Driving in Spain
As said by Mac McCleary “Patience is something you admire in the driver behind you and scorn in the one ahead”.
If you originate from one of the members states of the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, or from countries belonging to the Geneva or Vienna Conventions you can drive in Spain with your current driving licence.
However, if you originate from a country outside of those mentioned above then different conditions apply...
Before travelling to Spain it’s highly recommendable that you contact the Spanish Consulate or Embassy in your country to check the validity of your driving licence in Spain. Validity of EU licences Driving licences EU driving licences are recognised in Spain so you don’t need to change your licence to Spanish. You can drive with your licence in Spain until it expires at which point you’ll need to apply for a Spanish licence and to do so you need to prove your residency in Spain. This is fairly straightforward and involves showing your NIE (Numero de identidad Extranjeros) and “Empadronamiento” certificate which demonstrates your place of residence. Depending on your age, the Spanish driving licence that you are issued with will be valid for either a 5 or 10 year period after which you need to get the Spanish driving licence renewed following a simple medical check. Once you get your Spanish driving licence, your foreign licence is returned to the issuing office of your home country.
Validity of Non EU Driving Licences Depending on the nationality of the non EU citizen, the licence may be valid for the first year after arrival in Spain. Needless to say, once the year’s up, you have to get that Spanish driver’s licence.
However, for US drivers, it’s a whole different kettle of fish. Each US state has its own set of rules and foreign countries make international agreements with each individual state. In other words, depending where US State your driving licence was issued will impact whether or not you can use it to drive in Spain for a limited period of time (up to a year). US Citizens visiting Spain will need to obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP) before arriving in Spain. The IDP will need to be accompanied with the original driving licence at all times. US Citizens need to obtain their IDP from the American Automobile Association or the American Automobile Touring Alliance. You have to be at least age 18 and there is a small cost for attached to obtaining an IDP.
For U.S. citizens resident in Spain the news is not so good. They have to obtain a valid Spanish driver’s licence. At this time, there is no agreement between the United States and Spain for the validation of a U.S. driver’s license, consequently holders of a U.S. license have to attend a Spanish driving school and take the Spanish driving exam.
Drivers with Canadian licences are required to have both a provincial driver’s licence and an International licence, both of which are valid for one year in Spain. Upon residency the validity of these Canadian licences is extended for a further six months. How to get a Spanish Driving Licence
To get a Spanish driver’s licence applicants need to join a driving school – there are no ifs and buts about this, no matter how long you have been driving or how much you could teach the teacher! Furthermore you need to undergo a medical test, a written theory exam and a practical driving exam. The medical and the eye test is a walk in the park. However the written exam is another kettle of fish. The upside is that it’s basically a multiple choice and you can choose to take it in English or Spanish. Sounds painless eh?! Well don’t hold your breath! The downside is that subject matter covered in the exam is a whole lot more than knowing that you need “hug your kids at home, but belt them in the car”. Questions related to mechanics, first aid, and technical spec for all types of vehicles are likely to be covered.
Finally, the actual “driving” test. The instructor sits in the passenger seat and the examiner in the back. The exam lasts for thirty minutes and takes place in real traffic. The driver is put to the test in busy city streets, roundabouts, hills, and of course, what we all dread, parallel parking. You get the results only once the examiner has made a hasty exit, no doubt to give him time to get out of range should the news for the driver not be so good…. All is not lost, if you fail the driving test, you can take it again!
What does the driver always need to carry in the car?
Ensure you always carry your passport (if you are a resident your NIE will suffice), current driving licence, valid insurance and vehicle registration document.
According to Traffic Regulations, it is mandatory that you also keep the following equipment in your vehicle:
• Set of bulbs and tools necessary to replace them.
• Two red warning triangles officially approved by the Internal Ministry (Ministerio de Interior)
• At least one fluorescent waistcoat for the driver (preferably more for passengers)
• Spare tyre and tools necessary to replace it. You will be fined if you don’t carry these in your car.
Things you need to know about driving in Spain
• There are a set of security regulations which you need to be aware of when you drive in Spain, these include:
• It’s illegal to talk on the mobile whilst driving unless you have a suitable hands-free system fitted. Expect a fine of up to 300 euros if you get caught.
• Under 3 year olds have to be seated in a booster seat adecuate for their height and weight and under 12 year olds seated in the front have to be seated in a suitable child seat.
• It’s obligatory to wear a fluorescent waistcoat when using the hard shoulder of any motorway or road.
• It’s obligatory to use two triangles if your car breaks down.
• The alcohol limit must not exceed 0.5 g/l in your blood.
• Seat belts are compulsory for all passengers and driver – It’s compulsory to use helmets on motorbikes, bicycles and, motorised cycles
• If you are planning on staying for more than 90 days check with your car insurance to ensure that you are covered.
• You need to be 18 to drive in Spain.
• You need to be 21 to rent a car in Spain and most rental companies will require you to have at least 2 years driving experience and a credit card.
• The speed limit on the motorway is 120km.
About driving in Spain...
Spanish drivers and those who have been living here for some time, are somewhat “relaxed” when it comes to driving. Don’t expect drivers to indicate a left or right turn nor to slow down at the red traffic lights. Do expect drivers to cut across lanes, overtake on the inside, and speed up within an inch of you on the fast lane of the motorway all the while flashing their headlights to get you out of the way. Naturally when you pull out of the way gracefully you inevitably stop at the same motorway cafe further along and you wonder what on earth the rush was all about.
It’s quite an experience when you first hit the Spanish roads but Spain is such a fabulous country that it’s well worth the odd few grey hairs.