Enough to drive you to distraction: Spanish driving test

Enough to drive you to distraction: Spanish driving test

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Our expat blogger Sal de Traglia takes the Spanish driving test

The Road to a Spanish Driver's License (Part 1 of 2)

There are few things in life as difficult or intimidating as getting a Spanish driver's license. It's a bit like trying to solve Fermat's last theoremwhile sitting on death row in a Texas prison. If you don't believe me, just ask anyone who has been through

For purposes of comparison, let me describe the process by which I obtained my driver's license in the US.

I sauntered into the Pennsylvania Department of Motor Vehicles facility two days after my sixteenth birthday. I took a short multiple choice exam in which a perfect score was assured by simply choosing the most conservative answer to each question.

I then proceeded to the behind-the-wheel exam, which entailed a ten minute drive through a parking lot with lines painted on it to simulate a real street. 

The road test concluded with the ever-difficult manoeuvre of pulling up to a curb.

A hearty handshake and quick photograph later, I walked out with a warm driver's license tucked into my wallet; secure in the knowledge that the State of Pennsylvania deemed me fit to propel a 3,000 pound hunk of mechanized metal wherever and whenever I pleased.

The entire process took forty-five minutes and cost me $30.

With this benchmark in mind, let's turn our attention to the finer points of obtaining a driver's license in Spain.


First, you must join a driving school. This is required whether you are a first time driver or, like me, had been driving in another country for nearly twenty years.

The reason is that you'll need their car. Spanish authorities require that examinees take the behind-the-wheel portion of the driving exam in a car that has a second brake, accelerator and clutch on the passenger side.

I don't know about you, but there's no vehicle fitting this description parked in my garage. Fortunately, for a fee of multiple hundreds of Euros, any driving school will be pleased to lend you its car and will toss in a study guide and some lessons (both theoretical and practical) to boot.


Once you've enrolled in a driving school, you must then get a medical and eye exam.

There's a cottage industry in Spain for doctors - some of whom may have even received their medical degrees from non-Caribbean countries - who specialize in medical exams for prospective drivers.

They advertise as much on their front doors. With regard to my own exam, the doctor certified me as fit because I was able to open the door to his office, and as having good eyesight because I was able to grasp the doorknob without first feeling around for it with my fingertips.


Now, the *real* fun begins. The written portion of the Spanish driving exam consists of forty multiple choice questions; at least thirty-six of which must be answered correctly in order to pass.

The scope of its questions goes well beyond the standard rules of the road.

Questions pertaining to automobile mechanics, first aid, and technical specifications for vehicles ranging from scooters to quads to automobiles to delivery trucks are not only fair game, but are fairly common.

Little wonder that the study guide I received from the driving school was over two hundred pages long, and densely packed with facts, definitions, formulae and statistics; all of which had to be memorized and memorized well!

And to make matters worse, each multiple choice question has at least two possible answers that you would swear - on your grandmother's life - must be correct. Having taken both the State of Illinois Bar exam and the Spanish drivers' written exam, I can say with certainty that I walked out of the former feeling
much more confident that I had passed.

But don't take my word for it. Here are some authentic exam questions taken from www.todotest.com and translated into English for your infotainment:

SAMPLE QUESTION #1:  You are driving an automobile on a road that has more than one lane for certain directions of traffic. What is the maximum speed that you are permitted to drive?

(a) 100 km per hour, but only in the direction that has more than one lane.
(b) 90 km per hour, in both directions.
(c) 100 km per hour, in both directions.

SAMPLE QUESTION #2:  You are driving on a road that has two directions of traffic and three lanes separated by discontinuous, longitudinal lines. When can you use the centre lane?

(a) Only for making a left-hand turn.
(b) For passing, making a turn or making a U-turn.
(c) For passing or for making a left-hand turn.

Do you see what I mean? The term "hair-splitting" comes immediately to mind, doesn't it?

Imagine answering forty questions like these while seated at an uncomfortable, government-issued desk while row after row of fluorescent lights hum incessantly over
your head.

With this background in mind, perhaps you won't laugh quite so heartily when I tell you that I - after four months (FOUR MONTHS!) of diligent study and memorization -nonetheless failed the damn thing on my first try.

I did, however, squeak by with a passing score on the second try. Countless others have not been so fortunate.

[Coming in two weeks...the Behind-the-Wheel Exam!]


17 Comments To This Article

  • Brendan Byrne posted:

    on 18th September 2008, 09:21:35 - Reply

    Any luck trying to track down english practice tests. I'm looking for them myself?
  • lee pretorius posted:

    on 1st December 2008, 23:36:51 - Reply

    I bought the theory book in Madrid from Pons Editorial, they also stock the practice book.
  • Andy Short posted:

    on 28th July 2009, 18:08:20 - Reply

    Just passed my theory test first time after three weeks study. The new tests now have 30 not 40 questions (pass mark 27) and while they still have some questions that are confusing or in the 'choose the most correct answer' category, on the whole they are not too bad.
    The driving school I went to has lots of test questions in english on computer.
    I clicked on the wrong icon at first and did several of the old style tests (1pass out of 13 tests) then realized my mistake and tried the new tests (passed 7 before failing 1)
    Just the practical to go now,then I have to have the green L plate in the back window to show I'm an inexperienced driver (only been driving cars for 34 years)
  • Mona posted:

    on 17th October 2009, 04:27:44 - Reply

    Did you ever pass the test? For how long does the (L plate) have to be displayed in the window?
  • Andy Short posted:

    on 21st October 2009, 23:52:12 - Reply

    Yes I passed first go, not bad considering the examiner not only could not speak a word of English but also spoke very softly and I had to strain to hear him. Luckily my instructor took us around the test route (more or less) before the test so I had a reasonable idea where to go, and what to do.
    I now have to display the L plate for 1 year. (which also means I am not allowed to drive at more than 80kph for a year)
  • Jason Miller posted:

    on 25th January 2010, 12:21:49 - Reply

    I passed my theory test with this page http://www.englishdrivingschool.com they have a lot of test in english.
  • Tony Rice posted:

    on 2nd July 2012, 13:27:16 - Reply

    I agree with all of the above comments and if I had a couple of days to spare I could add more.I have eventually passed my theory test and so far have taken and failed the practical test three times.Could anybody tell me if thier are any English speaking examiners in the Alicante area.
    I would like to add that I have held a licence to drive for 50yrs.and have driven through France all the way to Spain.Avg.milage 500mls.day in U.K.withought accident.Silly to let my licence expire.complete nightmare.
  • Saeeda posted:

    on 15th October 2012, 18:19:27 - Reply

    [Edited by moderator. Please post (elaborate) questions on Ask the Expert or on our Forums. If you have questions for the Expatica staff, please contact us directly.]
  • Alan posted:

    on 8th November 2012, 03:24:15 - Reply

    The US test to drive is a joke. No wonder the like for like death rate on US roads is 4 times worse than the UK. And this on mostly wide straight roads in an automatic gearbox vehicle. And starting at 16 years of age when attitude and a sense of responsibility has yet to develop. The test in UK is also very difficult - particularly the practical part. And if you take the test in automatic you can then ONLY drive automatic.
  • EmyCooper posted:

    on 6th February 2013, 05:44:18 - Reply

    As we are growing day by day, our requirements increases tremendously and the number of vehicle on road is also the result of our growth and requirements. Driving is also the basic requirements for all of us but mostly we don't take care of this basic knowledge and take interest in driving rules and regulations which turns to injuries. If we fails in driving test then we have another chance to pass and some one says that " Failure is the pillar of success." But I changes it to "Learing from your failure is the pillar of success." So never give up ... keep on trying.[Edited by moderator]
  • driving lessons leyton posted:

    on 12th July 2013, 21:51:50 - Reply

    Sounds like once youve got the medical its quite easy
  • Tricia posted:

    on 19th October 2013, 17:21:48 - Reply

    I have the SPanish theory test books in English available to sell if anyone is interested. I have a manual and practice test book both in english which cost me a hefty price of 80euro from my driving school.Looking to sell them as finally passed the test.
  • Tjitske posted:

    on 29th October 2013, 17:05:23 - Reply

    Hello Tricia,
    I was wondering if you still have the manual and practice test books to sell.
    Im interested in buying them.

  • Mr British Ex Pat Frustrated ! posted:

    on 10th September 2014, 15:44:14 - Reply

    I've just passed the driving theory test on the 2nd attempt and I'm the sort of person who rarely fails exams / tests, the 1st time I failed by one point. Get more than 3 out of 30 questions incorrect and it's a fail. There were questions on there about parking zones which the answers to are not in the official learning books and are not even on the official government websites. Also questions about cattle crossings... do you overtake them when they are drawn on the verge beyond the hard shoulder or do you slow down as you approach them and stop if necessary - this was hard to tell as the diagram and text was subtly implying that they 'could' storm onto the road. Also I got conflicting information in many of the provided tests before the examination some stated that putting on front fog lights with dipped front headlights was ok others not. Also there is confusion I'm sure between the term 'side lights' and 'parking lights' they are two different things but in the official exam there was a tunnel stopping question and you didn't know if the examiner knew the difference for the possible answers presented. A total nightmare. I'm quite academic and have done many professional exams but this takes the biscuit, also the wording is often incorrect for both the questions and the answers in the official and practice exams.
    You need about 3 days study minimum, that includes reading the learning book cover to cover, doing 50 tests (yes fifty) and then referring back to the official learning book. For the British exam I studied the night before and passes with ease but his has been a baptism of fire.
  • Mr British Ex Pat Frustrated ! posted:

    on 10th September 2014, 15:56:12 - Reply

    Also I should add the following .. note my error in the e-mail above it was a theory test of forty questions .. not thirty so get more than 3 wrong and you have to sit it again. But not just that !! If you fail your first theory test you have to pay 40 euros to have the 2nd attempt. If you fail the 2nd attempt you have to pay 89 euros to have another two attempts at the theory test. But only this !!! check this out.... because I failed the 1st theory test and passed the 2nd I only get one shot at the practical driving exam and if I fail that it will be another 89 euros two have two more attempts at the practical !!!..... Oh the authorities love milking money from people over here in Spain.. very kind of them to do so when a recession is in full swing.
  • Marina posted:

    on 25th September 2014, 15:05:38 - Reply

    O my God..I have test tommorrow..i dont know wht will happen..God bless me..
  • Byron posted:

    on 2nd April 2015, 20:08:23 - Reply

    Hi guys, thanks for some great comments.
    Does anyone have a drivers manual in English that I can buy from you ?
    Contact me on artcitizen1969@gmail.com
    Cheers Byron