How to drive in Spain with a US license

Hello! I’m Victor Gersten from Cross Border Wealth Advisors, an expat living in Barcelona, Spain. I’m a Certified Financial Planner and an Enrolled Agent with 14 years of experience in the financial services industry in San Diego, Ca. Furthermore, as an expat living in Spain, I have helped many expats to retire financially abroad by sorting out the complicated legal, tax, or investment questions that most expats have. I also like answering all your questions about moving and retiring abroad, specifically in Spain and Mexico.

Compared to the United States, Spain has similar driving laws but different documentation requirements than you know. If you want to drive in Spain, you can use your foreign driving license for the first six months. However, you will need to carry both your valid U.S. driving license and an International Driving Permit (IDP), a separate document that translates your driving license into 10 different languages.

Typically, most car rental companies only require your driver’s license and passport, not an IDP. However, if you get pulled over by Spanish police, they might ask for an International Driver’s License and you might incur a fine if you don’t have one. (Americans in Barcelona, 2021)

How to Get Your IDP (International Driving Permit)

You can easily obtain an IDP for $20.00 from the American Automobile Touring Alliance.

There are certain requirements and things you will need when applying for your IDP which you should be aware of. These include:

  • The fee of $20.00
  • The applicant must be over 18 years of age.
  • Signed copies of the front and back of your current driving license.
  • Two passport-sized photos (See application form for requirements)
  • A completed IDP application form

After six months of residency, your foreign driving license will no longer be valid in Spain and you must get a Spanish driving license. Citizens of many countries, including the United States, will have to take the full two-part test in Spanish.

You must apply at the Provincial Traffic Headquarters (Jefatura Provincial de Tráfico). You need the following:

  • A certificate of mental and physical fitness from the Authorized Drivers’ Check Centre (Centro de Reconocimiento de Conductores Autorizado)
  • An application form.
  • Two passport-sized photographs.
  • Your residence permit.
  • Proof of address in Spain.
  • A declaration that no suspensions or legal cases are preventing you from driving.
  • A declaration that you don’t already hold a similar license.
  • You must take lessons through a recognized driving school (ie. a family member does not qualify). Look online or in the Paginas Amarillas (Spain’s Yellow Pages) under ‘autoescuela‘.

The test has two parts: a written theory test as well as a practical test. Both are usually taken in Spanish although you can take a translator with you and in some areas of Spain, there are English-speaking examiners. 

Most people go through the process with a driving school (autoescuela) that also includes driving lessons. Remember, most cars in Spain and throughout Europe are manual instead of automatic.

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In Cross Border Wealth Advisors we specialize in helping American Expats who moved or are planning to move to Spain in terms of cross-border planning and early retirement. We help expats simplify their lives across borders. Schedule a free introductory meeting with us if you have any questions about cross-border planning while living in Spain.

Sources of Information:

Americans in Barcelona. (2021). Moving to Barcelona. Retrieved from Driving in Spain with US license:

Typical non-Spanish. (2022). Travel and Sport. Retrieved from Driving in Spain with US license: