Police Crackdown on UK Cars in Spain

Since the UK left the EU, driving in Spain has been increasingly confusing and difficult for Britons living in Spain. Securing a reciprocal UK-Spain driving license agreement was a time-consuming process, taking years of negotiation, but this agreement was finally secured in February 2023. But now that this agreement is in place, British drivers living in Spain need to be aware that the Spanish police force are cracking down on British cars on the road in Spain that have either not switched their registration plates or whose MOT has expired.

These more stringent checks have been made possible thanks to the greater powers provided to the Spanish authorities as part of the reciprocal UK-Spain driving licence agreement. Here’s everything you need to know about that agreement, and what it means for you:

What Information Do the Spanish Police Have Access to?

When negotiating the reciprocal UK-Spain driving licence agreement, Spanish negotiators demanded that they have access to the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) database. This was a key requirement for British citizens living in Spain to continue driving in the country using their UK licences, or the right to exchange their UK licences for Spanish ones if required. The DVLA database provides Spanish authorities with a wealth of information, giving them greater detection powers and allowing them to closely monitor UK vehicles uninsured or untaxed in Spain, or which should have changed their number plate to a Spanish one but failed to do so after exceeding the legally permissible duration. It is these two elements that Spanish police forces are currently researching and clamping down on.

What Does This Mean for British Drivers in Spain?

If you are driving a British car in Spain with a Spanish number plate, and that is suitably taxed and insured, then you have nothing to worry about. But if you haven’t gotten round to changing your number plate or taxing your car yet, then now is the time to act before you are approached by the authorities. Non-resident UK or foreign registered vehicles in Spain must obtain a Spanish number plate after six months, and legal residents' cars must do so after 30 days.

New rules have given Spanish police forces the authority to two any vehicles that breach these regulations. Their access to the DVLA database means that they possess more tools to make identifying those vehicles breaching these guidelines much easier. Anecdotal evidence suggests that police forces across Spain are already using these powers. For example, a car in the municipality of Mazarrón was recently impounded for having an expired MOT.

If you are a British driver living in Spain, then you also need to know your vehicle must  possess a valid ITV (the Spanish equivalent of an MOT), as well as being fully insured. You also cannot drive a vehicle with a British number plate: your car will need to be registered with Spanish number plates to comply with the legal requirement.

Understanding British Driving Licence Usage in Spain

Negotiations for a reciprocal driving license agreement between Spain and the UK took more than two years. Whilst the UK Ambassador to Spain Hugh Elliott announced that an agreement had finally been reached in November 2022, this agreement was not ratified until March of this year. This agreement couldn’t come soon enough for many Britons, because from 1st May last year, any Briton living in Spain who hadn’t already exchanged their UK driving licence for a Spanish one was no longer able to drive in the country, leaving many Britons reliant on public transport. Now under the agreement, any Briton living in Spain before 16 March 2023, can use their valid UK or Gibraltar driving licences to drive in Spain for up to 6 months from this date. For those who move to Spain after 16 March 2023, valid UK or Gibraltar licences will be recognised for 6 months from the date they obtained residence. The good news is that Britons who are resident in Spain and holding a UK or Gibraltar licence can exchange their driving licences for a Spanish one without taking a practical or theory test. This should be done within 6 months from 16 March or within 6 months of the date you obtain your residence, whichever is later. If you don’t exchange your license within this six month period, then it will no longer be valid.

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