Spain at a Glance
Driving in Spain
While driving in Spain’s big city centers may be a liability, it can be a necessity in suburban or rural areas, as accessibility to shopping centers as well as medical and entertainment facilities can be quite spread out. If you live directly within a city, it is probably not necessary to have a car, as the hassle of finding a parking space and maneuvering rush hour traffic as well as the driving style in Spain may be more stressful than convenient. The public transportation system in cities such as Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia is excellent and can get you to your inner-city destination for little cost and little bother. On the other hand, if you are a good driver, secure and cautious, you will not have a problem driving in Spain.
Road Infrastructure in Spain
Spain’s roadway network is very well developed and spans over 681,000 kilometers of paved, well-kept roadways. To get free maps and general information on Spanish roads, contact the Spanish Association of Turnpikes, Tunnels, Bridges and Other Toll Road Concessionaire Companies. While most Spanish drivers are, in fact, very good drivers, they often have no concept of sharing the road. Therefore it is not uncommon for you to be overtaken from both sides multiple times while driving in Spain.
Toll Roads in Spain
The roads are classified into highways, national roads (carretera nacional), and rural roads. There are two types of highways, autovías and autopistas, the latter often being toll roads (carretera de péaje) which form about 2,000 kilometers of Spanish roadways. Since tolls are relatively expensive, most Spanish drivers tend to avoid these and usually take the national roads. As a result, toll roads are comparatively uncongested and safer.
Toll roads can be paid for either in cash or by credit card. Holders of a Spanish bank account can also obtain a small “On Board Unit” (OBU), which permits electronic toll payment without stopping at toll booths. The toll is then automatically deducted from the driver’s bank account.
Getting a Spanish Driver’s License
As with all countries of the European Union, EU driver’s licenses are accepted for driving in Spain. However, as of January 19, 2013, residents of Spain must renew their driver’s license in Spain. The license must first be renewed two years after a person gains residency status in Spain. Afterwards, the driver’s license must be renewed every 10 years for drivers under 65 and every five years for those over 65 years of age. A medical examination must be completed at the time of each renewal.
If you are a non-EU citizen, you must either have your license translated and notarized, or get an international driving permit, which happens to be the easier and probably cheaper alternative. Know that this international driving permit is issued in your home country and must be valid before you hit Spanish roads. If you have been living and driving in Spain for more than six months, you are required to get your Spanish license. This process will require you to enroll in a driving school (autoescuela), take driving lessons and complete both a written and a practical driving test. The entire process can take upwards of six months and costs around €500.
Regardless of whether you are an EU national or not, you must bring the following information and documents to the Dirección General de Tráfico when applying for an official Spanish license. The Spanish ministry of traffic’s website (in Spanish) provides a list of local offices. You need to submit the following paperwork in order to obtain a Spanish license:
- valid passport
- two passport photos
- old driver’s license (original and copy)
- copy of your driving record
- proof of residency and copy of NIE (Número de Identificación de Extranjero) - Certificate of Registration in the Central Aliens Register