Most of us when moving to our new life in Spain like to do things right and have everything in order. We all face conflicting advice from our fellow ex-pats and on-line blogs. Most of our fellow countrymen are well meaning, others think that they have answers to everything because they have lived here a while. So, where do you go for advice? By far the best source is from specialists in their subject ideally by recommendation. Bar- room lawyers are to be avoided at all costs!
The status of foreign cars and other vehicles in Spain causes more confusion and misinformation than virtually any other subject that you will face. Brexit has added to the confusion and whilst some things are still not certain, in principle the rules for EU and non-EU cars and drivers are the same as today. Because the UK is leaving the EU however, changes will happen to us and these are highlighted where appropriate. Interestingly, non-EU members are referred to as “Third Countries”. Not “Third World”, but who knows!

Importing/ re-registering
In many cases, a car will have been owned before the driver brings it to Spain, in practice before the first Padron is applied for. If so, the vehicle can be accepted as a personal import under the regime known as “change of residence”. This applies now from wherever in the world a car is presently registered, so this should not be affected by Brexit
As a non-resident you can keep a foreign registered vehicle in Spain for up to 6 months before the law requires you to either re-register it or take it out of the country for 6 months. If you are a resident of Spain, you have one month only to register it
Registration (a.k.a. import) tax is levied on most vehicles coming into Spain; exemptions are provided but only apply to people moving to Spain permanently who can, amongst other requirements, prove that they have lived outside of Spain for the past 12 months. For Brits this is normally by a letter of employment or via information supplied by HMRC. For the Irish and other nationalities, a residency transfer document is available at their Consulates known as a Baja Consular. This service is no longer available at the British Consulate.
BREXIT UPDATE: Registration tax is levied irrespective of where in the world the vehicle came from. Countries in Europe but outside of the EU; Norway and Switzerland for example are also assessed for Customs Duties and Taxes which amount to 31% of the value of the vehicle. As there is presently no agreement regarding trade between the UK and EU, it is not possible to predict whether the above would apply to UK registered vehicles after the full divorce from the EU which at the moment is scheduled for 31/12/2020
If you buy a non-Spanish car after moving here, restrictions may apply, so check before you buy; this specifically applies to motor homes. Generally speaking, a vehicle with an EU type approval number such as this example e193/810022*03 can be accepted
BREXIT UPDATE: Even if the vehicle has an EU type approval number there is no guarantee that it will be accepted into Spain. As a minimum, a Certificate of Conformity (CoC) will be needed from the manufacturer. In certain cases, the vehicle may have to be inspected as if it were unique, a process known as “unitaria” which is expensive
Your car or motor home can be left hand drive or right-hand drive, it does not matter. Motorbikes, quads and caravans can also be re-registered- Yes, caravans and trailers need registering too. It does not matter which side the door is on. Note that right hand drive commercial vehicles cannot be re-registered.
BREXIT UPDATE: Ireland is remaining in the EU where vehicles are also driven on the left, so it is inconceivable that this would change for UK vehicles
For the majority of UK and Irish vehicles, the headlights will need changing. Plastic “beam benders” are only OK for holidaymakers
Smart cops
Police forces have been shown how to access the DVLA website via their smart phones to see if your car is taxed, insured and MOT’d. If it is not, it may well be impounded. Similarly, impounding may follow if your car is SORN as this means that it cannot be used on the roads anywhere in Europe, so keep your car road-legal. Check your vehicle via

When you re-register your vehicle in Spain, you are obliged to advise the licensing authority in the country in which it was previously registered (DVLA in the UK) that it has been permanently exported. Similarly, if you permanently take a Spanish registered vehicle out of Spain, you must advise Trafico; not doing so means that you will continue to accumulate road tax. Failure to pay the tax could mean embargoing other assets that you may have in Spain such as a property
Vehicle inspection
The Spanish equivalent of the MOT is ITV. The major difference here is that the ITV inspectors are government appointed and provide a totally impartial examination of your vehicle. It makes no difference to them if the car passes or fails as they do not undertake any kind of repair; you can therefore be satisfied of the true status of your vehicle
If you take a foreign plated car for inspection that is not undergoing the re-registration process, a “voluntary ITV inspection” can be undertaken. This inspection is what it says, “voluntary”. It has no legal standing in terms of making the car Spanish and is not a substitute for an MOT. You cannot legally obtain a UK MOT in Spain
What to keep in the car
The following must be kept in the car at all times: Registration document, ITV card (MOT certificate equivalent) and insurance documents. You must always carry your driving licence with you
Additionally, you must carry 2 warning triangles and a minimum of 2 hi-viz jackets, though you should carry enough of these so that every passenger in the car has one in case of need. Recommended, but not obligatory are a first aid kit and a fire extinguisher. My personal recommendation is a few litres of water in case you break down and are stranded in the heat of the day
As elsewhere, insurance is obligatory. The main difference between UK and Spanish insurance is that here in Spain it is the car that is insured, not the driver. This means that so long as there are no restrictions on your policy, you can allow others to drive your car, but conversely you cannot drive another car on your insurance. Breakdown cover is almost universally included on Spanish policies. If you take the vehicle out of Spain, you would be given a 90-day Green Card as you should have been with a non-Spanish policy
Buying or selling a Spanish vehicle
One of the prime reasons that ex-pats bring their cars with them from “home” or go back to buy their next car is because of the very high cost of cars in Spain compared to many other EU countries, especially the UK. However, if you do decide to buy a Spanish car (or sell one) privately, the cost of transfer of ownership is not free as transfer of ownership tax and fees are due. At dealers IVA (VAT) will be included in the selling price instead of the transfer tax
If you are buying from a dealer, get an original bill of sale and ask the dealer for a “Permiso de Circulacion Provisional” which is provided by Trafico, often via a gestor (law administrator) preferably before you pick up the car. This is a legal document that shows that the vehicle is being transferred into your name and allows you to use the vehicle.
If buying privately, I would recommend going to a gestor specialising in this type of work or contacting a specialist (such as myself) to handle the 10 pieces of paper required!
If you are selling privately, under no circumstances rely on the buyer to transfer ownership. There are reasons why it is not in his interest to do so, therefore it may never happen and you will remain liable for all fines, taxes, debts etc. being imposed upon the vehicle. Just because the buyer is a friend, neighbour or relative, do not rely upon them undertaking this task but go to a gestoria or a specialist
Driving licences
Provided that you have an in-date driving licence showing your photo which has been issued in an EU country, this is perfectly legal in Spain. If you commit a motoring offence, your driving licence can be taken from you irrespective of where it was issued; likewise, you will be fined, and you may also suffer a points penalty
If you live in Spain permanently, you are required to exchange your UK licence for a Spanish one within two months of gaining residency
BREXIT UPDATE. Immediately after Brexit Your UK licence will remain valid for driving in Spain for 9 months, (assumed to be 31/09/2021). Thereafter, the licence needs to be exchanged within 6 months of arrival in Spain. If you are here temporarily (on holiday for example) your UK licence will remain valid.
A Spanish licence will cover you for driving anywhere in Europe as does your present one and you can hire a car in the UK or elsewhere just as you do now. Trafico in your Provincial capital (such as Alicante City or Murcia City) is the place to go or engage a gestoria. BREXIT UPDATE: As Spain will continue to recognise the UK licence, it should follow that the UK will recognise Spanish ones under reciprocal agreements
If you already have an EU licence, there is no need to take a driving test when obtaining a Spanish driving licence. BREXIT UPDATE. No change is anticipated here
Many of you will have heard about “the medical” that is required in Spain in order to have a driving licence. This is a series of simple tests of your coordination ability, eyesight, hearing etc which is undertaken at specialist medical centres (Centros de Reconocimiento de Conductores). You will need to take along your present licence, passport, Padron, Residencia and a couple of passport style photos
The medical is required every time the licence is renewed which is normally every 10 years, though less for vocational licences
Irrespective of where your licence was issued, a medical is mandatory upon renewal if you are over 70 years of age. If you have a UK licence you would have to go to the UK for a medical, so save yourself the trip and get Spanish
Some folks are reluctant to give up their UK driving licence, but personally I find it very useful as identification as it shows my name, photograph and NIE number


What happens if you’re in the unfortunate position of being involved in an accident here? If you are the aggrieved, resist the temptation to throttle the life out of the other party; if you are the perpetrator by all means apologise but in either case stay calm. Easier said than done if your pride and joy is totalled and the wife is having hysterics. Once you have both surveyed the damage you should where possible remove your vehicles to allow other traffic to pass and dig out from some hidden crevice your insurance documents with which should be a claim form and an advice leaflet

Accident reporting

Accident report forms, issued by your insurer are identical throughout Europe, so everyone can follow them irrespective of their native language. You will need to exchange identity information, addressees, sign each other’s documents and swap the relevant copies for forwarding to your respective insurers. Do not admit liability; this is for the insurance companies and if serious enough, for the courts to decide

There is no need to call the police or notify them if no-one was neither injured nor public property damaged, but if you have any doubts call them on 112.

If your vehicle cannot be safely driven, call the number provided with your insurance documents; all good companies have English speakers, and a grua (breakdown truck) will wing its way to you, normally within the hour

In summary
As you will see, whilst motoring in Spain can be a joy because of the excellent roads, mercifully free of traffic, there are certain things that you need to get right, so you should seek specialist advice and be aware of the seemingly helpful seasoned ex-pat!