Driving in Spain

Driving in Spain
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Updated 2021-05-26 14:40

Spain is a large country with an extensive and modern road network that is easy to use. However, non-Spanish-speaking expats may need a little time to get accustomed to traffic signs written in Spanish, Basque or Catalan, depending on the region. Also, cars drive on the right-hand side of the road, which may differ from your home country. 

Before you get behind the wheel of a car in Spain, read this short but essential guide on driving in your new country. If you hold a foreign driver's licence, you can drive on Spanish roads, but you will have to exchange this for a Spanish driver's licence. When you have to do this depends on where you come from.

If you are from outside the European Union, you can use your licence and freely drive for your first six months in the country or up to two years if you're from the EU or EEA area. Once these periods have passed, you must obtain a Spanish driver's licence

How to convert your driver's license in Spain

As a Spanish resident from an EU-EEA country, you can exchange your national driver's license for a Spanish license. This is also possible if your country has signed agreements with Spain, such as South Korea, Japan, Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay, Morocco and Chile. 

All you need to do is provide your local traffic office with the following:

  • Valid ID documents, such as your passport
  • Proof of residence in Spain, i.e., your residence card/certificate
  • NIE
  • Your original driver's licence
  • Two recent passport size photographs
  • A statement certifying you have not been deprived of your rights to drive in your home country

You may also be required to:

  • Provide a certificate stating you do not hold another driver's licence issued in another country
  • Provide an official statement from your national consulate or embassy proving your national driver's licence is authentic and valid 
  • Take a medical examination

You will then receive your Spanish licence by post, renewable every ten years up until the age of 65 and five years after 65.

Important:

If you don't obtain a Spanish driver's licence after six months or two years of residence in Spain and are caught, you could be fined.

Applying for a Spanish driver's licence

If you are a citizen from outside the EU-EEA and cannot exchange your licence, you will have to take the Spanish driving test. This involves a written theory test and a practical test. Before taking them, you must have lessons through a recognised driving school. 

For the written test, you will have to answer 30 questions in English in 30 minutes. This will cover things like road signs and the rules of the road. To pass, you must get no more than three questions wrong.

For more information about driving in Spain and getting a Spanish driving licence, contact the embassy or consulate in your home country.

Highway code and road safety in Spain

If you are going to drive on Spain's roads, it's an excellent idea to familiarise yourself with the country's highway code. Here are a few rules and regulations to get you started. 

To drive in Spain, you must be 18 years or over.

To hire a car, you must be 21 years or over.

The speed limit on Spanish motorways (autopistas) is 120 km/h.

The maximum speed limit on the majority of Spain's streets is 30 km/h.

The speed limit for roads with two or more lanes in each direction is 50 km/h.

You must carry two warning triangles in your car, which are to be used if your vehicle breaks down. 

You must carry at least two high visibility jackets in your car. If you stop/break down and get out on the road, you must wear one.

The law forbids the use of mobile phones while driving, even if you're stationary at traffic lights. You can use hands-free devices, but these must be completely hands-free, so no headphones or earpieces.

A first aid kit is not legally required in a car, but it is recommended.

For most drivers, the maximum legal drinking limit is 0.5 milligrams of alcohol per millilitre of blood. It isn't easy to work out what this equates to, but two bottles of beer will almost certainly put you nearly over the limit, as would more than 1.5 glasses of wine. The limit for drivers who have had a licence for less than two years is 0.3 milligrams of alcohol per millilitre of blood.

Warning Triangles

Currently, if your car breaks down, you are meant to place two red warning triangles behind the stranded vehicle to warn other motorists there's a problem ahead. Leaving your vehicle puts your safety at risk, especially on a busy motorway which is why the triangles are being phased out. By 1 January 2026, every car must have a V16 emergency beacon.

The emergency beacon is a yellow/orange 60-degree flashing light with a magnetic base that is placed on the roof of the car in case of a breakdown/emergency. This means the driver doesn't have to get out of the vehicle. Once activated, the beacon sends your location to the DGT (Dirección General de Tráfico) every 100 seconds. The information can then be sent anonymously to the electronic roadside traffic panel closest to your position to warn other drivers of an incident.

The V16 beacons have Bluetooth technology so they can be connected to a mobile, allowing users to request roadside assistance. Although drivers can use triangles for a few more years, the beacons have been in use since 1 July 2021.

Good to know:

If you bring your own vehicle to Spain, you will need to register it with authorities after six months and have the number plates changed to Spanish plates. It should also be insured, which may involve the insurance company requiring your car to undergo a vehicle inspection (ITV).

Useful link:

Dirección General de Tráfico

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