Changing Your UK Driving Licence for a Spanish One: Are the Rules the Same Across Europe?

The British and Spanish authorities are still yet to reach a reciprocal agreement meaning Britons can drive in Spain without changing their driving licence (and vice versa). Whilst we wait for this decision to be reached, an extension has been granted that means Britons can drive in Spain using their UK licenses until the end of February 2022. The reason for this change? Because British driving licences are no longer recognised as EU licences, since the UK left the EU. This means that Britons residing elsewhere across Europe may also have to exchange their licence, unless there is a reciprocal agreement in place.

To give you an idea of the kind of agreement Britain and Spain might reach, whilst we wait for a final decision, here is an outline of the other licence exchange programmes that have been announced since Brexit, as well as countries where an agreement is yet to be reached:

Europe’s Licence Exchange Programmes

We already know that negotiations for a licence exchange programme are ongoing in Spain. They are also ongoing in Italy, but Britons living in Italy are able to use their existing UK licences until the end of 2022 whilst the negotiation process is completed: this also gives drivers more time to sit their Italian driving test, if needed.

In France, an agreement was reached in June 2021. This agreement allows Britons with licences issued before 1st January 2021 to continue to use their licences until either the photocard or the license itself expires. In Portugal, UK licence holder's resident in the country can continue to use their UK licences until 31st 2022: Beyond this date that must have exchanged their UK licences for Portuguese ones.

 In Sweden, Britons can exchange their UK driving licence for an equivalent Swedish one without having to take the Swedish driving test (this is the same rule that applied when Britain was part of the EU). Other EU nations have adopted this same stance, allowing UK residents to swap their licence without taking a test. These nations include; Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland.  

With such a huge precedence set, it is surprising that Spain and Italy have still not reached an agreement with the UK.

What is the Current Situation in Spain?

On 29th December 2021 a third extension was approved, allowing Britons to use their UK driving licences in Spain until 28th February 2022. It is widely hoped that a deal will be reached by the end of this period, but this is by no means guaranteed given that negotiations have currently lasted longer than 12 months. The messages from the UK Embassy in Madrid have also changed: in late December 2021 they wrote that “negotiations are continuing and we stand ready to conclude that agreement as soon as possible” but by mid-January this message had been diluted to state that negotiations were “ongoing” and “we cannot provide any guarantees, so it is important that – if it is imperative for you to drive – you consider all your options, which may include looking into taking a driving test now”.

If continuing to drive in Spain is essential (either for your career, wellbeing, or quality of life) then you might want to consider taking your Spanish test. This is made up of two parts: a theory test, which you can sit in English or Spanish, and a practical test which can only be taken in Spanish.

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