New regulations for EU driving licences in Spain
If you are an EU/EEA national living in Spain, new driving regulations implemented in 2015 could force you to obtain a Spanish licence.
For foreign nationals living in Spain from the European Union (EU) or the European Economic Area (EEA) – EU plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway – the Spanish government has approved new regulations that require those who have become Spanish residents to obtain a Spanish licence.
The new regulation forces EU nationals who are legal residents in Spain to get a Spanish licence, in part because some countries, such as the UK, don't require medical check-ups until you turn 70, and because some countries, such as Germany, issue driving licences that never expire. This law thus enables Spain to check the health conditions and ability of foreign drivers in Spain.
As of 19 January 2015, European foreign residents living Spain are obliged to 'renew' their European licences which will kick-start the process for obtaining a Spanish one – but not everyone has to do this.
Who needs to renew their driver's licence?
According to Article 15, paragraph 4 of the Spanish Regulation General Drivers, it is compulsory for drivers to renew their EU/EEA driving licences whose validity is:
- permanent (never expires);
- 15 years or more on date of issue for Group 1 (AM, A1, A2, A, B and BE);
- five years or more on date of issue for the Group 2 (BTP, C1, C1E, C, CE D1, D1E, D, DE).
In addition, the EU/EEA citizen must be living in Spain for more than two years.
Therefore, there are two different scenarios to which the new law applies:
- Holder of an EU/EEA driving licence that never expires or with a validity of 15 years or more for Group 1 (or five years or more for Group 2) and having Spanish residency since 19 January 2013 or before. In this case, you must renew your driving license starting on January 19, 2015.
- Holder of an EU/EEA driving licence that never expires or with a validity of 15 or more for Group 1 (or five years or more for Group 2) and having Spanish residency after 19 January 2013. In this case, you must renew your driving licence after having Spanish residency for two years or more.
In addition, holders of EU/EEA driving licences who have Spanish residency must also renew their driving licence if it’s already expired or close to the expiry date.
Deadline and penalty
The deadline to renew your driving licence is 1 January 2016. After this date, if you have not renewed your EU/EEA driving licence under the new regulation, you may be fined EUR 200. This new law does not apply to Swiss nationals.
Exchange or renew your EU driving licence?
Up until the new law came into effect there was only one procedure for EU/EEA nationals to obtain a Spanish licence without taking exams. This was called exchange (canje in Spanish). Generally, the licence exchange procedure was done voluntarily, when the expiry date was approaching, or the original driving licence was lost or stolen.
The new regulation on EU/EEA driving licences offers a new procedure for obtaining a Spanish licence (an alternative to exchanging your licence) but the outcome will be the same. In both situations you will obtain a Spanish driving licence, as long as you provide all the requirements and the country of origin certifies your driving licence as valid.
However, the licence 'renewal' process has not eliminated or overwritten the licence 'exchange' process. They both coexist, and EU/EEA nationals who are now obliged to obtain a Spanish licence can opt for either process.
These are some of the main differences:
Renewing your licence
Exchanging your licence
No matter if you renew or exchange your EU/EEA licence in Spain, you should give it plenty of time to do so.
Both procedures are usually done in two parts and can differ depending on the region where you are living in Spain. The following two points refer to the procedure carried out in the provincial offices of Murcia and Alicante, as an example (contact your nearest DGT office for the procedures specific to your area):
- Application forms, original documents and photocopies are delivered at the corresponding DGT office. Photocopies are validated with the original documents, and the originals will be returned. If everything is correct, the DGT office sends a request to validate your licence to your corresponding driving licence office in your country of origin.
- If your country confirms that you hold a valid driving licence, it will be notified to Spain. Afterwards, you will receive a letter from the DGT so that you can surrender your original driving licence. The Spanish DGT office provides you with a temporary driving licence (usually for three months) while the original one is processed. After a few weeks, the final, original Spanish driving licence will be sent to your home by post.
This process can take weeks, or even months. Start the process with a safe period of at least 6–8 months before your licence runs out.
The following chart contains just three examples to give you an idea of how exchanging or renewing your driving licence in Spain would be carried out.
Use this as an approach. In order to be completely sure of the process you should go to your DGT office in person (the best option) or visit the official DGT Website.
Driving licence 1
Driving licence 2
Driving licence 3
Clarifying some general misconceptions
- You do not have to renew your EU/EEA licence in Spain just because you have Spanish residency – you must have been a resident for at least two years. Once you are under obligation to obtain a Spanish licence, you can opt to either exchange or renew your licence.
- This new regulation is not for all countries, only for those that are part of the EU/EEA. The 'renew' law does not apply to Swiss nationals.
- You cannot exchange nor renew your EU/EEA licence without first having Spanish residency.
- If you only have an NIE number, this is not Spanish residency.
- If you only have 'padrón' (local census), this is not Spanish residency.
- The medical certificate is not an examination designed to refuse people, but to measure their basic capabilities for driving in Spain. Once done, a certificate states how many years the driver has until their next check-up, or restrictions, if necessary.
- Once you get your Spanish driving licence, it will have to be renewed periodically according to Spanish law, depending on your age and health conditions.
- Exchanging non-European driving licences follow a different procedure. See Expatica's guide to exchanging a foreign driver's licence or contact your nearest DGT office to obtain more details.
How to apply
To start the procedure (either renewal or exchange) remember that you must make an appointment online. Any processes in general (driving licences, vehicles, paying traffic offences, etc.) require an online appointment.
The tax cannot be paid in cash any longer, only by the three following methods:
- Online: you must have a special digital certificate. This option can be complex and time consuming. Either of the two following options will be much easier.
- Debit/Credit card: This is done at the DGT office where you’re doing your procedure, and the tax is paid right after public workers check that everything you are providing is correct.
- Back payment: Print out the 791 form, fill it out and take it to a Spanish bank. Don’t forget to put the right amount of money (see the chart above), as getting overpaid money refunded can be a hassle.
Although DGT is a national organisation, each provincial office acts as an autonomous entity, so the requirements and procedures in general could slightly vary from place to place.
My recommendation is not to deliver anything without querying first at your corresponding office.
This is the best advice I can give based on my professional experience dealing with Spanish authorities overall since 2010.
The new regulation was officially announced in the Spanish media, as well as on the Dirección General de Tráfico (DGT – General Direction of Traffic) official website.
You can visit the following websites for official information.
- Revista DGT
- DGT Official Website
- Official notification – the official notification to European representatives.
David Ruiz / Torrevieja Translation / Expatica
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