Getting a Driver’s License in Spain

What went wrong
The GPS led us off the toll road and onto a little-traversed secondary highway that snaked through isolated Soria. We happened upon a quaint small town on the river Duero, starting our La Rioja road trip with a glass of red and a stroll around town.

As we hopped into the rental car and headed towards Logroño, I drove straight into a speed trap. Thankfully, I was a few kilometers under the limit, but we were still flagged down and made to pull over. As the Guardia Civil walked towards us, I remembered the words of the car rental agent, “I am legally obliged to tell you that, if you are pulled over, you do not have driving permission in this country.”

After twenty minutes of my friends chatting nervously as I alternated between laughing and throwing up, we were fined 100€ and thoroughly spooked.

Six weeks later, both Hayley and I started driving courses and have been legally driving in Spain ever since.

— Cat

The Rules of the Road – Driving in Spain Basics
While Spain’s public transportation is, in general, pretty awesome, having a car opens up the possibility of exploring smaller towns on your own timetable or driving to work. When the COMO crew was pulled over and fined for not carrying valid licenses in 2012, it was a rude awakening that it was time to follow the rules.

The Departamento Generál de Tráfico governs the roads and sets the rules:· You must be 18 to drive in Europe; but at 16 you can drive a small motorbike or scooter.

· Most European cars are manual, so you may have to learn stick shift.

· A European license is valid in each EU country, including the UK (though if you move from one country to another, you’ll have to apply for a new card there).

· Your license is valid for 10 years, but note that it doesn’t constitute a valid photo ID as it does in the US.

· For more information check out the DGT website.

Getting your license requires two exams: theoretical and practical.

Test Drive – the Theoretical Exam
Slow down! Before you can even sign up to take a driving course at a government-recognized autoescuela, you’ll have to gather the following:

  • Proof of legal residence in Spain for a minimum of 6 months – show a valid NIE or passport with visa affixed
  • At least one foto carnet for your physical license
  • Certificate of mental and physical health, called a certificado medico
  • The form Obtenación de Permiso de Conducir (available at all driving schools)
  • A photocopy of your license from your home country
  • 30€ registration fee

The certificado medico tests your vision and reflexes and will run you around 20€ to 25€. Ask at your autoescuela for the nearest testing center.

Once you’re signed up at a school you’ll be given materials to begin preparing for the theoretical exam. While some schools offer traditional classes taught by a professor others opt for a computer lab equipped with videos and virtual tutors. Expect to receive a hefty book to study as well as access to hundreds of practice exams.

If you’re hoping to study for the exam in English, we recommend Practica Test’s Spanish driving exam test bank and downloadable theory book in English. The site is easy to use and regularly updated with the latest DGT exam modifications. Popular Spanish knowledge dictates that you should take no less than 500 practice exams before daring to sign up for the actual thing, but team COMO did far less with excellent results!

The written exam consists of 30 multiple-choice questions, drawn from a pool of around 3000. When you take the test, expect about 20 questions to be dead giveaways (if you’ve studied!), and the other 10 to be a bit more challenging. You’ll want to pay close attention to memorizing stats relating to speed limits, blood alcohol levels, and signage as they always appear! You are allowed a maximum of three mistakes to pass the written exam.

images

On testing day, make sure to bring a photo ID and show up around 30 minutes early. Some provinces now offer computer-based exams, but the majority continue to be pencil and paper based. You’ll be called by name, shown to a table and given 30 minutes to complete the exam. Cheaters beware – there are usually several versions of the exam, so don’t copy off of your neighbor!

The tests are sent to the DGT in Madrid, and results are available by 1pm the following day via the DGT website.

 

Hit the Road – the Practical Exam
In Spain there’s no need to give parents or friends gray hairs as you learn how to drive, leave the pain to the professionals! Driving school instructors undergo rigorous training, and school cars are specially labeled with a large blue “L” and equipped with an extra set of brakes for your safety.

Once you’ve passed the theoretical exam, your driving school will begin scheduling practical classes. Some schools offer package deals included in the matriculation fee with a set number of practice hours behind the wheel, others offer a pay-as-you go scheme. Regardless or how your school works, expect to shell out a pretty penny, as the average hourly rate in Spain is 25€.

Once your instructor deems you ready for the practical exam, you’ll be assigned a day and hour. Keep in mind that you could be tested with up to two other candidates, who will also ride in the car. Your instructor will sit shotgun and the examiner behind him or her, next to the other candidates.

There are three parts to the practical exam: mechanical, autonomous driving and directed driving. You are allowed to make up to ten small errors and still pass, though one grave error will cost you the entire test! If your instructor touches the brake, it’s an automatic fail.

In the mechanical part of the exam, the examiner will ask you to step out of the car, pop the hood and point out things like the engine or check the oil or tires. You could also be asked to get back in the car and put on lights, wipers or the A/C. You’ll also need to be prepared to show documentation to the examiner such as the car’s insurance or permiso de circulación.

The examiner will then allow you to drive on your own for around ten to fifteen minutes before asking you to complete a series of tasks, like parking or highway driving. If you are taking the exam with multiple candidates, as soon as one candidate finishes, the other picks up.

When you pass the practical exam, you’ll be asked to sign a waiver that serves as a temporary license. Your card should arrive in one to two weeks, and then you’re ready to hit the road (though you’ll have to display that obnoxious green “L” in your back window for a whole year)! 

2013-04-12 20.24.17

On the Road Again – Driving and FAQs

Can I drive with an international driving permit?
If you wish to drive in Spain as a tourist, be sure to get an International Driving Permit from AAA and carry that along with your valid license. Note that this document is only valid for one year, and cannot be used for more than 90 consecutive days in the same country.

According to the US Embassy, the IDP is not for residents of Spain. If you wish to drive, you’ll need to get an EU license.

And on that note, you cannot validate your US license.

What is the average cost of auto school?
According to data released by the DGT in 2013, the average cost of driving school (including fees, an average of 20 hours of practical classes and certificates) was 740€ in Spain. The highest fees were found in Logroño, coming in at a whopping 1,156€, while the cheapest was located in Jaén and cost just 435€. Expect to pay more in larger cities and in the north of Spain and significantly less in smaller towns and in southern Spain.

Also keep in mind that cheaper is not always better when it comes to choosing your school. You may see unbelievable offers on websites such as Groupon, but it’s always best to do a bit of research first. Take into account your learning style as some schools will offer traditional classes while others might be 100% virtual.

Are there theory tests in English or other languages?
Yes, you can take both your theory and practical exams in other languages. Be sure to specify which language at the driving school so that they can get you the proper materials.

That being said, know that the translations are often less-than-perfect, so we suggest taking the exam in Spanish if you’re able.

How many practical classes do I have to take?
This depends entirely on your auto school and also what your instructor feels is sufficient. The law states a minimum of 6 hours behind the wheel, but some schools might require more than that. For 100% new drivers, expect a minimum of around 20, which is on-par with the Spanish national average.

What happens if I get fined or have an accident?
Yikes, bad luck of course!

Spain operates on a points system like many European countries. Should you have an accident or get a fine, you may lose points depending on the severity of the crime. New drivers are given 15 points; this number is raised to 21 after two years of clean driving. If you lose all of your points, your driving permission is revoked.

If you are fined, you are required to pay. If done before 20 natural days are up, fines are reduced by 50%, and can be paid at any post office or Santander bank branch, as well as over the phone or online.

In the event of an accident, call your insurance company immediately. You are also required by law to fill out a form called the declaración amistosa de accidente. The form, which your insurance company will provide to you, includes contact information and details of the accident and must be signed by both drivers.
201104-w-sign-quiz-traffic-jamCan I buy a car in Spain?
Absolutely! Remember – the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and there are hidden costs everywhere, it seems.

As a car owner, you’ll have to pay the following:

  • Car Insurance
  • Permiso de Circulación – paid to the Jefatura Provincial de Trafico (prices range depending on where your car is registered and prices increase based on population and local traffic statistics. Expect to pay 50€ to 100€)
  • General Vehicle Inspection, called the ITV or Inspección Técnica de Vehículos (done yearly, biyearly or every four years, depending on the age of your car)
  • Cost of changing the title of the vehicle (a one-time fee, around 200€)

And then there’s gas and repairs, of which we’ve both forked over plenty. We’ll follow up with info on buying, selling and paying for a car in the near future.

Until then, happy trails!

Author: Como Consulting Spain

Cat and Hayley are relocation specialists who can help you move to, live in and work in Spain. We'd love to hear from you! hola@comoconsultingspain.com

Share This Post On

66 Comments

  1. Love this! Just what I am looking for as I will be working on this this year.

    Post a Reply
  2. so once you get an EU license, your US license is invalid? or is it possible to hold both at the same time?

    Post a Reply
  3. I am confused. I’ve heard that depending on the State your US license is from, it may be recognized in Spain for up to 6 months. And you can take your US drivers license to Royal Automobile Club of Spain and get a Spanish Drivers license. That way you don’t have to start from scratch and ‘re-learn’ how to drive.

    Post a Reply
  4. Do all of these things need to be done in order to drive a small scooter? (such as what a 16 year old could legally drive) Also, do you know if those small scooters can be taken on the highway?

    Post a Reply
    • Scooters have their own driver’s permit, but you will have to do a course and pass a test all the same. There are 4 different licenses for the different types of scooters and motorcycles in Europe. The basic permit is called an AM and is to drive a scooter with a capacity of 50cc. These small scooters are only meant for city driving and cannot exceed speeds beyond 45 or 50 km/h. An A1 permit will allow you to drive a motorcycle up to 125cc. Motorcycles of this type have the capacity to be driven at higher speeds and can be used on some but not all motorways.

      Post a Reply
      • Can I get a motorcycle license at a normal auto escuela? Or is it a different school for that?
        Thanks!!!

        Post a Reply
  5. hi. grat article. do you know if i can register for theoretical exam without going through driving school. i also found english exams on DGF website for practicinf

    Post a Reply
    • Thanks for your questions. Rather than going through an auto school you can do the written exam “por libre.” You can study the exam contents and do practice exams on the DGT website and when you’re ready you’ll need to file paperwork and pay fees at the nearest Jefatura de Tráfico in the province where you live.

      Post a Reply
      • if i only new this weeks ago. it would have saved me a lot of time and money, and i would have had a vacation.
        i contacted a driving school and they told me that they will arrange everything for me. date they gave me cut right into middle of my vacation, and I had to buy a plane ticket to come back to Madrid for the written exam. however, week after they told me the date, they called again and informed me that i had another date which resulted in me having to change already purchased plane ticket, which in high season is not cheap.
        additionally, when i called the school the first time they told me that they would organise english practice exams which would correspond to the actual exam. the reality was that i got some poorly translated exam which, among other things, offered wrong answers as the right ones. of course, when i took the actual exam, the questions were completely different, and I only found out after the fact that DGT offered study guide and actual exams online for free. fine, i was taken for a ride there.
        now, the same school is telling me that they cannot organise my driving lessons for which i have already paid and they cannot get me a date for the actual driving test before september, although they knew in advance that i needed to complete this in July because I will be out of the country for a while which will make it very difficult for me to take the driving lessons and the test. (BTW, i am experienced driver)

        one mistake they made, is that they have registered me as “independent” or “por libre”, which, i assume, means that i can take my results to go to another school which is more professional. this means that instead of sitting and enjoying my break, i have to call the schools. and in between calling the schools, i will write an official letter of complaint to whomever is looking after driving schools.

        the point of this rant, for anyone looking to find a school, is to check their options and what each school is offering, also make sure that the dates and what gets offered is in some sort of written form.

        guys, than you for the blogpost and information you provided.

        Post a Reply
        • So very sorry for your terrible experience! There are a lot of schools out there just in it to make money. It’s always good to read reviews or ask friends for a trusted establishment before investing in anything. Best of luck to you!

          Post a Reply
  6. I found all the information helped a lot, although I still have two important questions. So here’s my situation: I need to get my driver’s license (for a car) as soon as possible. From what I have found, the legal age to drive a car is 18. I am 17, and going to be 18 in 4 months. I need to know how long (average) it would take me to go through the theory and practical test combined ( Basically, how long between the day I sign up and the day I can drive? ) my second question is, can I still take the theory and practical classes being 17 years old, and take the tests only when I turn 18? Or do I have to be 18 already to start the classes?

    Thank you very much for taking the time to give us all that information!

    Post a Reply
    • Hi Lydiane,
      Thanks for your questions. Yes, you can take the written exam up to 3 months before your 18th birthday and your results are valid for 6 months. However, you must wait until you turn 18 before you can start driving classes. How long it will take you depends entirely on your area and school. In smaller cities and towns examiners might only be available to give a behind-the-wheel exam once a week, whereas in bigger cities there are times every day. Check with your local driving school who might be able to tell you how long it took past students to get their licenses. Off hand we’d guess a month or two, max. Best of luck to you!

      Post a Reply
      • Thank you very much! Your reply was very helpful!

        Post a Reply
  7. I have just moved from the UK and have got my nie number is this ok to start learning to drive in Spain?

    Post a Reply
    • It is. However, if you already have a license from the UK it is not necessary for you to go to driving school in Spain.

      Post a Reply
  8. Very informative article, thank you! Wanted to ask though, I’m interested in getting a motorcycle/moped license. I’m 21, British, living in Barcelona for one year (as part of my degree), will be getting an NIE very soon. What is the procedure (if different)? Thank you!

    Post a Reply
    • Hi Nooms,
      That depends on the size of the motorcycle you want to get. But in general, yes, you will have to pass a theory exam and in some cases and driving exam as well. Your best bet is to decide on the moto you’re interested in and then go to your nearest autoescuela to find out what you’ll need to do.

      Post a Reply
  9. Very helpful post, thanks!
    Quick question: can I take my driving lessons and pass my exam in another city than the one I’m usually living in Spain? I live in Barcelona and I’d rather take my driving lessons in a smaller town. It happens that I’ll be living in Andalusia for 2-3 months. Can I do the whole process while living there?
    Thanks a lot!

    Post a Reply
    • You absolutely can! Just make sure and get information from the autoescuela you plan to prepare with on a typical timeline to make sure you can get it all done in your timeframe.

      Post a Reply
  10. Hi,
    I am Danish and hold a “B” license for driving a car (for more than 30 years). I moved to Spain less than a year ago, I am registered “recidencia” here now and have signed up for expanding my drivers license with a motorcycle license to get a bigger motorcycle than the 125cc I currently enjoy driving.
    Only problem is that my Spanish is still very poor and I find it hard to learn enough spanish to pass the exam in Spanish. The Autoescula here in the southern Spain all say it is not possible to get a English version of the exam for A2 and A license.

    Is that really true?

    Since I am resident here in Spain, I cannoy simply take a long vacation in Denmark as the new regulations there state that I must be resident there for more than 3 months and that the period of education should take no less than 9 weeks.

    If anyone know a shortcut to getting access to a exam in English – first for the A2 and if my Spanish still is bad – for the A permit 2 years after I will really appreciate these advice.

    Learning Spanish takes a while when you are 50 and work hard to make a living 🙁

    Thanks in advance!

    Post a Reply
  11. Hi!

    I am an Australian/European dual citizen. I am working and living here in Spain and hold an Australian drivers license.

    If I switch my license for a Spanish drivers license (if possible?) can I get it back when I leave?

    I have recently returned from Australia so I can stay here for a few years.. I organised my things and renewed my drivers license (10 years!) and also obtained an International Drivers Permit (valid for 1 year). I want to use this permit until I am required to get a full Spanish drivers license.

    I entered into Spain as a European, so I can work and stay longer. I am concerned that the International Drivers Permit will only be valid for 6 months or less..? and only IF I had of entered as an Austrlian (Schengen visa) not a European?

    I have been here already for 3 years (not driving a car), working for government schools as a teaching assistant. The visa is a ‘student visa’ that lasts for only 10 months so I have had to leave and return Spain until recently when I obtained my European passport.

    I don’t think this time on the ‘student visa’ is the same as obtaining residency or counts as a resident?

    Obviously I would like to be able to drive a car… I am prepared to take the drivers test but am not able to at this point due to finances.

    Any advise would be very much appreciated 🙂

    Post a Reply
    • Hi Tim, you have a lot of questions, so we’ll try our best to tackle them!

      If you were here previously on a student visa, you were not considered a resident but on a a temporary “estancia.” This time will not really have an effect on your previous time in Spain. And it doesn’t matter which passport you entered on – your DL is not from an EU country.

      You can use your international driver’s permit for up to six months; after this time, it would be necessary to get an EU license (though you could do it in the UK, too).

      There is no way to “trade” or “turn in” your license from Oz and get it back when you return to Australia.

      We know it’s an expensive thing to do, but consider the fines and potential jail time if you don’t do it and get caught!If you plan to be in Spain long-term and buy a car, it’s in your best interest. You can study on your own and then pay for the driving classes; check groupon for deals.

      Post a Reply
  12. Hi
    I am english. I have a provisional licence in the UK. I passed my theory test in the UK but unfortunately failed the practical test just before I moved here.
    I know Spain doesn’t have a provisional licence and and that I will need to do a theory test here too. What I need clarifying is can I learn without having residencia. I have heard that I can’t but yet I know people that have
    Thanks

    Post a Reply
    • The normativa or law says that “En el caso de extranjeros, acreditar la situación de residencia normal o estancia por estudios en España de, al menos, seis meses y haber cumplido la edad requerida.” You must be over 18, be living in Spain legally as a student or resident and have been here for more than 6 months. As for learning, that likely depends on the school. The theory exam, once passed, is valid for 2 full years, so we can’t imagine any school turning you and your money away to prepare for the written test. That being said, they may or may not let you behind the wheel!

      Post a Reply
  13. I have a liscense from my country philippines but it is expired can i exchange it for a drivers liscense here in madrid??please answer me

    Post a Reply
    • Hi Donna, like the UK, it seems that the Philippines has a reciprocity agreements with Spain that allows you to have a Spanish license, as well. You can ask at the DGT or contact your embassy. Lucky you!

      Post a Reply
  14. This is very helpful article, but please i have some questions. Is practice on DGT site enough to pass the theory exam or better go through books? I passed my theory Exam within 2 weeks of reading in Houston, Texas.

    But i find it here so dificult, because they have alot of books (different types) and you can only make 3 mistakes in theory exam.

    What do you suggest as best way to tackle the theory exam in spain??? help please i must have the license in January. Thank you

    Post a Reply
    • Hi John,
      We’re glad you found the article helpful. We don’t believe there’s one best way to pass the theory exam – everyone learns differently. However, in both our experiences our success was due to a combination of studying all of the provided material followed by doing many practice tests.

      Post a Reply
  15. This article is very helpful, thank you! I have one question – is there a limited amount of time between taking the theory and the practical test? For example, if I took the theory test in May, do I have a limited amount of time before i have to take the practical test?

    In addition, when you have the medical certificate, is there a max time you can have this before you use it to sign up? I am planning to do the theory por libre, and as I only have one work day a week free, I am trying to make sure it is worth my while!

    Post a Reply
    • Hi Jenny,
      We’re really not sure about these particulars, but you can always head down to a driving school, get the answers you’re looking for and then simply decide not to do the course and exams through them!

      Post a Reply
  16. Hi, I have been living in Spain for 1.5 years and am now thinking of getting a Spanish Driver’s License. I currently have a valid U.S. license which I don’t want to give up because I may return in a few years ( I renewed it just before leaving ). Do I need to even mention the U.S. license while in the process of obtaining a license here in Spain or can I mention it without fear of having the DGT take it away, or even contact the DMV to have it cancelled ? It would be great to be able to drive around but not at the expense of my U.S. license.
    Thanks.

    Post a Reply
    • Hi Nancy,
      Don’t worry, there is no problem with holding multiple driving permissions! Unfortunately in Spain your driving experience in America doesn’t even count, which is why you have to start the process from scratch. Good luck!

      Post a Reply
      • Thank you. I guess I’ll get right on it then 🙂

        Post a Reply
      • Is it possible to do it in Eglish anmywhere here in Spain

        Post a Reply
  17. Very Helpful even after a number of years.
    ” (though you’ll have to display that obnoxious green “L” in your back window for a whole year)! ”
    I would not have a problem with this even if the L sign will be bigger than my car!
    I go back and forth between the UK and Spain every now and then. After you passed the practical and were given a driving license, is this classified as a full licence. i.e When back in the UK and I rent a car, will this licence suffice?
    At the end of the year did you have to change your licence card?

    Tks
    Al

    Post a Reply
  18. Hi there…. In want to make my motorbike liscense
    Already have since 20 years my car driving liscense
    I have a Portuguese liscense….
    But currently I’m In Mallorca cause I work here…
    can I make my bike liscense without theory exam?
    I heard there is a new law…
    Only practical test

    Regards Mike

    Post a Reply
    • Hi Mike,
      If you already have an EU driving license then getting a motorbike permit shouldn’t be an issue. Make an appointment at your local DGT office to enquire.

      Post a Reply
  19. Hello I would like to do my theory and practical test for the lorries in Spain gandia I want to know how much the fees and are they offering an iccomidation and how long it takes the course to get my results many thank’s

    Post a Reply
  20. i wanted to know if i have American driving license that expire and i am now in Spain and i have NIE
    how can i get my spanish license

    thank you

    Post a Reply
    • As an American, you would have to go to a driving school and pass both the written and driving exam in order to get a license in Spain.

      Post a Reply
  21. I am a US citizen currently living in Spain. I have applied for my resident card which I hope to receive in Sept. Right now I am driving as a tourist for 90 days (ends Sept 12). Am I allowed to drive in Spain with my US driver’s license and International Permit while I wait the for the required minium 6 months of residency prior to taking the test ?

    Post a Reply
  22. Hello, I moved to spain a week ago but I started my Car Driving licence in Germany. And I would like to make a AM Driving test now. To just have a ride down here. I wanted to ask what exactly you have to do to get an AM driving licence in Spain? And can I do it in English?

    Post a Reply
    • Hi Hendrik,
      You’d need to work directly with a Spanish driving school in order to find out what certificates or exams you can “homologar” or get credit for and what other steps you will need to take in order to complete your license in Spain.

      Post a Reply
  23. Firstly, thank you for all extremely helpful info. My specific case is: we just came from Istanbul, Turkey (with my wife) to Barcelona. We will be here at least for 5 years. We have been driving in chaotic Istanbul traffic for more than 15 years, have driven extensively in most of Europe for touristic purposes, so we do not have any practical difficulties with driving.

    What is the most efficient/cheapest way for us to get the spanish licence?
    Can we do everything on our own? apply for taking the tests in English, take the driving test, etc.?
    is there an estimation for the budget for 2?
    and how long will the process take?

    Many thanks for the support! Really appreciated.

    Post a Reply
    • Hi There,
      Getting a driving license in Spain requires passing both a theory and practical exam. You can do this “por libre” without going through an official school. You’ll need to pass a medical exam (20-30€ a person depending on where you live) and also pay the fees for the DGT exams (around 100€ a person). We’d estimate that at the very minimum you’ll need to pay around 150€ a person, however we’d highly recommend you work with an official driving school to help prepare for the test and arrange all of the paperwork.

      Post a Reply
  24. Hi COMO, I have passed the theory exam in Romania and have completed all school hours and have schedule for prictical exam; however I am relocating to Spain prior to the exam date. My question: is my autoescuela valid in Spain? Can I take practical exam in Spain without taking more school or theoretical exam again?

    If I get a Romanian DL, class B, can I exchange it in Spain without an more school or exams?

    Thanks for your advice!

    Post a Reply
    • Hi There,
      We’re not sure to be honest, you’d be best checking with the DGT once you’re here in Spain or we’ll leave this comment here in case one of our readers knows!

      Post a Reply
  25. When it says proof of legal residence, what exactly does that mean? Could I hypothetically get a drivers license if I have a student visa that has a duration of 6 months? Or does that mean I have to show that I have been living there legally for at least 6 months?

    Post a Reply
  26. Hey girls! I’m American and have a car drivers license here, I’m planning my trip to Tenerife and want to rent a scooter. Do you know if I need a Spanish license or I can rent it with my license? Scooter rental’s website (www.bikesbooking.com) states that I can rent but need some IDP, so maybe you had an experience with scooter rental? Any advise will be helpful. Thanks!

    Post a Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. What to Expect at the Spanish Vehicle Inspection | comoconsultingspain.com - […] in driving in Spain? Check out our articles on Getting a Driver’s License in Spain and New Laws for…

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge