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Driving in Spain as an Expat

Martha Lott

Written by

24th May 2023 (Last updated on 31st Jul 2023) 10 minute read

Before moving to Spain, UK drivers will want to get accustomed to Spanish motoring rules. Outside of securing a visa and understanding the Spanish culture, driving will be one of the most essential areas to research.

In this guide, we’ll outline the key elements of driving in Spain. We'll detail areas including vehicle testing, registration, rules and guidelines.

  1. Can UK Expats Drive in Spain?
  2. What are the Requirements to Drive in Spain?
  3. Spanish Driving Licences
  4. Driving Rules
  5. Importing a Car
  6. Driving Costs
  7. Finding an International Removal Company

Can UK Expats Drive in Spain?

Expats can use a UK driving licence in Spain, provided they have:

  • A UK licence and an International Driving Permit (IDP) or
  • An official translation of their UK licence

This applies only to the first 6 months of an expat living in Spain (starting from the date your residency is confirmed). After this, you’ll have to get a Spanish licence to continue driving.

Several documents that must be kept in your vehicle whilst driving in Spain include:

  • UK licence & IDP or a Spanish driving licence
  • Vehicle insurance documents
  • Proof of identity e.g. passport
  • V5C registration logbook (VE103 document for rentals)

There are also numerous items which drivers are advised to keep in their vehicle at all times:

  • Fluorescent jacket for all occupants (you can be fined for walking on the hard shoulder or road without one)
  • Two warning triangles if you’re a resident, one if you’re a tourist/visiting
  • Headlamp beam deflectors (for powerful headlamps, can also adjust manually is preferred)
  • Spare wheel and the tools to replace it
  • Crash helmets (for motorbikes, mopeds, trikes and quads)
  • An extra set of glasses or contacts if you wear them

What are the Requirements to Drive in Spain?

To drive in Spain, you must be at least 18 years old. You'll also need a certified national driving licence (or UK licence for the first 6 months). If you’ve secured a licence whilst below 18 in the UK, you will still not be able to drive in Spain until you come of age.

150 localities in Spain have recently enforced anti-pollution rules to improve air quality. To drive in these low-emission zones (LEZz), you’ll need to obtain an emission sticker to show your vehicle is suitable. An environmental label can be bought from the Directorate-General for Traffic (DGT/Dirección General de Tráfico) for €5.

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Spanish Driving Licences

A Spanish licence is very much like a UK driving licence in terms of its appearance and the information it provides. Nonetheless, you must get one of your own if you’re looking to move to Spain permanently.

Getting a Spanish Licence

If you’re new to driving when you enter Spain, you’ll need to take lessons before passing a test to drive on Spanish roads. This is split into two sections, like in the UK - a theory and a practical test.

Exchanging Your Current UK License

If you have a UK driving licence, you can exchange your licence for free without retaking a driving test. You’ll have to make an appointment at a local police station or traffic office. Bring the necessary documents and pay a fee (€23.50) to exchange your licence.

You’ll also need to undertake a Psychophysical Aptitude Test (Psicotécnico Test). This is a health consultation, where your eyesight and reactions will be tested to ensure you can drive and react safely. These tests are taken at your nearest Drivers Recognition Centers - localised sites authorised by the DGT.

Once this is done and you have all the necessary documents, you can fill out an application to exchange your licence. You’ll also need to make an appointment with DGT to go over documentation.

To exchange your UK licence for a Spanish one, the following documents are required:

  • A valid passport
  • The UK driving licence that you’re exchanging
  • Your Spanish residence card
  • Your census certificate (certificado de empadronamiento)
  • A passed Psychophysical Aptitude Test (Psicotécnico Test)
  • A ‘check code’ from the DVLA
  • Proof of your current address
  • A recent 32x53mm photograph (foto carnet)

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Driving Rules

Before you drive in Spain, there are some big differences in driving rules compared to the UK you need to know.


You drive in the right-hand lane in Spain, with overtaking only allowed on the left-hand side of a vehicle. The minimum driving age is 18 in Spain, even if you’ve passed your test under this age while in the UK.

Be aware that it is customary in Spain to flash your vehicle lights to show you’re overtaking before you try to pass. If you decide to drive a Spanish vehicle, these will always be right-hand drive cars.

When driving with a child, the child cannot sit in a passenger seat if they’re under the age of 12 or are less than 1.35m tall. If they are not either of these, they must use a child seat in the rear of the vehicle. A child under these parameters can only use the passenger seat if the car doesn’t have rear seats or if the rear seats are occupied by other children.

Road Signs

Road signs in Spain operate using an assortment of codes, consisting of an initial letter followed by a series of numbers. Each road sign also indicates the kind of road you’re on according to the sign’s colour:

Blue - Motorways, including toll roads. It will feature the prefix AP if you’re on a toll road. Motorways and toll roads allow overtaking and traditionally feature less congestion.

Green - European route, meaning it is a part of the international E-road network. Thus, all such roads will begin with the prefix E.

Red - National roads, dictated by the prefix N. All such roads are free but usually only feature one or two lanes. Overtaking is not allowed.

Brown - Regional roads, shown by the letter C.

The quality of signs can differ dramatically depending on the type of road you’re driving on. We recommend always keeping a map in your vehicle, especially as directions and place names on signs are all written in Spanish.

Speed Limits

Speed limits in Spain are dictated in kilometres (km). Unless you import a UK vehicle, most vehicles will feature a metric-favoured speedometer. The speed limit in Spain can change depending on what type of road you’re driving on:

  • Motorways/toll roads: 120km/h (75 miles per hour).
  • E-roads/dual carriageways: 110km/h (68 miles per hour).
  • National and regional roads in non-urban areas: 90hm/h (56 miles per hour).
  • Residential and built-up areas: 50km/h (31 miles per hour).


Whilst in the UK you start at 0 points and get your licence revoked if you accrue 12 within 3 years, the opposite applies in Spain. Drivers with 3 or more years of experience start with 12 points on their licence (8 if you’re a new driver). Points are then deducted for infractions made while driving.

You can increase the number of points your licence can hold if you don’t receive any penalties during a 3-year period. This can increase up to a maximum of 15 points.


Just as in the UK, you can receive a fine and a point deduction for breaching motoring protocol or if you perform an infraction while driving in Spain. In Spain speeding fines occur for exceeding the official speed limit by 1km/h or more. There is not the 10% leniency that you receive on UK roads. Typical traffic offences that incur a penalty include:

  • Exceeding the speed limit
  • Driving under the influence of drugs or whilst above the alcohol limit
  • Driving whilst using a mobile phone
  • Driving without insurance
  • Causing excess noise and disrupting public order

We recommend always keeping some cash on hand in case you are fined while driving. Certain fines in Spain require you to pay immediately, with cards and cheques not accepted as a form of payment. Regardless of if you pay on the spot or after the event, you’ll get your fine reduced by 50% if you pay it within the first 20 days.

Alcohol Limit

The Spanish drink-driving limit is lower than the UK’s. You're not allowed to exceed 0.5g/l (0.25mg/l in exhaled air )- the equivalent of a single small beer - if you have 2 or more years of experience. Novice drivers with less than 2 years of driving experience are reduced to a limit of 0.1g/l. Regardless of the laws, it’s best to avoid drinking altogether if you’re going to drive.

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Importing a Car

If you’d like to bring your car with you to Spain, you’ll be glad to know that most UK vehicles are accepted. You will have to pay an import tax on your vehicle, which can differ depending on the make and model. The vehicle must also follow EU driving regulations and pass a roadworthiness test (ITV).

You’ll need to register your vehicle at your local traffic department within 30 days of arrival. This must be done regardless of your residency status. If you live in Spain and drive a foreign vehicle for 6 months or longer, you’ll need to switch out the number plates for Spanish licence plates.

Driving Costs

When you drive in Spain, there'll be several expenses you'll need to pay to both get your car and keep it on the road.


All drivers must be insured to legally drive in Spain. Vehicles need third-party liability insurance as standard - even when parked or being kept off the road. If you’ve imported your car covered by UK insurance, this becomes invalid. You’ll need to take out a Spanish insurance policy immediately in order to drive in Spain.

The following documents are needed in order to take out a Spanish insurance policy:

  • A passport or photo ID.
  • The vehicle’s registration certificate (permiso de circulación)
  • Your driver’s licence
  • Your census certificate (certificado de empadronamiento)

Once you’ve secured an insurance policy, you’ll be issued an insurance certificate. Keep this in your vehicle in case you need to produce it for a traffic official.


Road tax in Spain differs depending on the type of vehicle being insured, its engine power and its weight. The biggest factor is in which region you’ll be residing in, as areas charge different rates.

Please be aware that - unlike the UK - there are no tax exemptions for hybrid or electric vehicles.


Roughly 20% of Spain’s highways are toll roads. Tolls cost anywhere from €7 to over €30 depending on which highway you’re using. Most tolls will be manned posts where you pay in person, though some will feature automated machines that are available in English.


An ITV (or roadworthiness test) is the Spanish equivalent of an MOT. There are a few key differences however. If you pay for a standard ITV test, you’ll have to assist in performing certain checks alongside a qualified mechanic. Many garages let you pay an extra fee to have another mechanic do it for you if this prospect seems daunting.

The cost of an ITV depends on the type of vehicle being tested, its horsepower, and the fuel/energy source. The smaller the vehicle, the lower the engine strength and the more eco-friendly the fuel, the cheaper it tends to be.

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Finding an International Removal Company

Trust Compare My Move to provide the international removal partners you need to get your goods secured on Spanish soil. Fill out our form and we’ll match you with up to 6 trusted firms. Each partner is protected by Goods in Transit, Public Liability and International Insurance.


Can I Drive in Spain with a UK Licence?

Expats can use a UK driving licence in Spain for 6 months after their residency is confirmed. An International Driving Permit (IDP) is required to do so. Once these 6 months are up, residents must exchange their UK licence for a Spanish one.

What is the Drink Drive Limit in Spain?

You cannot drive with a blood alcohol content of over 0.5g/l, the equivalent of a small beer.

What is the Legal Driving Age in Spain?

You have to be at least 18 years old to drive in Spain, even if you obtained a licence below this age whilst in the UK.

Martha Lott

Written by Martha Lott

Having guest authored for many property websites, Martha now researches and writes articles for everything moving house related, from remortgages to conveyancing costs.