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Driving in Spain

Over the years driving within the EU has gradually become more and more standardized, but each country still has its own peculiarities and Spain is no exception. Many of the items covered in this article will be the same as in your home country, or at least very similar, but don’t assume everything is the same, because it’s not!

Driving in Spain is mostly like driving anywhere in the EU, with a few differences
Driving in Spain is mostly like driving anywhere in the EU, with a few differences

Driving Licences in Spain

Let’s start with the basics, like the driving age and driving licenses – and which side of the road we drive on here! In Spain, as in almost all of the rest of Europe, you must drive on the right side of the road. The only exceptions are Cyprus, Ireland, Malta, and the UK – all island countries, which is probably just as well! For all other Europeans, you drive on the same side as in your home country. 

To drive a car in Spain, you must be at least 18 years old, and the same goes for a motorbike over 125cc. At 15, you can drive a motorbike up to 50cc, and this increases to 125cc when you turn 16. If you are a citizen of a European Union country, your license from your home country will be recognized in Spain.

If you are from the USA and planning on staying in Spain for longer than 6 months, your  US license may also be recognized, depending on what state it is from, but most Americans will need to change their American license to a Spanish one. The same goes for Canadians. Despite Brexit, driving in Spain on a UK license is still the same as before as Spain and the UK are both part of the EEA (European Economic Area), and you can easily exchange your license for a Spanish one.

EU citizens spending less than six months in Spain don’t need to do anything; you can continue to drive with your license from your home country. After six months, you are required to get a Spanish license, but if you are coming here to live, it’s probably a good idea to go ahead and apply for your Spanish license anyway as soon as you have your N.I.E. (Número de Identidad Extranjero). If you are European (EU) and need assistance obtaining your NIE, callCarlos are the experts and will be more than happy to guide you through the procedure.

To apply for a Spanish driving license with the DGT (Dirección General de Tráfico = National Department for Traffic), you will need to fill in the form – available in your local DGT office or from their website – as well as copies of your passport, your NIE, two passport photos, proof of address (empadronamiento) from your local Town Hall (Ayuntamiento) dated within the previous three months and, of course, your existing driving license along with a sworn statement that your license hasn’t been suspended and that you hold no additional license from another country.

Once you have applied, you will be given a receipt and a copy of your original foreign license, and this will be valid for driving until you receive your new Spanish license – which usually takes 30-90 days. When your Spanish license has been issued, your original license will be returned to the issuing authority in your home country. If you are under 65, the license is good for ten years, and five years if you are aged over 65. As with the aforementioned NIE, callCarlos can also take all the pain out of the process of obtaining your Spanish driving license.

Importing your Vehicle into Spain

If you are bringing a vehicle from another European Union country into Spain but will be spending less than 6 months of the year here, then you need to do nothing as you can stay registered in your main country of residence. If you are moving here to take up residency (again, from another E.U. country) you can bring your car with you, free from import duties, but you should get your vehicle re-registered in Spain within 30 days of obtaining your resident status here.

Even if you’re feeling lazy and “couldn’t be bothered” going through the hassle and paperwork and would rather keep your old registration from home and risk the police checkpoints, the system will catch up with you in the end as your vehicle’s certificate of roadworthiness (known as the I.T.V. in Spain = Inspección Técnica de Vehículos) will eventually expire and you’ll then have the choice of either driving back to your original country to get it renewed – or re-registering your vehicle in Spain.

It is obligatory to display your ITV sticker on the top right-hand corner of your windshield and also to have the ITV papers in the car at all times. It is not possible to get an ITV on a foreign-registered car in Spain.

By the way, in case you think that by having a foreign-registered vehicle you can avoid picking up Spanish penalty points for any traffic violations you might commit, this is no longer true. If you are the holder of a Spanish NIE and, say, a Belgian or German driving license you will lose points on your “virtual” Spanish license for violations and when you eventually want to exchange that foreign license for a Spanish one, the penalty points will be there waiting for you!

There is quite a bit of bureaucracy involved (too much to go into here), but at callCarlos we have lots of experience in registering foreign vehicles with Spanish plates for our clients so rather than getting bogged down with all that paperwork just give us a call and let us do the rest!

Insurance

When it comes to insurance the procedure is pretty much the same as in any other country with plenty of companies and different types of policies to choose from, so it’s always good to shop around a bit before deciding on one. What is very important to be aware of if you are bringing a car into Spain is how long your insurance from your home country covers you from the moment you leave your home country.

Some insurance companies may cover you for six months (after which time you should be switching to Spanish registration and insurance etc anyway), but many policies only cover you for 90 days of international travel – yet another reason why it’s advisable to re-register your vehicle sooner rather than later if you are planning to stay. If you spend more than 90 days each year but less than 6 months in Spain, be sure to check with your insurance provider at home that you are adequately covered. Better safe than sorry, as they say!

At callCarlos, we regularly assist people in sourcing the most suitable insurance policy and we are even registered sub-agents.

If you are driving a Spanish-registered car it is no longer required to carry your insurance documentation with you in your vehicle as this can be checked digitally via your registration number.

Driving in Spain Requirements

What should you always have in your vehicle in Spain? Here’s a list of what is obligatory by Spanish law to have in your vehicle at all times: two warning triangles; a fluorescent “hi-vis” vest for everyone in the vehicle (so if it’s a 5-seater, you should have five vests at all times); a spare tyre and the tools to change it. In terms of documentation, you are required to have your driving license, an up-to-date ITV sticker on your windscreen plus the accompanying document in the car, and your Permiso de Circulación, which shows who the car is registered to and where.

It does no harm to also have your insurance policy documentation as well as a European Accident Agreement (Declaración Amistoso de Accidente de Automóvil). While these last two are not strictly legally mandatory, they will certainly speed things up in case of an accident and make your life easier. Again, just callCarlos if you have any queries!

A warning triangle placed behind a car at the side of the road
A warning triangle placed behind a car at the side of the road

Driving in France

Everyone driving to Spain from any northern European country has one thing in common: they have to drive through France. (Ok, not if you’re coming from Andorra, but everyone else!). Regulations for driving in France are regularly updated, and French police will randomly stop foreign-registered vehicles to check they have the correct equipment for driving in France. Some of the requirements are the same as in Spain, such as the high visibility vests and warning triangles, but there are some that are different.

By French law, it is mandatory to carry a spare bulb kit for your vehicle, should you have a failure. While most motorists would get a broken bulb fixed as soon as possible, the French police deem it necessary to replace it there and then on the grounds of safety. It is also compulsory to carry a personal breathalyzer kit with at least two disposable testing units – and having a foreign-registered vehicle won’t get you off the hook if you are stopped by the police and are found not to have one. The blood alcohol content for France is 0.5, as it is in every country with which it shares a border.

In Case of an Accident…

If you are unfortunate enough to be involved in a road accident, there are a few things you should do. If the accident is only minor and no real damage is done, you may be able to agree with the other driver involved that no further action needs to be taken. If you do not manage to come to such an agreement, or if anyone has been injured, the police must be called, and they must report the incident. You should exchange insurance details with the owner of the other vehicle.

If the other driver refuses to cooperate, you should make a note of their vehicle registration and type of vehicle, and anything else that will help identify him or her, including witnesses. If you or a passenger is injured and requires medical attention, be sure that the medical report states that the injuries in question were the result of the accident, as you will need this for any insurance claim.

You have seven days from the date of the accident to report to your insurance company. If you are not a Spanish or Catalan speaker and are involved in an accident, callCarlos can provide a live translation service to help with communication with the other driver or the police.

Or a breakdown?

It is obligatory that you have a spare tyre in your car and the tools with which to change it, although it is advised that you call a towing service rather than change the tyre yourself at the side of the road.

What happens if you’re unlucky enough that your car actually breaks down? If possible, drive the car onto the hard shoulder or, even better, if you can, the next rest area. Before exiting your car, turn on the emergency indicators and put on your high-visibility vest. It is also compulsory to have two emergency triangle signs and you should place one 50m behind your car and one 50m in front.

If you are driving a foreign EU-registered car, legally only one emergency triangle is mandatory. In that case, place it 50m behind your vehicle. It is recommended, however, that you carry two triangles rather than one.

As of 1 July 2021, instead of the triangles, you can carry instead a new type of flashing beacon light (called a V-16), and this new hazard light will gradually replace the triangles. The V-16 is regarded as being safer than the triangles as they have a magnetic bottom, allowing them to be attached to the roof of your car without having to step out of your vehicle on a potentially dangerous road.

From 1 January 2026 the warning triangles will no longer be valid to use at all and, in addition, an upgraded version of the V-16 with GPS included will be required to allow the DGT and police to locate a broken down vehicle.

The magnetic rooftop hazard lights will gradually replace emergency triangles
The magnetic rooftop hazard lights will gradually replace emergency triangles

It is also recommended by the DGT, although not compulsory, that you carry jump leads (battery cables) and a flashlight in your car at all times. Your insurance company will have provided you with a 24-hour roadside assistance number to call for these situations. If, for whatever reason, you don’t have such a number and are on an Autopista (motorway), you should always be within 2km of an SOS roadside phone. In the worst-case scenario, you can call the emergency services on 112 from your mobile phone.

No matter how you call the breakdown services, try to give them as accurate a description of your location as possible. Hopefully, you’ll never need to put any of the above into use, but it’s better to be up to speed. (Pun intended!)

Parking

Parking in Spain is colour-coded and pretty straightforward. If a parking space is indicated with white lines, anyone can park there for free. If the lines are green, then registered residents of the municipality can park without charge; all others must pay at the meter, while blue spaces mean that everyone must pay. In municipalities that experience a surge in their population during the tourist season, the parking fees are often waived during the rest of the year, and anyone can park in the blue and green spaces. Pay attention, though, because the date on which they begin to apply again (usually around Easter) may vary somewhat from one town to the next.

If the parking meters are covered or removed altogether, then you can assume parking is free of charge. Yellow lines mean you can never park, the only exceptions usually being for deliveries and the like, and only at certain times of the day. Apart from these, you may come across other signs telling you when parking is allowed and when it is not, and when it is free and when you need to pay, but these are pretty self-explanatory.

Be warned: parking ticket inspectors on the Costa Brava are numerous, efficient, and ruthless during the summer season! If you do get a parking fine, rather than try to contest it, you’re better off paying it at the parking machine or as soon as possible afterwards, as you’ll only have to pay 50% (in most municipalities).

Oh, and parking illegally in a disabled parking space will cost you 3 licence points and a hefty fine!

The Blinkay app can be increasingly used in car parks around Spain​
The Blinkay app can be increasingly used in car parks around Spain

One way to be virtually certain of avoiding parking fines at all is by using applications on your smartphone like Blinkay or Telpark, which are increasingly being used in municipalities all over Spain. These apps allow you to pay for your parking via your smartphone, and you only pay for precisely the length of time you park – and you don’t need to search for change or even bother getting a ticket from those annoying parking ticket machines!

ZBEs (Zonas Bajas Emisiones)

In case you didn’t know, Zonas de Bajas Emisiones (ZBEs) translates as “Low Emission Zones” in English and refers to areas where only the least polluting vehicles are allowed to drive. Unauthorized vehicles that enter these zones will be subject to a fine of €200! Just like in several other countries, ZBEs have been in place in the larger Spanish cities for some time already, but since 2023, all towns and cities in Spain with populations of more than 50,000 – including Girona – either already have or are implementing ZBEs to combat environmental and acoustic pollution. From 2026, all municipalities in Catalonia with more than 20,000 inhabitants will have to implement ZBEs. 

Depending on your vehicle type, there are different Eco Stickers that you can purchase to display on your windshield. It is not mandatory to have one, but if you want to drive in a low-emission zone, a ZBE, displaying the Eco Sticker is obligatory. You can obtain your Eco Sticker by bringing your driver’s license, ID, and vehicle documents to the Correos (Post Office), or you can purchase the sticker online on the official DGT website, where you can find out which emissions classification sticker applies to you by typing in your vehicle registration.

You cannot buy a Spanish Eco Sticker for a foreign-registered vehicle, but you can use the Danish, German, Austrian, or French equivalents, which are valid in Spain. If you don’t already have a sticker, the French vignette (sticker), Crit’Air, is the best option, as it is valid in France and Spain, except Barcelona.

Speed Limits + Fines

From 11/05/21, some new lower speed limits came into effect across Spain, applying specifically to built-up areas. On single-lane roads without sidewalks, the new limit became 20km/h, and for roads with sidewalks and one lane of traffic in each direction, the limit was set at 30km/h. For roads with sidewalks and with two (or more) lanes in each direction, the speed limit remained at 50km/h, but where motorways cross a town or city, the limit was reduced to 80km/h.

Pay your fine with this app from MiDGT​
Pay your fine with this app from MiDGT

If you do find yourself in breach of these, or any other, driving regulations, the nice people at the department that deals with road traffic, the DGT, would like to make it as easy as possible for you to pay your fines. There is already an application for smartphones called miDGT that effectively allows people to carry a digital version of their Spanish driving license on their phones and also check for and pay for any fines they may have incurred. Don’t forget that if you do get a fine, you will usually only have to pay 50% of the total amount if you pay promptly.

Apart from speeding, there are other ways to pick up fines. For example, if you are caught with a mobile phone in one hand while driving, you are liable to be fined €500 and lose 6 points on your license (instead of 3, as it was previously). If you are caught with a radar detector, regardless of whether it is switched on or off, that’s another €500 and 3 penalty points. Failure to wear a seatbelt or use the correct child seat will cost you 4 points on your license, and throwing things from your car can be penalized with between 4 and 6 points.

Electric scooters

As of January 2024, some new rules exist for electric scooters sold after that date. They must have a speed indicator and a braking system with two independent brakes. “Personal Mobility Vehicles” (VMP) sold before that date may circulate until 22 January 2027 without a certificate. From then on, only those with approval from the General Directorate of Traffic (DGT) will be allowed to do so. In addition, scooters must have a pre-programmed 25kmph maximum speed limit.

Already existing rules forbid them from driving on sidewalks or in pedestrian zones. Scooters must instead use bicycle lanes or regular roads with a speed limit of 30km/hr or less and must obey the same traffic signals as bicycles or motor vehicles – like pedestrian crossings, for example. It will also be illegal to use an electric scooter while wearing headphones or if over the legal limit for alcohol, and each scooter is only allowed to carry one passenger. Helmets are not yet compulsory in all regions of Spain just yet, but it is expected they will be before too long.

And finally… more rules!

The Spanish Road Safety Act allows the Guardia Civil, in certain circumstances, to stop your car and actually prevent you from driving any further by clamping it or, in some cases, even confiscate your vehicle altogether!

The Guardia Civil checking up on vehicles
The Guardia Civil checking up on vehicles

Most of the rules are probably the same or similar to those in your home country, but we suggest you have a read of the following points just to be sure you don’t get caught out and end up off the road. Safe driving out there!

Child Seats
Under Spanish law, the height rather than the age of a child determines whether s/he must be carried in a child seat. A child shorter than 125cm must travel in a child seat with back support. If the child seat does not meet the European safety standards (ECE R 44-03), you can be ordered to park up at the side of the road and continue your journey by another means of transport At a height of between 125cm and 135cm a booster cushion is sufficient and once the child is taller than 135cm a seat is no longer mandatory.

ITV
Serious defects in the car. If you drive without working front lights, rear lights, brake lights or if your car is seriously damaged, or if the car is not ITV approved, in other words, unroadworthy, the police may immobilize the vehicle.

Emissions and Noise
If a police officer deems that the level of emissions of a vehicle is too high or that the engine is making too much noise, the vehicle can be immobilized.

Insurance
If the police find out that a driver has no insurance, the car will be immediately immobilized and/or confiscated.

Driving Licence
If you are driving without a driver’s license or if you have accumulated the maximum amount of penalty points, the car will not be allowed to continue its journey.

Alcohol and Drugs
If a driver is over the legal limit for alcohol or is found to be under the influence of drugs, the police will immobilize the vehicle unless another occupant is sober and can take over driving duties.

Fatigue
If a police officer suspects that a professional driver (of a van, truck, or bus, for example) is at risk of falling asleep behind the wheel, the vehicle will be stopped.

Too many Occupants
A vehicle carrying more than the authorized number of occupants may be stopped, and the same occupants may end up continuing their journey on foot.

Helmet
If you are caught riding a motorbike or moped without a helmet, you will receive a hefty fine, and your vehicle will also be stopped and may be confiscated.

Manipulated cars
If an officer suspects or finds evidence that a vehicle’s speedometer has been manipulated this may be a reason to force it off the road.

Radar Detectors
If a vehicle is found to be carrying a radar jammer, both the device and the vehicle will be confiscated, and a very hefty fine of up to €6,000 will be issued.  

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The information provided on this website is for general information purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. It may not always be the most up-to-date information, legally or otherwise. This website contains links to third-party websites, and such links are only for the convenience of the reader. callCarlos does not necessarily recommend or endorse the contents of third-party websites. callCarlos does not assume any responsibility for actions taken by people who have visited their website, and no one shall be entitled to a claim for detrimental reliance on any information provided.

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