Imagine this: You hop into a convertible and cruise along the sunny Costa del Sol. Or maybe you’re winding along the mountain roads in Asturias, Spain. It's every expat's dream. Whatever the case, all Americans need to know the rules about driving in Spain with a US license before renting or owning a vehicle in the country. The good news is: you can drive in Spain with an American license, but there are differences for visitors and long-term residents. Discover all the important details below.
Tourists and Visitors Driving in Spain with a US License
American tourists can stay in Spain for up to 3 months without a visa. During this time, many want to travel around Spain and often the best way of doing so is driving. Yes, train travel is great, but a car is the only way to appreciate the full beauty of the country and embark on the ultimate Spain road trip.
In order to drive a car around Spain, it is recommended to obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP). This must be carried around in addition to your valid US license. You can obtain this permit at your local AAA branch for a cost of $20 and it has a validity of 12 months.
Many car rental companies do not require an IDP, only your US driver’s license along with your passport. However, if you get pulled over by Spanish police, they will ask for an International Driver’s License and you will probably incur a fine if you don’t have one.
For renting a car in Spain, keep in mind that you must be at least 21 years old to rent a car (for some providers it's 23), and there are normally restrictions or extra fees for drivers under 24-25 years of age. Make sure to brush up on Spanish road rules while you’re at it.
Long-Term Residents Driving in Spain with a US License
For Europeans, they have 2 years to use their national license before switching to a Spanish one. Unfortunately for Americans, we are not as lucky.
US citizens who are residents of Spain for more than 6 months must go through the entire process for obtaining a Spanish license. This is because there is no agreement between the United States and Spain in order to simply switch your license to a Spanish license (like there is with Germany, for example). There are some exceptions for diplomats, military members, etc.
In order to get a Spanish driver’s license, you must be at least 18 years old, undergo a short medical examination, and pass a written exam and driving test. Most people go through the process with a driving school (autoescuela) that also includes driving lessons. Remember, most cars in Spain and throughout Europe are manual instead of automatic. If you want to bring your own car to Spain, discover how to do so.
If you are a resident of Spain and you are caught driving without a Spanish license, you could incur a hefty fine. Although the process of obtaining a Spanish driving license may be annoying and time-consuming, it is something you will have to do sooner or later.
For more information about Spanish driver’s licenses, consult the Dirección General de Tráfico. To discover your how to switch your license to a Spanish one, read the free guide below: