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Why UK and Spain Could Reach an Agreement on Driving Licence Exchanges

Reasons to believe that a UK driving licence meets all the requirements under the EU directive to be valid in the EU therefore there could easily be an agreement between Spain and the UK for exchanging these permits.

The information below is taken from varies publications by the European Commission. Some paragraphs also refer to the directive of December 20. 2006 where is was decided that there needed to be some uniformity of licences of the then, 28 member states.

“EU Driving licences that are valid for life are recognised in all EU countries. However, you must check with the national authorities when you have to exchange it for the new standard model”.

“Driving licence models. All valid driving licences in use in the European Economic Area (EEA) are fully mutually recognised. This includes models of licence that were issued before European legislation on driving licences came into force. A single European driving licence model was introduced on 19 January 2013. Today, more than 170 different driving licences are used throughout the EEA”.

There exists a website of which the main purpose is to show examples of the various valid licence models, to help those responsible for exchanging licences and enforcing rules relating to them. This will facilitate the mutual recognition of all licences issued by EEA Member States and, as a result, the free movement of people with driving licences.

A single driving licence for the whole EU

The EU introduced a harmonised licence model and further minimum requirements for obtaining a licence. This should help to keep unsafe drivers off Europe’s roads – wherever they take their driving test.

Since 19 January 2013, all driving licences issued by EU countries have the same look and feel. The licences are printed on a piece of plastic that has the size and shape of a credit card.

Safety & security

Harmonised administrative validity periods for the driving licence document have been introduced which are between 10 and 15 years for motorcycles and passenger cars. This enables the authorities to regularly update the driving licence document with new security features that will make it harder to forge or tamper ­- so unqualified or banned drivers will find it harder to fool the authorities, in their own country or elsewhere in the EU.

The new European driving licence is also protecting vulnerable road users by introducing progressive access for motorbikes and other powered two-wheelers. The “progressive access” system means that riders will need experience with a less powerful bike before they go on to bigger machines. Mopeds will also constitute a separate category called AM.

European legislation on driving licences.

The rules on driving licences are essential elements of the common transport policy, contribute to improving road safety, and facilitate the free movement of persons taking up residence in a Member State other than the one issuing the licence. Given the importance of individual means of transport, possession of a driving licence duly recognised by a host Member State promotes free movement and freedom of establishment of persons. Despite the progress achieved with harmonising the rules on driving licences, significant differences have persisted between Member States in the rules on periodicity of licences renewal and on subcategories of vehicles, which
needed to be harmonised more fully, in order to contribute to the implementation of Community policies.

(3) The possibility of laying down national provisions with regard to the period of validity provided for in Directive 91/439/EEC leads to the co-existence of different rules in different Member States and over 110 different models of driving licences valid in the Member States. This creates problems of transparency for citizens, police forces and the administrations responsible for the administration of driving licences and leads to the falsification of documents which sometimes date back several decades.
(4) In order to prevent the single European driving licence model from becoming an additional model to the 110 already in circulation, Member States should take all necessary measures to issue this single model to all licence holders.
(5) This Directive should not prejudice existing entitlements to drive granted or acquired before its date of application.
(6) Driving licences are mutually recognised. Member States should be able to apply the period of validity prescribed by this Directive to a licence without a limited administrative validity issued by another Member State and whose holder has resided on their territory for more than two years.

-The introduction of a period of administrative validity for new driving licences should make it possible to apply at the time of periodic renewal the most recent counter- falsification measures and the medical examinations or other measures provided for by the Member States.

Article 1
Model licence
1.   Member States shall introduce a national driving licence based on the Community model, in accordance with the provisions of this Directive. The emblem on page 1 of the Community model driving licences shall contain the distinguishing sign of the Member State issuing the licence.

Article 2
Mutual recognition
1.   Driving licences issued by Member States shall be mutually recognised.
2.   When the holder of a valid national driving licence without the administrative validity period set out in Article 7(2) takes up normal residence in a Member State other than that which issued the driving licence, the host Member State may apply to the licence the administrative validity periods set out in that Article by renewing the driving licence, as from 2 years after the date on which the holder has taken up normal residence on its territory.


The UK is no longer an EU member state. The UK licence still meets all the requirement of an EU permit and conforms with the regulations of the EU driving licence. There are non EU countries with whom Spain has an agreement for exchanging or renewals of the driving licence.

Spain has bi-lateral agreements with non EU countries.

Some of the countries that Spain has a bi-lateral agreement with for the exchange of driving licences

In addition to the countries of the European Union, European Economic Area (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) there is an agreement to exchange driving licences for residents of Spain that have been issued by the countries listed below.

Swiss. Andorra. Korea. Japan. Argentina Colombia. Perus. Morocco. Costa Rica. Monaco.

There are good grounds for the UK and Spain to reach an agreement for the exchange of driving licences.

Note* An extract from the Spanish Embassy in London as a response to a holiday home owner on their enquiry about driving in Spain.

“It is further noted that a bilateral agreement on mutual recognition and exchange of drivers’ licences between both countries is currently being pursued. If this agreement is finally signed, then its provisions should be observed”.

Please contact the FCO or your consulate and embassy in Spain to remind the FCO that UK residents of Spain need information on any bi-lateral talks on this subject. The only option at the moment for residents who after 6 months from the date of residency, is to take a driving test in Spain.

Please note: The information provided is based upon our understanding of current legislation. It is not legal advice but is provided freely to enable you to be properly informed. We recommend that if you are considering taking action, you should seek professional advice.

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