26 Mar, 2023 @ 12:03
2 mins read

Back behind the wheel: Job done, as Olive Press U-turn campaign over UK driving licence swap in Spain finally sees success

Uk Driving Licence Passport

TO the relief of thousands of expats around Spain, the government has finally approved a deal on driving licence exchange with the UK.

The move brought an end to the more than 10 months of hell endured by foreign residents with UK licences, after they were banned from the roads on May 1 last year.

When it became clear there would be no more extensions and UK drivers resident here were really going to be banned, the shock, frustration and fear was palpable. 

It was a situation that genuinely caught many by surprise, particularly given most had done everything within their power to avoid. 

And it was a situation that everyone thought – or at least hoped – could only last a couple of weeks.

But in the end it took a shocking 10 months for the UK and Spain to reach a post-Brexit agreement on licence exchange, coupled with driver information related to traffic fines. 

Ten long months, during which many vulnerable residents were unable to legally use their cars to get to work or attend hospital appointments, let alone go shopping or see friends.

Uk Driving Licence Passport

After hearing many sad and desperate stories, the Olive Press decided to launch a campaign to help them.

Our U-Turn Campaign – which gave the victims a voice and pushed officials on both sides to find a solution – can finally now be retired. Job done.

While rival newspapers ignored the victims’ plight and some social media commentators even insisted they ‘deserved it’ for ignoring the warnings and trio of extension periods, we knew there were a myriad of other reasons.

In particular, many got hung out to dry by gestors (some of them bogus) who failed to do their job, while others were caught abroad or unable to act due to the strict pandemic restrictions.

Take David Dawson, who had moved to Spain in December 2020 and gave a lawyer instruction to apply for the exchange. He didn’t do so and David missed the deadline. “Our house is in an isolated location with no public transport of any kind,” he told the Olive Press. “It has caused countless nightmares.”

Meanwhile, an Olive Press employee found herself in a similar position – unable to drive to work or lead a normal day-to-day life, as were dozens of other Brits who got in touch with us.

There were a few reasons for the long delay, but the main sticking point was the UK wanting to keep the licence exchange and data access for traffic offences issues separate, whereas Spain wanted them together.

Despite story after story, many on our front page, we just couldn’t get answers.

The main problem was communication and, as it often does in Spain, as summer arrived the information dried up, and despite numerous requests from our journalists no further explanation was forthcoming from either side – no one could explain why it was taking so long.

For users of social media, the UK ambassador, Hugh Elliott, became a target for their ire. 

In his regular video updates, he made clear that the embassy staff were reading all of the comments that victims were leaving for him. That must have been quite an experience, given the levels of frustration that people were expressing.

But thankfully, in the end, the situation has been resolved.

Now UK licence holders can get back behind the wheel. All they have to do is navigate the Spanish bureaucracy to complete the process. Let us hope this goes smoother than the negotiations did.


Simon Hunter

Simon Hunter has been living in Madrid since the year 2000 and has worked as a journalist and translator practically since he arrived. For 16 years he was at the English Edition of Spanish daily EL PAÍS, editing the site from 2014 to 2022, and is currently one of the Spain reporters at The Times. He is also a voice actor, and can be heard telling passengers to "mind the gap" on Spain's AVLO high-speed trains.

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