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UK driving instructor's advice to new residents in Spain - don't waste time!


Planning to take the Spanish driving test and wondering what is involved?

Ruth Collins

We share the insights of Ruth Collins who was herself a driving instructor in the UK before moving to Spain in November 2021. She was preparing to take her Spanish driving test as at the time, it was not possible to exchange the UK licence. Her experience is just as interesting and helpful for non UK/EU licence holders who do need to take the Spanish test.

Don’t waste any time! That was the first piece of advice offered by Ruth in our interview with her.

‘Even though you arrive with six months’ validity on your driving licence, it can take six months to get through the process. We wasted three months. It’s natural after a move to a new country to want to get other things sorted before you get round to thinking about a driving test, but you may need all of that six months to get to the stage of taking a test.’

In fact, on the morning of the interview with Age in Spain, Ruth’s husband, John, had just passed his test! They had only eight days left of their period of grace.

Ruth is reassuring about the practical driving test. She describes it as ‘more of an assessment that you can drive’ than a test. The examiner recognises that you can drive and does not ask for many of the complicated manoeuvres required of a new driver.

However, you do need to pass a medical examination which you arrange yourself with your GP. ‘This checks eyesight (using shapes), colour recognition and hand-eye coordination. Once you’ve had your medical, you have ninety days to pass a theory exam.’

That, says Ruth, is a lot more challenging than the UK equivalent. ‘If the UK theory test is at five on a scale of ten, the Spanish one would be at nine.’ The difference is in the amount and detail of knowledge that is required – about the capacity of other vehicles, for example, like motorbikes, or the towing power of tractors.

‘You are asked 30 questions and are allowed to make three mistakes. But if you fail you can take the test again.’

Help is at hand though.

‘There are websites such as where you can enrol and receive practice papers. With this one, you get 60 days’ worth of past tests – 3000 questions. That costs around 36€ .’

After passing the theory test, you take the practical. Again, this will be slightly different in that your instructor sits beside you and the examiner in the back. The test will be conducted in Spanish, but people with a limited knowledge of the language can easily learn the basic instructions likely to be used by the examiner.

‘It can be quite reassuring, to be with an instructor that you know and has probably been beside you during practice. One main difference in Spain is that you can’t practise on your own. In the UK you can, as long as you have beside you a qualified driver who has held a licence for at least three years. In Spain, in order to practise you must have an instructor with you, and that can be expensive.

‘So, while you can arrange your own medical and take the theory test yourself, you must be presented for the practical by an autoescuela.’

Did Ruth feel frustrated that she had to do all this, even though she was already qualified to teach driving? Her answer was a resounding ‘no’.

‘ I have a UK driving licence and I gained my instructor’s licence with a high score – but I still had a lot to learn in the Spanish context because the laws are different.

‘Other things are different, too. On roundabouts in the UK, we signal our intentions. In Spain, signals are only used as the driver is about to exit the roundabout. We would regard that as bad driving, but it’s exactly right in Spain. In Spain, the outside lane is used no matter which exit you are taking. The inside lane is used for overtaking. In the UK we take up position in an appropriate lane for exit.’

Ruth points to signage, too, as something which is more detailed and more complex. There are often many signs as you approach a junction, each with a vital piece of information on it. Each needs to be looked at and the information absorbed. An ability, Ruth says, that may decline with age. Another reason for not wasting any time in applying to sit the test.

Ruth has sympathy with people who waited in the hope of exchanging their licences for Spanish ones and then found time had run out. She is also aware of people who did try to exchange but got wrong advice or the system let them down. But she believes sitting the test is a good thing to do in itself.

‘I am certain that the process of studying for the theory test and learning the Spanish equivalent of the highway code – a book containing all you need to know is available in English - has made me a better driver.’

This text was updated on 19 March 2023


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