid a fee or potential issue – I used mine and had no problem at all. And to be quite honest – it helped keep the crazy Spanish drivers off my tail a bit more while I got used to circulating around this crazy capital. Take advantage of that giant L!

Step 4 – Celebrate!:

Whether you only had to do paperwork or you fell under the unlucky category of having to start from scratch and complete both tests from start to finish – you did it!

Now go celebrate your new driver’s license in Spain by organizing a road trip somewhere off the map and enjoying your newfound freedom. And of course – always drive safely!

By Stacey Taylor, co-founder of SpainGuru

Social media: LinkedIn