Guest Post: Travellingaroundspain.com
If you have moved to Spain permanently, it is likely that you will want the freedom of having your own car and driving to where you want while you living here.
You can get away with using your international driver’s license for awhile, but once you are legally residing in Spain you need to change over to a Spanish license.
If you haven’t braved driving yet in Spain, you might want to check out this How to survive driving in Spain
Spain has agreements with some countries such as those within the EU and the UK so they aren’t required to re-take the driver’s exam. If you have a license from one of these countries, you can simply exchange the license from the other country of origin to a Spanish one for a fee. For more information on this process, see this article Renewing or exchanging EU driving licenses in Spain.
If you fail to register to get a Spanish driver’s license and you get caught you can be fined 200 Euros.
Unfortunately, this agreement does not extend to either Canada or the USA. For either of these countries and many others, you will have to get your driver’s license from scratch—by taking the theoretical and practical exams.
What is the process of getting a driver’s license in Spain?
If you do have to go through the process to get a license in Spain, these are a few things you need to know:
The laws about driving and anything related to driving, including getting your license are regulated by Departamento Generál de Tráfico.
You must be 18 to drive in Spain.
Most cars are manual shifts, and the exam is taken in a manual car.
If you are nervous about taking your driver’s license with a manual shift you can do the exam with an automatic as an exception, but then your license will be restricted and you will only ever be able to drive an automatic car in Spain.
This will limit you to choices of what to buy in the future as there are almost no manual cars. My suggestion is to bite the bullet and learn to handle a manual shift. It will make life easier for you here once you learn.
Getting your license requires two exams: theoretical and practical.
To get your driver’s license in Spain you will need to register with a government-recognized autoescuela.
“What????” I can already hear you screaming. “I have been driving for 20 years, why would I need to go to a driving school here?”
An excellent question, one that most of us who have had to go through the process have complained about. However, in Spain the entire system is set up so that you have to get a license through a Government-validated school.
Even before you can start your 1st class in the 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 photo for your physical license. ( these are standard size and all photo stores can take one in a moment)
- Certificate of mental and physical health, called a certificado medico (The certificado medico is an exam that tests your vision and reflexes. It costs around 20€ – 25€. Ask at your autoescuela for the one nearest you)
- The form Obtenación de Permiso de Conducir (available at all driving schools)
- A photocopy of your license from your home country
- 30€ registration fee
Do I really need to study for this, it is just a theory exam after all?
The short answer is yes, you need to study.
The theoretic exam is much more extensive than I expected. It is nothing like the theoretic exam in Canada which requires glancing at the booklet for a few days and answering 20 easy questions at the nearest Government office.
The first clue of what the exam might be like is from the thick textbook you are issued when you sign up for the driving school. You need to learn not only traffic laws, but also some information about car’s mechanics—I’m not just talking about how to change a tire—but details about the motor, basic first aid skills and other a few other topics thrown in for good measure.
The exam is multiple choice and full of trick questions.
One tip: If your Spanish is above the most basic level I strongly suggest you take the exam in Spanish. You can request to take the exam in English, but the translation is so poor that you will have no idea what they are asking you. I took the exam when I was still very new in Spain and I wasn’t confident with my Spanish. Thinking it would be to my advantage I requested the exam in English but that was a huge mistake. The grammar was a direct translation from Spanish with the English words thrown in—as for the vocabulary, I don’t know where some of the words came from, but I think it was something Shakespeare may have been better able to decipher, but for anyone who only speaks modern English it was a bust. I failed. When I retook the exam in Spanish I was able to pass.
The autoescuela books the exam for you and tells you the day and time. When you arrive you wait in a holding area as someone calls out the names of everyone being examined that day. Make sure you show up with your identification or you won’t be writing the exam. In Madrid there are usually around 200 people taking the exam at a time. Everyone is then usured into a large exam room. You are given ½ hour to write the exam.
Don’t bother trying to cheat as not everyone gets the same exam. On any given day they will hand out about 5 different exams so it is unlikely that the person sitting next to you will have the same one.
The practical exam
Most schools offer classes to help you pass the theoretic driver’s exam and then throw in about 5 road classes for free. After that, you have to pay per road class, and they are rather pricey.
If you already have your license you won’t have to worry about the expense of extra driving classes as you can already handle that.
As I was from a small town in the rocky mountains that had more deer, elk and bear traffic than cars, I took advantage of the 5 free classes to get tips for driving in Madrid city centre, maneuvering around the roundabouts and making sure I understood some of the laws that are different here from in Canada.
As I had been driving for years I wasn’t very concerned about the practical exam.
It is about what you would expect. You have to show that you are comfortable driving, know how to tackle a roundabout, can drive on a freeway and parallel park.
The part I found odd was that you don’t show up in your own car, rather you use the autoescuela’s car. The examiner rides shotgun and two other students as well as the driving instructor from your autoescuela ride in the back. The three students take turns doing the exam.
The price of autoescuelas varies a lot so it is best to shop around. As with almost everything the cheapest is not always the best. It is better to go with recommendations of friends or put a note on a Facebook group to get suggestions.
For more information check out the DGT website.
About the author:
Kimberly is a Canadian who has been living in Spain for over 15 years. She spends her free weekends and vacations with her family getting to know her adopted country.
Her blog, travellingaroundspain.com is all about helping you discover the best of what Spain has to offer.
Along with many of the top tourist attractions, she also includes some of the smaller, but equally as interesting off-the-beaten-path villages, side streets or attractions.
If you found this post to be helpful, take a look at our other posts as we discuss a variety of topics related to Spain. If you are interested in teaching and living in Spain for a year or need assistance becoming autónomo, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org letting us know so we can contact you to set up a free 20 minute consultation!