So you’ve booked the flights, sorted out where to stay, planned your itinerary, and are about to arrange the rental car.
But before you secure that hire car to collect at the airport – do you need an international driving permit to drive in Spain?
If you’re not a Spanish citizen, then you’re unlikely to hold a Spanish driving license.
If you have, for example, a UK license or a US one, do you need extra documentation for driving in Spain?
This post will tell you all you should know about the Spanish driver’s license rules and International Driving Permit regulations that apply to those visiting Spain.
Including whether you need to show car rental companies any more than that driving license that was issued in your own country.
Whether or not you need an IDP depends on the location your license was issued in, the type you have, and how long you’ll be staying in Spain. For example, most holders of a UK license don’t need an IDP, but there are exceptions. US license holders do need to take an IDP along as well as their regular license.
Renting a car can be a great way to see the beautiful country of Spain. Make sure you’re prepared to hit that smooth tarmac in a hire vehicle by finding out the answers to all your questions in this complete guide.
UK drivers, citizens of EEA countries, Americans, and more all need to have the correct documentation when driving in Spain.
So, find out what Spanish law means for your trip right here – starting with an outline of what an international driving permit is.
- What is an International Driving Permit?
- The UK, the US, and the IDP
- Other countries and the IDP
- Spain and the International Driving Permit – FAQs
- Spain and the International Driving Permit – Final thoughts
What is an International Driving Permit?
An international driving permit (IDP) is a document that allows you to drive in countries other than your own.
If the driving license or national license issued by your home country is not accepted at your destination, then you’ll need to obtain an IDP to drive while you’re there.
An IDP is sometimes referred to as an international driving license, but they’re not quite the same thing.
You can apply for an IDP in your own country before you travel. Whether this is required and where you can get it varies according to where you live.
In a number of cases, regular driving licenses are accepted. This means that you might not even need to get an IDP before traveling.
Now let’s take a look at the countries that many of those wishing to drive in Spain come from.
The UK, the US, and the IDP
UK driving license holders
As with many EU countries, UK license holders do not need an IDP to drive in Spain – though there are a few exceptions. The rules apply to mainland Spain plus the Balearic and Canary Islands.
As long as you’re not staying for more than six months, you can drive in Spain with a regular license. There’s no need to get an IDP from the Post Office.
If your UK license was issued in Jersey, Guernsey, the Isle of Man, or Gibraltar, then you may need an IDP. The same applies to those with a paper driving license only.
In these circumstances, it’s best to refer to the Spanish embassy for advice.
These rules supplied by gov.uk are correct at the time of writing, but do double-check before you travel as things can change at any time.
US driving license holders
The documentation required for those with a US driver’s license is a little different. While you don’t need a Spanish one unless you’re staying long-term, you should take along both your US driver’s license and an IDP.
You can get an IDP via the American Automobile Association (AAA). This is valid in around 150 countries worldwide, so not just Spain.
The IDP to use alongside your regular license must be issued in the US. You may apply in person or by mail.
Either way, you’ll need a completed IDP application form and two original passport-sized photos which are signed on the reverse. You’ll also need to show or provide a copy (both sides) of your US driver’s license.
At the time of writing, the fee in the US for an IDP is $20.
Other countries and the IDP
In general, it’s best to assume you will need an IDP unless you know otherwise. It’s the simplest way to make sure you can drive overseas. Many car rental companies will need to see one before they’ll hire a car out too.
The document is regulated by the United Nations, and the vast majority of IDPs are issued under either the Geneva Convention or the Vienna Convention.
In most countries, the responsibility for issuing IDPs is down to government bodies or motoring associations.
There are several reasons why an IDP is required. Firstly, the document is a translation of the information so that local law enforcement agents can understand it.
Having an IDP also shows, in an internationally recognizable form, that you’re permitted to drive in your home country. The type of vehicles you can drive is also shown.
Making sure that visitors are in possession of an IDP helps to keep roads safe for all users. If you drive abroad without one when it is a requirement, then any insurance policy would be invalidated.
This form of ID may also be helpful to you if you need to seek assistance in an emergency.
To find out how to obtain an IDP in your country of residence, check with the official IDP website here.
Spain and the International Driving Permit – FAQs
Do I need an IDP to drive in Spain from the UK?
If you have a full UK photocard license, then you don’t normally require an IDP to drive in Spain. However, if you have a paper license only or one that was issued in Guernsey, Jersey, Gibraltar, or the Isle of Man, then you may need an IDP.
Always check directly with the Spanish embassy in this case. If you’ll be staying in Spain for over six months, then your UK license would not be recognized beyond this point in time.
Can I drive in Spain without an IDP?
In most cases, the holder of a full UK photocard license can drive in Spain for up to six months without an IDP.
US license holders also require an IDP. The rules vary by country and can depend on where your license was issued.
Always check the latest regulations via your official government website or with the IDP themselves.
Is my UK driving license valid in Spain?
A UK driving license is often valid in Spain, but there are caveats. Your UK license will cease to be recognized by Spanish authorities after six months.
If you only possess a paper driving license, then you’ll also need to get an international driving permit (IDP) to prove your right to drive.
Those with a license issued in the Isle of Man, Jersey, Guernsey, or Gibraltar will also need to take an IDP alongside their regular UK license.
What documents do I need to drive from the UK to Spain?
The documentation required to drive to Spain from the UK depends on your route. For example, you can take a car ferry from Portsmouth to Bilbao or Santander in Spain.
As you don’t cross any other countries en route and Spain will accept most UK driving licenses, you may not need an international driving permit (IDP).
In many cases drivers going from the UK to Spain will travel via France, meaning that French rules also apply.
For those with a UK driving license, this will be accepted in France if it was first issued before 1st January 2021. This applies for as long as the license is valid.
For most people, a UK driving license alone will be sufficient to drive to Spain if traveling directly or via France. Exclusions do apply, however, and these relate to the type of license as well as where it was issued.
Spain and the International Driving Permit – Final thoughts
If you want to rent a car while visiting Spain, the easiest way to ensure no fuss when you arrive is to obtain an international driving permit (IDP).
This is simple to obtain via the government department, automobile association, or other approved body responsible for its issue in your country.
Even when your regular driving license will be accepted, exclusions often apply. These relate to matters such as where your license was issued, the type, and how long you want to drive in Spain.
As many car hire companies require an IDP before they’ll rent you a vehicle, it’s easiest in practice just to get one before you go. In most cases, there is no practical driving test nor any written tests to complete.
As the cost is also very reasonable, there’s not really any reason not to get an IDP when you want to drive cars in another country!
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