Perhaps you’ve been in Spain for years and you’ve finally succumbed to buying a car, (despite Spain’s fantastic public transport system), or maybe you’ve just arrived and have landed a job that requires you to commute, or maybe you’re simply the kind of person who needs to feel the freedom to move at the drop of a hat. Whatever the case, you’ve found yourself asking, “how do I change driving license in Spain?” Today we’ve got all the details you’ll need from start to finish.
Who needs a driver’s license in Spain?
In a word, everyone. But not everyone needs to start from scratch. First, check to see which group you’re part of:
- If you hold a valid driver’s license from the EU, Norway, Iceland, or Liechtenstein can drive freely in Spain. As long as the license holder is over the legal driving age of 18, their license is valid in Spain and no further action needs to be taken.
- If you are a tourist of a non-EU country, you need your own valid license plus an international driver’s license.
- If you are a resident of Spain holding a driver’s license from Andorra, Algeria, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, South Korea, Croatia, Ecuador, Japan, Morocco, Peru, Dominican Republic, Paraguay, Switzerland, Uruguay , Venezuela, Brazil, El Salvador, the Philippines, Guatemala, Serbia, Turkey, Tunisia or Ukraine, you must exchange your license with a Spanish one by making an appointment and presenting these documents at your local Jefatura de Tráfico:
Lastly, if you’re like me, and you’re neither an EU citizen nor one of the aforementioned countries with driver’s license agreements with Spain, you will need to start from the very beginning and prepare for the theoretical and practical exams.
Do citizens from the UK need to change driving license in Spain?
Up until Brexit, drivers from the UK could enjoy the same rules as their EU counterparts when it came to driver’s licenses–meaning their original licenses were valid and there was no need to change driving license in Spain. But now, British residents currently have until February 28th, 2022 to continue using their license as normal, and after that it is unclear what the official policy will be.
British citizens in Spain needed to have applied for the exchange of license with the DGT and had it verified by the authorities in the United Kingdom by December 31, 2020 in order to be guaranteed that their paperwork would be processed. If you have not applied to exchange your license, you may need to start preparing for a theoretical and practical exam, so read on.
Choosing a driving school in Spain
There are a few things to keep in mind when choosing your driving school or autoescuela, but the most important ones are:
- Is it easy to get to? You’ll likely be picked up here for your driving classes, so make sure it isn’t too far from home.
- What kind of complementary material is there? Do you get a book? An online platform? An app to practice? Most schools should have some combination of these. Decide which ones are the most important for you.
- How much is it? On average, from start to finish getting your driver’s license in Spain costs somewhere between 650 and 1500 euros.
- Can you do the exam in English? Many people caution against doing this as the translations are infamously confusing, but if this is your only option, make sure your car school offers the possibility.
- Do they give the option of preparing for an automatic transmission license? Some Americans in Spain might be hesitant to learn to drive manual, so make sure your school offers an exam for automatic cars if this is your case.
Costs of getting your driver’s license in Spain
Here is the run down on the costs included in your license:
- Registration cost: around 200 euros–this only needs to be paid once as long as you pass both the theory and practical exams in no more than 3 attempts total. If you need more than 3 attempts, you’ll need to pay another 200-euro fee.
- Theory classes: roughly 203 euros
- Practical driving classes: roughly 25 euros per class. It should be noted that most people need around 15-25 classes in order to pass, and buying packs of classes usually ends up cheaper.
- Administration fee: 45 euros. Some schools include this in their prices and some don’t.
- Psychophysical aptitude test: 30-35 euros
- Traffic taxes: 94,05 euros
In my case, here in Seville I paid:
- 299 euros initial fee which included the registration fee, the manual, unlimited in person theory classes, an online platform for doing as many practice tests as I wanted, the medical exam, 5 driving classes, one practical exam, admin fees, and one traffic tax payment.
- One pack of 10 classes (80 minutes each) = 360 euros
- An additional practical exam admin fee= 45 euros
- 4 more driving classes = 80 euros
Manual versus Automatic Transmission
If you are an American expat and you’re anything like me, perhaps the thought of having to learn how to drive “stick shift” is almost enough to resign yourself to never driving in Spain. Let me put your fears to ease by first assuring you–it's normal. In my first driving class I was a ball of nerves and definitely shed a tear or two. But it truly becomes second nature at some point and is really no more complicated than automatic transmission.
If you are set on getting your license with automatic, however, beware. First of all, not all car schools have the possibility to do automatic driver’s licenses, but also, if you do pass the exam with automatic transmission you are only authorized to drive automatic cars. This isn’t a problem if you live in the United States, but in Spain, automatic cars are few and far between, so learning manual transmission might be worth the extra effort.
How does the process work?
You will first study, go to class, and take practice exams until you get to the point where you are consistently passing them. You are only allowed 3 errors out of 30 questions in order to pass. I found that doing the practice tests at home, writing down my errors and questions to later ask my teacher in person was really useful. I also found going to in-person classes to be extremely helpful and important in my learning process.
Once you think you’re prepared, your driving school will tell you the first available spot for the test at your local testing location. Before the exam you’ll need to have your psychophysical aptitude, exam done at a local center and bring the certificate you’re given there, along with your pictures to your driving school so that they have all of your paperwork in order.
If you pass the theoretical exam, you’ll be able to start your driving classes. Once you and your teacher think you’re ready–usually after about 15-25 classes– they’ll let you know the next available date. On the day of the exam your teacher picks you up and they will be in the driver’s seat with you while the examiner is in the back.
Once you pass, that information is automatically uploaded to the DGT database and you’ll be able to download a temporary license until your physical card arrives in the mail about two months later.
How long does it take to get your driver’s license in Spain?
While the average person usually takes 6-7 months, it largely depends on how much time you have to dedicate to it, as well as how well you can absorb new, slightly complicated vocabulary and memorize numbers and laws. I’ll admit, even with a near-native level of Spanish, I found it very hard to remember all of the new words and different traffic laws, including, but not limited to knowing all of the documents I needed in my car at all times.
What if I don’t pass on the first try?
You would be in the majority of people who take the exam. In fact, according to DGT data, 73% of people who take the practical exam don’t pass on the first try. The theoretical exam has slightly better statistics with “only” 55% failing on the first try.
Try not to stress too much, and remember that you have three attempts total between the two exams. That being said, the best thing you can do is be as prepared as possible. Talk to your instructor and make sure they believe you’re ready, because in the end you could end up paying a lot more money just for not wanting to pay for a few more driving classes.
My experience changing my driver’s license in Spain
As a foreigner– and from the United States–getting my driver’s license in Spain was something I always knew I needed to do at some point, largely for my own independence. I was able to skate by and didn’t feel a true need to start the process until I became pregnant in fall of 2019. Starting a family gave me the extra push I needed and I signed up at Autoescuelas Ciudad Jardin in Sevilla in October of 2019. Through blood, sweat and a few tears I was ready to try for the theoretical test in March of 2020. Those plans were of course thwarted by covid-19, but I managed to pass with flying colors right after we were being let out of quarantine and right before my son was born.
After passing the theoretical exam I had two years to get the practical exam out of the way. I began driving classes in the summer of 2021 and I passed my (second) driving exam at the end of September, and had my card in the mail a couple of months later.
All in all, changing driving license in Spain can seem like a daunting task at first, but as with most things we tackle as expats, it is completely attainable by taking it one step at a time!