13 May, 2022 @ 18:45
3 mins read

Anger mounts over driving licence debacle for Brits in Spain post Brexit

driving licence British Embassy
driving licence British Embassy

HUNDREDS, possibly even thousands, of British expats have been left unable to drive legally in Spain after the failure to strike a bilateral deal.And they are getting angrier about it.

The British Embassy this week insisted that although they are still working on an agreement to allow the exchange of driving licences without the need for a Spanish test, it could still take weeks to strike a deal.

Since May 1, Brits who have been resident in Spain for at least six months and hadn’t yet swapped their licences for a Spanish one under a post-Brexit interim arrangement are no longer legally allowed to drive.

The deadline had been extended four times since the UK officially withdrew from the European Union while negotiations continued but Spain refused to extend the deadline beyond April 30.

One of the reasons why a deal has yet to be struck is reportedly because the UK is reluctant to provide Spanish authorities with access to its vehicle owner database so it can chase up holidaymakers with fines if they depart the country. 

Last week Transport Secretary Grant Shapps held a video meeting with his Spanish counterpart Raquel Sanchez to try to resolve the problem but to no avail.

This has affected hundreds if not thousands of Brits who were in the process of swapping their driving licences or who were waiting in the hope of a definitive deal to be struck.

It means they must now pass a Spanish driving test which has a theory and practical part in order to legally drive in Spain.

Ambassador Hugh Elliott posted a message on the Embassy Facebook page Brits in Spain on May 12 explaining that he was aware of the hardships this had caused to many expats.

“I know personally from all the messages you’ve sent in, just how incredibly disruptive all of this is for many of you,” Elliott said. 

“If you are struggling to get around you may find additional advice or support from your local town hall, or charities or community groups in your area and the Support in Spain website is another very useful source of organisations that can provide general support to residents.

“And if your inability to drive is putting you in a very vulnerable situation, you can always contact your nearest consulate for advice.”

But the ambassador insisted that authorities were ‘fully committed’ to agreeing a permanent solution.

“The agreement we’re working towards now will enable UK licence holders, whenever they arrived in Spain or arrive in the future, to exchange their UK licence for a Spanish one without needing to take a practical or a theory test,” Elliott insisted.

While there are more than 400,000 Brits officially registered as living in Spain it is impossible to know how many are affected by the licence exchange rules. However anyone who moved to Spain after December 31, 2020 will now find they have to take a driving test after six months of relocating.

 Dozens of Olive Press readers have written in in anger at the debacle with some complaining that they have been let down by gestors or received bad advice and are now completely isolated in places with no public transport.

“My wife has an oncology consultation on Monday. No public transport in our area,” admitted one. “I haven’t a clue how I’m going to get her there.”

Another wrote: “Many people who move here are retired, have been driving for over 40 years. It is unfair to make them take a test. If it puts people off moving to Spain then Spain is losing thousands of euros every year that the people would spend here all from UK pensions,” wrote one Brit beneath the ambassador’s statement.

However, the issue has divided expat forums with some pointing out that those who failed to swap their driving licences had plenty of time and ample warnings to do so and only have themselves to blame.

“I know Brits like to moan about anything, but please, no more talk of license exchange. It’s your fault . We have all had ample time to adhere to the rules. Don’t blame others. Take it on the chin. Don’t blame the Spanish, blame yourself. Simple.” wrote one belligerent expat from the Costa del Sol.

One expat summed it up: “There is a massive ‘black hole’ in what has happened since Brexit. Thousands of people paid out good money to Spanish legal advisors to assist them with this. Only to find those so called Spanish ‘legal experts’ didn’t understand themselves what the Spanish governments directive was. Now those who fell into that ‘black hole’ are left unable to drive, whilst a fresh faced tourist who passed their test a week before their holiday are deemed safe. 

“Add to that, the smug (and frankly unnecessary) attitude and comments of those fortunate enough to have gained the right advice on threads like this, and it is an unnecessary nightmare that bureaucrats from both countries could easily have solved months ago!”

Share your view on the matter by sending an email to [email protected]


Fiona Govan

Fiona Govan joined The Olive Press in March 2021. She moved to Spain in 2006 to be The Daily Telegraph’s Madrid correspondent and then worked for six years as Editor of The Local Spain. She lives in Madrid’s Malasaña district with her dog Rufus.

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