Driving through a country is a completely different way to get to know a place than say by plane or train. Many of you may presume that getting behind the wheel of a car on the other side of the pond is completely out of the question. Well it isn't! The is first thing many of us did as soon as we became 15 and a half was to get our drivers permit so we could take the driving test on our 16th birthday. Now that you are thinking about visiting or living abroad, what are your options to get back behind the wheel?
I have an American driver's license. Can I drive in Spain?
If you are on a 90 day tourist visa, yes. If you are in the first 6 months of your residency (student, work or permanent), yes but before you leave the US you should go to your local DMV and apply for an International Driving Permit (IDP) and it will allow you to drive on your US license for up to 6 months from the start of your residency. After six months US drivers are required to take lessons by a recognized driving school (autoescuela) and the full Spanish driving test through the Jefatura Provincial de Tráfico. Depending on where you live in Spain the cost for both lessons and the test can range for 520 - 1200€.
I'm under 25 can I rent a car or not in Spain?
Yes and no! You have you be 21 years old with a least a year of driving experience to rent a car in Spain (they look at the issue date of the license). Many companies charge drivers under 25 a surcharge of around 20€ a day.
I’m in Europe now, what about a Moped?
If you are over 16, the engine does not exceed 50cc (max speed: 45mph/72kmh, not allowed on the motorway), you can get an AM moped license for about 100€, including lessons. For larger mopeds and motos up to 125cc you need an A1 license. A1 licenses requires lessons through recognized driving schools and has a similar process to a standard driving license with the cost ranging from 300-700€. Choose which option best suits your needs!
What about the road signs? Are they different?
Yes throughout the EU road signs are largely standardized but they are different from the road signs in the US other than STOP and YIELD. Here's a cheat sheet for the road signs in the EU.
Anything else I should know about driving in Spain?
The drivers tend to be a bit more aggressive in the larger cities similar to the US. Motos and Mopeds are everywhere. Watch out for them especially at busy intersections as they like to squeeze in between cars. If you are renting a car, pay for the no liability for scratches and scraps, people will hit your car in parking lot, garage, on the street and keep rolling. I know all too well from experience.
Is it worth the hassle to drive in Spain?
Yes and No. If you live in a major city and plan to only visit major cities and bus tour or BlaBlaCar your way around, no. But if you plan to stay a few years or decades it may be worth it to see the little villages that public transit and the tourist circuit have forgotten or just don’t want you to know about, yes. Get in the car and drive!
Diane, a Philadelphia native, entrepreneur and busy mother of 2 currently living on the outskirts of Madrid. Between baking cookies and doing business consultations she loves spending time with her family intentionally getting lost and table-top gaming.