Spanish Driving License: A U.S. Citizen’s Experience and Challenges – June 2024

My Spanish Driving License Journey

U.S Citizen with residency getting a Spanish driver’s license timeline/experience: Thought I’d share my long journey of getting my driver’s license for anyone looking to do the same. Also a bit of a rant lol.

Quick Facts

  • Residency Card Needed: You need an official residency card, not just the NIE, to take the driving exams.
  • Por Libre Approach: Feasible in small cities like Granada but nearly impossible in big cities like Barcelona due to difficulties in securing DGT appointments.
  • Practice Tests: Be wary of poorly translated English practice tests. Extensive, brain-numbing practice needed.
  • Recognition of Experience: Trying to get driving experience acknowledged by the DGT (reconocimiento de antigüedad) but still waiting.
  • Insurance: Used Abbeygate Insurance, which factored in my driving history for better rates. You can also use our affordable plans for comprehensive road coverage.


  • January 1: Signed up at an autoescuela.
  • February 7: Passed theoretical exam.
  • March 4 – April 8: Driving classes and practical exam in Barcelona, passed on April 8.
  • April 15: Official results confirmed.

Longer Story: Initially tried in Granada ‘por libre’ without a driving school. Used practicatest, practiced extensively but faced issues without a residency card. Misinformed that NIE would suffice, faced multiple exam failures due to strict evaluations and administrative errors.

After moving to Barcelona, I switched to an English-speaking driving school which significantly improved my preparation. Faced further delays and administrative hurdles but finally passed. Extensive wait times and bureaucratic processes were frustrating but ultimately passed and secured my license.

Currently attempting to have my U.S. driving experience recognized, still navigating some bureaucratic challenges.

Closing Note: Got my car on April 29th and immediately took a road trip from Barcelona to Valencia to Granada to Cádiz. Last bureaucratic fun: still dealing with the DGT and consulate to acknowledge my driving history.

Spanish Driving License: A U.S. Citizen's Experience and Challenges - June 2024

Questions and Answers

Q: People can take the practical exam in both an automatic car or a shift stick?
A: Yes, I did mine with automatic. Just need to find a driving school that offers it.

Q: Why is it so hard? What kinds of questions do they ask? What’s difficult in the driving test?
A: The actual driving test is hard for experienced drivers because we’re used to a certain way of driving, and the examiner expects something else. They watch how you shift gears, how many times you checked the mirrors, did you hesitate in a certain situation, did you take any risks, etc.

For me the driving test wasn’t the problem, it was the theoretical exam. The questions are very specific and not translated well sometimes to English.

Q: Curious if the recognition of driving experience would include Motos?
A: The recognition process is mainly for cars, and it does not necessarily cover motos. It is more focused on the car driving experience.


The journey to obtaining a Spanish driving license as a U.S. citizen can be fraught with bureaucratic hurdles and requires significant preparation, especially regarding the theoretical and practical exams.

Key takeaways include the necessity of having a residency card, the challenges of scheduling appointments in larger cities, and the potential benefits of having your previous driving experience recognized to possibly reduce insurance costs.

Patience and persistence are crucial throughout this often-frustrating process.