For members


OPINION: Not all Brits in Spain who didn’t exchange UK driving licences are at fault

Brexpats in Spain head Anne Hernández, who has helped hundreds of Britons in Spain get their UK licences exchanged for Spanish ones, explains how bureaucratic setbacks have prevented many from exchanging and why UK nationals should avoid so-called loopholes to continue driving in Spain.

OPINION: Not all Brits in Spain who didn't exchange UK driving licences are at fault
Some British residents here have been misadvised and, looking for loopholes, believe that their International Driving Permit will cover them. It does not, warns Anne Hernández. Photo: TravelPriceWatch/Unsplash

It is easy to criticise the latest developments regarding the UK driving licences of British residents in Spain.

I have heard plenty of comments of the sort of ‘you’ve had six years to exchange it’ or ‘why is Spain doing this to us?’.

READ MORE: British residents’ UK driving licences no longer valid in Spain

All in all, it is quite unfair to pass such comments without understanding the personal circumstances of those who have still been unable to exchange their UK licence.

Firstly, not all Britons living in Spain have been here since before the Brexit vote in 2016. 

Many applied for residency post 2020 and some residence applications have been unexpectedly rejected, thereby delaying the licence exchange application. 

There are UK licence holders whose licence renewal invalidated their initial application for an exchange to a Spanish licence, as they were given a different issue number.

And admittedly, there are those that have rested their hopes on the British authorities reaching a deal with Spain and not taken the advice of the UK Embassy in Madrid vis-a-vis registering intent to exchange or preparing to take a driving test in Spain.

Before December 30th 2020, a British resident here could register their intention to exchange and were given one year to do so. 

They needed an NIE to register which some did not have because they were still in the throes of applying for their residencias or because they had not arrived here before then. 

After the UK left the EU, the Spanish Royal Decree 38/2020 legally extended permission for British residents to drive until April 30th 2022.

And they can still exchange provided they registered their intention before December 30th 2020 and the UK validated their licence before January 1st 2021.

Otherwise the UK driving licence for British residents here ceases to be valid after six months from date of arrival or from the date of obtaining residencia

This includes but is not limited to the USA, Canada, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, Africa, South America, Iceland, Greenland, and third countries of which the UK is now in the same category. 

Spain and the DGT have changed nothing in their laws and rules, except as an act of goodwill during the Covid lockdown extending the period to use UK licences thereby allowing the applicant time to pass a theory and practical driving test. The theory test can be done in English but the practical is in Spanish. 

With the vast number who will be needing to take their test, I rather envisage there will be long waiting lists at the driving schools where the theory tests have to be done and passed before the practical can be applied for, so it will not be a quick fix.

Knowing how inconvenient the loss of one’s driving licence can be, some British residents here have been misadvised and, looking for loopholes, believe that their International Driving Permit will cover them, it does not. 

The IDP is not a stand-alone document, it has to accompany a valid driving licence. 

Others think that by renting a Spanish car they are covered, they are not. 

Others, I don’t doubt, will be surprised when they are caught driving their vehicle without a valid driving licence which not only invalidates the insurance but can carry a fine of up to €6,000 and potentially a 6 month prison sentence in the worst cases.

The recent update from the British Embassy came on April 29th but there is really nothing to update. 

The negotiations have been ongoing for some time and we are assured will continue to try to bring a successful conclusion. 

However, if the use of your vehicle is imperative, they are recommending you apply for your Spanish driving licence tests and not wait for the outcome of the negotiations.

This does not affect visiting, tourist motorists or those sent here to work on a temporary basis from the UK. Visitors to Spain are able to use a UK licence for up to six months from the date of entry, without the need for an IDP.

READ ALSO: Which tourists need an international driving permit in Spain?

One word of warning, if you are not a resident but are on the padrón, we recommend you deregister if driving your UK plated vehicle here because being on the padrón is equivalent to being a quasi resident and you are not permitted to drive a non Spanish plated vehicle if you are a resident. 

We have dealt with cases where the vehicle was impounded and big fines imposed.

READ MORE: What will the driving test for UK licence holders consist of and why are negotiations taking so long?

Member comments

  1. At last, an article that shows up the holier than thou evangelists for what they are and finally points out what a lot of us have been saying..
    ‘Many were not able to transfer to a Spanish licence prior to the cut off date because we hadn’t moved in time and got our NIE and residencia etc. etc. etc.

    Kindly don’t tar all of us with the same brush.

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Anger grows as no solution found yet for in limbo UK drivers in Spain 

British drivers living in Spain are becoming increasingly disgruntled at the lack of solutions two weeks after they were told their UK licences were no longer valid, with the latest update from the UK Embassy suggesting it could still take "weeks" to reach a deal. 

Anger grows as no solution found yet for in limbo UK drivers in Spain 

There is growing discontent among UK licence holders residing in Spain who are currently in limbo, unable to drive in Spain until they either get a Spanish driving licence or a deal is finally reached between Spanish and UK authorities for the mutual exchange of licences post-Brexit.

Since May 1st 2022, drivers who’ve been residents in Spain for more than six months and who weren’t able to exchange their UK licences for Spanish ones cannot drive in Spain.

There are no official stats on how many Britons of the 407,000 UK nationals who are residents in Spain in 2022 are affected; according to the UK Embassy the “majority exchanged” as advised.

But judging by the amount of negative comments the last two updates from the British Embassy in Madrid have received, hundreds if not thousands are stuck without being able to drive in Spain.  

May 12th’s video message by Ambassador Hugh Elliott left many unhappy with the fact that the forecast for a possible licence exchange agreement will be in the “coming weeks”, when two weeks earlier Elliott had spoken of “rapidly accelerating talks”. 

Dozens of angry responses spoke of the “shocking” and “absolutely ridiculous” holdup in negotiations that have been ongoing for more than at least a year and a half, and which the UK Embassy has put down to the fact that Spain is asking the British government to give them access to DVLA driver data such as road offences, something “not requested by other EU Member States”.

Numerous Britons have explained the setbacks not being able to drive in Spain are causing them, from losing their independence to struggling to go to work, the hospital or the supermarket, especially those in rural areas with little public transport.  

“I know personally from all the messages you’ve sent in, just how incredibly disruptive all of this is for many of you,” Elliott said in response. 

“If you are struggling to get around you may find additional advice or support from your local town hall, or charities or community groups in your area and the Support in Spain website is another very useful source of organisations that can provide general support to residents.

“And if your inability to drive is putting you in a very vulnerable situation, you can always contact your nearest consulate for advice.”

There continue to be disparaging opinions in the British community in Spain over whether any pity should be felt for UK licence holders stuck without driving, as many argue they had enough time to register intent to exchange their licences, whilst others clarify that their particular set of circumstances, such as arriving after the December 2020 ‘intent to exchange’ deadline, made this impossible. 

OPINION: Not all Brits in Spain who didn’t exchange UK driving licences are at fault

So is there any light at the end of the tunnel for drivers whose UK licences aren’t valid anymore in Spain or soon won’t be?

“The agreement we’re working towards now will enable UK licence holders, whenever they arrived in Spain or arrive in the future, to exchange their UK licence for a Spanish one without needing to take a practical or a theory test,” Elliott said on Thursday May 12th of the deal they are “fully committed” to achieve.

READ ALSO: How much does it cost to get a Spanish driving licence?

And yet it’s hard for anyone to rest their hopes on this necessarily happening – sooner or later or ever – in part because the embassy advice for those with UK licences for whom it’s imperative to continue driving in Spain is that they should take steps to get their Spanish licence now, while acknowledging that in some places there are “long delays for lessons” and getting your Spanish licence “doesn’t happen overnight”.

READ ALSO: What now for UK licence holders in Spain?