Recently drivers with foreign issued licenses have received mixed messages about whether it is legal for them to drive here on the license they have or whether they are obligated to apply for a Spanish driving license. Since this topic has generated quite a bit of confusion and with the help of Sabrina, we’re going to try to clear matters up but as you will see from our personal experience, we have not been able to clear up the confusion completely, and would welcome your comments.
The Facts: Any drivers license issued within the EU is perfectly valid in all member countries as long as the license has in no way been suspended or revoked.
The Confusion: When the license holder takes up permanent residence in another member country, that country has its own traffic laws that need to be adhered to. For example: the point system in Spain differs to the system in the UK. Here points are taken off not added.
Breaking the law: If the holder of a license issued by another member country but a resident in Spain violates traffic laws they may be fined on the spot, but as they are not registered on the Spanish system, points cannot be deducted. For this reason, Real Decreto 818/2009, 8 de Mayo was approved in 2009 to regulate the loop hole; this law was recently revised and came into effect on the 19th January 2013.

According to the newly enforced law, once an EU driver takes up residence in Spain, there are two options:

  1. To register their drivers license at Tráfico
  2. To hand over their UK issued license and obtain a Spanish one

This is how this law was initially understood but after further investigation, the correct interpretation is that:


  1. Only holders of a drivers license that has no expiry date are obligated to register their license on the Spanish system.
  2. If a drivers license has an issue and expiry date it is not obligatory to register the license on the Spanish system, however they are required to pass a medical exam. Bear in mind that if circumstances have changed since the license was originally issued, ie, the holder now wears glasses…, a Spanish license that reflects that detail must be obtained.
  3. If a holder of another EU member state drivers license violates Spanish traffic laws in such a way the officer would be required to deduct points, the officer is then authorized to force the holder to give up their license and apply for a Spanish one so that appropriate action can be taken.

Once registered on the Spanish system, all Spanish traffic laws and penalty systems are applicable to include the mandatory medical examination..
License Validity: All new EU licenses issued have the same 5 or 10 year validity, depending on type and the age of the driver. If the license expires and the holder is unable to renew in their country of origin, they must apply for a Spanish license. However, there are drivers that are still in possession of licenses that do not have an expiry date. These drivers are obligated to renew their license within two years of obtaining residency in Spain (or in whatever EU country they reside) or by the 19th January 2015, two full years after the law was approved. In any case these older licenses are gradually being filtered out which means that by the year 2032 they will no longer be valid.
Warning: Don’t get caught out because ignoring this European law comes with a minimum fine of 200€ plus penalties and additional charges for non-payment for those drivers who are obligated to apply for a Spanish document and remember that even if you are not legally required to change your license over, if you commit a serious traffic offense you may be forced to obtain a Spanish license. There’s no driving away from this one…
Our Experience: Although the details above have come directly from the authorities we decided to try out the system for ourselves.  At Tráfico, they took one look at our relatively new European Driving licenses, turned them over and said that as it showed the class of vehicles we were registered for, we did not need to register them. I explained that we thought we needed to because of the difference in the points system and was told that we just needed to undergo the medical. However, other people have apparently had a different response.
We went to the medical office, situated around the side of the Tráfico building, paid 40€ and underwent the medical. This included reading an eye chart, colour chart and answering some simple health questions, in Spanish, then undergoing the hand to eye coordination test. We needed two copies of our passports, licenses and residencias. Our photos were taken, a few forms signed and we were in receipt of valid medical certificates. The whole process took about 30 minutes. Tráfico then checked the certificates and validated them with a stamp.

About Sabrina L. Williams

Although I was born in the UK, I moved to the Canary Islands, Spain at a young age and I haven't looked back. The Canaries is a fantastic place to live, I mean you can do all types of outdoor activities practically all year round because of the great weather. Horses are my poison but the islands are also a superb spot for water sports so they do attract a lot of attention from people around the world. Anyway, enough about that. Back in 2011, I made one of the biggest, scariest yet best decisions I'd ever made and set-up my own business in the middle of a recession. I love what I do as no two days are the same, plus Spanish law keeps me on my toes as it is constantly changing (often without warning!) so there is always something new to learn. As I've branched out in the world of Administrative Consultancy, I decided to create a blog to discuss topics of interest to others in my industry and my clients, share tips and experiences, to see what new ideas people have for improving their businesses and the like so I hope you'll find the time to join me on this venture...

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