Buying A Car And Driving In Spain

A guide to buying a car in Spain, car registration and other paperwork, and driving legally in Spain.

Depending on your location in Spain, you might very well discover that there’s no need for you to keep a car on the road at all. However, should you need one, there are a few options you can consider.

Driving in Spain with a non-Spanish driving license

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If you come from a non-EU country, you can drive in Spain with your original driving license for six months, provided you have an International Driving Permit as well. The six-month period starts from the time you register for residency. 

You must apply for an International Driving Permit (IDP) in your home country before you start driving in Spain.

International Drivers Association published a detailed guide on driving in Spain, including applying for and using an IDP in Spain.

After the 6-month period ends, you must obtain a Spanish driving license. If you come from these countries, you can simply exchange your licence.

If not, you have to resit your driving test in Spain (theory and practical). You can find all the details on the government site.

Driving in Spain after Brexit

If you are a Spanish resident, your UK driving license will be recognized until 30th June 2021. After this date, you’ll need to exchange it for a Spanish one. For short-stay visits, your UK license will remain eligible.

Currently, there haven’t been any updates on the process of exchanging your British license for a Spanish one.

Based on the rules suggested by other countries, such as France, you’ll likely need to complete a full application process. This will likely include a photo ID, proof of address, and so on. Also, you might need to sit a Spanish driving test.

Driving in Spain tips

  • The speed limit on highways is 120 km/h (75 mph), 100 km/h (62 mph) on main roads or roads with two lanes (also called autovías, 90 km/h (56 mph) on all other roads, and 50 km/h (31 mph) in urban areas (towns and villages);
  • Talking on a mobile phone while driving in Spain is strictly prohibited unless you use a hands-free system;
  • Engines, lights, car radios, and mobile phones must be switched off while refueling. Authorities claim that mobile phone waves can cause ignition (and an eventual explosion) of petrol fumes. People generally don’t speak on their mobile while refueling but don’t turn it off;
  • If you wear glasses (not sunglasses), you must have a spare pair with you in the car;
  • A helmet is mandatory at all times when riding a motorbike or bicycle.

Mandatory documents and gear

Documents you must always have in the car with you:

  • Driving license;
  • Ficha tecnica (log book);
  • Passport or residencia card/certificate;
  • Certificate of roadworthiness ( MOT or ITV);
  • Car registration details (permiso de circulación);
  • A copy of your insurance policy;
  • A copy of the latest receipt from your insurance company as proof of payment. This one is very important because it’s the only proof that your cover is up to date.

You must keep the following equipment in your vehicle while driving in Spain. If it ever occurs that you need to stop on the side of the road or hard shoulder (due to an emergency, accident, or breakdown), use it:

  • A reflective vest. Wear it if you need to get out of the car on the road or on the hard shoulder.
  • Two warning triangles. Place one in front of your vehicle and one behind it after stopping.
  • A spare tire and tools necessary to replace it.
  • A set of bulbs and tools necessary to replace the bulbs.

Buying a car in Spain

The easiest way to buy a car in Spain is to go to a dealership. They will take care of almost everything and handle the transfer of ownership with no extra fuss for you.

In addition, you might get some nice extras in the form of free insurance or other bonuses.  A dealer will also take your old car (if you have one) in part exchange.

If you are buying a second-hand car from a private seller, make sure it comes with the following paperwork:

  • the registration document (Permiso de Circulacion),
  • the latest ITV test certificate,
  • a receipt to show that the car tax has been paid,
  • a photocopy of the seller’s personal ID, such as the NIE.

You will need to draw up an agreement of sale – Contrato de Compraventa – which includes the car’s details, both yours and the seller’s names, the agreed price, and the date and time of the transfer.

You will need to obtain a transfer of ownership form – Solicitud de Transmission de Vehiculos – from the Department of Traffic’s website. Make sure that both you and the seller sign it. Don’t forget to keep a copy.

Car insurance in Spain covers a car, not a driver. Most policies cover the main driver and any other drivers the main policy holder chooses to include. 

When you are buying a car, ask the seller whether they want to transfer their existing insurance on the car to you at the time of the sale. If not, you will need to have insurance in place before you can drive (you can read about it in our Car Insurance in Spain section below).

Both you and the seller then need to send the documents to the Jefatura de Trafico. You can take all the documents together if you want to. The seller needs to bring the registration document and his copy of the transfer of ownership form. They can also then deregister the car.

Registering your Spanish car

Now that you are an owner of a Spanish vehicle, you need to register it within 30 days of the sale. You will also have to pay a transfer of ownership fee, which is about 4% of the official car value (not the one you have negotiated).

To pay a transfer of ownership fee and register your car:

  • Get an NRC code (Número Referencia Completo) from your bank;
  • Fill in the ‘modelo 576’ form online on the Hacienda’s tax website to calculate your fee and pay it, keep the receipt;
  • Pay car tax (Impuesto de Circulación) to the local government, keep the receipt;
  • Take all the above documents, including receipts, to your local Traffic Office;
  • Don’t forget your ID: NIE, passport or residence permit;
  • You will have to pay a fee of around €94;
  • You will then receive your license plate number and the papers confirming the registration;
  • Take all your documents to a specialist who will make up the number plates for you. It will cost up to €50;
  • Attach the plates to the car  – job done!

Car insurance in Spain

It is illegal to drive without car insurance in Spain. The minimum legal requirement is third party liability cover.

How car insurance works in Spain

In Spain, it is the car that is insured, not you. Several drivers can be covered by one car policy. You need to discuss the details with the insurance company when applying for a cover.

If you need to drive someone else’s car, you can’t do it under your own insurance. In Spain, you can’t use your car cover to drive other cars. The owner of another car must ensure that you are included in their car policy.

Which level of cover is right for you?

Third-party cover

This type will cover any damage that you cause to other cars in the event of an accident and any personal injuries suffered by other people. However, you, your property, and your family are not covered by it. 

The policy may come with some additional extras, which can differ depending on the company you select; some may cover road assistance, others may cover glass, etc. Check out what is covered when comparing quotes to ensure you are comparing like with like. 

Fully comprehensive cover

If the third party cover is unsuitable, a better option might be a Fully Comprehensive Cover. It will cover quite a lot, including material damage or injuries to both third parties and yourself and your family. It will usually offer protection against fire and theft, and malicious damage.

 Read the agreement carefully before signing it, and make sure you understand exactly what you are covered for, as the conditions and offers vary from company to company.

You might find useful:

  • Living In Spain As An Expat – the ultimate relocation guide full of practical information and tips on moving to Spain from the pros and cons to visas and residency, to the cost of living, healthcare, banking and more.
  • Best Places To Live In Spain – the best and most popular expat locations in Spain.
  •  10 Tips To Make Retiring To Spain An Absolute Success – focus on the most important aspects of your relocation to ensure your move to Spain is a success.
  • Haven’t found what you were looking for? Contact us or comment below with your question and we’ll do our best to help.
Expatra Team

Our most popular evergreen guides are kept fresh and up-to-date by our in-house research team. If you have any questions about our guides or the country discussed feel free to contact us or leave a comment below and we'll get back to you.

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  1. Thanks for the heads up Ola. Now my next question is insurance – our bank manager told us yesterday that as of May the insurers the bank uses have stopped providing car insurance to UK nationals who are non resident in Spain. Any pointers on who to approach to arrange car insurance before I buy the car I am looking at?

  2. I am trying to find out the current laws for a UK national who owns a property in Spain but is non-resident in Spain and wishes to buy a car for use when visiting. Can I own a car in Spain and drive on a UK driving licence when I visit? I found one article stating you can drive for up to 6 months (up to 3 months consecutive) on your foreign licence, but that you need to show your residence permit to buy a car, but I am UK resident, so cannot provide a Spanish residence permit. Can you clarify the current position?

    • Hi John, our research shows that in order to buy a car in Spain non-residents need to meet ONE of the following requirements:
      Produce an NIE number
      Produce a residence card
      Registration with the Town Hall (padrón)
      So it seems that your NIE should be enough.

      • Hey there,

        Thanks for the great info!

        I’m wondering if you can help me with this. My partner is relocating to Spain and she will be taking insurance out on our car (which we’re also relocating to Spain) as she will have an NIE number etc.

        However, I will be coming and going so I won’t have an NIE number. Is it possible for me to be on this policy as a named driver without being a resident with a NIE number? Or is there any other solution you know of?

        Thank you!