This story is helpful for everyone who is planning to take the Spanish driving test. It was written in 2021 when It was not possible for UK licence holders to exchange their licence for a Spanish one. Now there is an exchange agreement between Spain and the UK, so most UK licence holders do not need to take the Spanish test. However, those without a current UK licence that has not expired and people from many other non EU countries, such as the USA and Australia, do need to take the Spanish test to continue to legally drive in Spain after 6 months.
One person from the UK who decided not to wait for an agreement to be reached is Ruth Baldasera. Speaking to Age in Spain just after her Spanish language class, Ruth is proof that you can take your driving test – and pass it with flying colours – without being fluent in the language.
Ruth and her husband moved to Spain in August 2021, so she was allowed to drive for six months on her UK licence. She immediately applied for her TIE – necessary if you want to enrol in a driving school – and waited two months to get it. Christmas and New Year then intervened and cost another month. The six-month window for applying had effectively been reduced to three.
“I had followed discussion on Facebook groups and decided that since no agreement had been reached to allow a simple exchange of licences, I would take the Spanish test. I didn’t want to run the risk of not being able to get around by car. I didn’t want to arrive in a new country and not be in control of my own destiny! I also thought that taking the lessons would make me a better driver and I’d know how to drive correctly on Spanish roads.”
So, what is involved? The first step is to enrol with a driving school. Each school provides a book which can differ from school to school as they are produced by different publishers.
A sort of Spanish Highway Code? Ruth thinks it’s more than that. You can also get access to their online portal with hundreds of practice exams.
“I can’t think of an equivalent British publication. This book, which is in English, is the Highway Code and more. There’s information about the effects of alcohol and drugs, first aid if there’s an accident, and details about maintenance of your vehicle – what the markings on the wall of your tyres mean, for example, or how to drive with a trailer.
“You can be tested on any of that, but there are hundreds of practice tests online, all of them asking different questions, and all in English.”
There are theory classes run by the schools and learners can attend weekly, but these are in Spanish and tend to be for people learning to drive for the first time so are geared towards them. I was sent home with the book, the online practice exams, and a whatsapp number to message if I was stuck.
Passing this theory test, was, says Ruth, the most difficult part. The practical was easier.
“That felt just like giving the examiner a lift home!”
Ruth’s practical test lasted only eighteen minutes and involved driving and parking the car, as well as some right and left turns. So, it required minimal understanding of Spanish. (Ruth’s instructor – who was sitting beside her, with the examiner in the back – had explained to the examiner that she spoke little Spanish.) But even with limited Spanish, she was able to follow instructions to turn right or left, to take the 2nd exit at a roundabout, to carry out a reverse parallel parking manoeuvre, and to head towards Alicante.
“In my test, there was no emergency stop, no hill start, no reversing round corners, no three-point turn. They know you can drive, it’s not as if you have to prove that you can. You just have to drive properly for however long they make the test last.”
There are differences in driving in Spain, Ruth says, apart from the obvious one of being on the right-hand side of the road.
“Road signs are very important. In older towns there are often clusters of them within five meters of approaching a junction and each conveys different information that must be observed. And the way of making a left-hand turn is different, too. There are ‘P-Junctions’ or marked areas where you need to move into a middle of the road and wait.”
She has heard of a few people failing the test, but for the kind of mistakes that would fail you in the UK – mounting the pavement, not giving way at a roundabout, going over the solid white line at a stop sign.
While studying for the theory test, Ruth helped a friend set up a Facebook group, Ladies Driving in Spain. Through that group, many women have offered each other mutual support to get through both theory and practical tests. And, recently, in response to men also wanting to benefit - a new Men Driving in Spain Facebook group.
Ruth has also contributed to the Age in Spain guide to Driving in Spain.
Ruth on her Yamaha motorbike before coming to Spain.
To drive her bike here, Ruth IS hoping for a licence exchange. If she has to sit the Spanish test, then for the first three years she will have to drive a smaller motorbike, leaving the Yamaha in the garage. In the meantime, she’ll use four wheels.
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