Bureau pledges to help expat drivers

Flickr by Oscar in the middle


IN a David and Goliath-type case, an expatriate advice bureau is threatening to take the Spanish Government to court over a driving licence debacle.

As confusion reigns over whether or not EU citizens have to change their driving licences for a Spanish one, the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) Spain has vowed to pursue the Spanish traffic authority through the courts.

As reported in the Euro Weekly News (EWN), the Spanish traffic department (DGT) has said that people holding the old style UK paper licence with an expiration date of more than 15 years must change it after being resident in the country for two years.

Crucially, though, holders of the new style plastic photo card licence, valid for a total period of 10 years, do not have to change theirs until the date runs out. This may not be the case if the DGT protocol is followed as some of these licences may include specific categories.

However, the problem is the department has been giving out contradictory advice, with reports of some expats having been fined for non-compliance. The DGT has been using an option in the EU directive that has never been made law, so insisted that people changed their photo card licences before January 19, 2015. This included photo card licences with categories in Group Two (BTP, C1, C1E, C, DE D1, DE). This would be all UK licences issued before 1997, says CAB Spain.

Set up by Myra Azzopardi Swainson, the bureau has now vowed to help any expat drivers who have been fined for not holding a Spanish EU licence.

“The protocol is not enforceable because it is only an option of the EU directive and cannot be brought into being without being made law and transposed into the Spanish ‘normativa’,” said Myra.

“Spain has used the EU directive option to demand that all expats change their licences, but there is no law in place that requires them to do so, and therefore they shouldn’t be fined. It’s a mistake, it’s not enforceable and we have written to the DGT asking them to amend what they’re saying and to clarify what ‘normativa’ is being used to implement this demand. 

“We are willing to pursue this through the courts if there is no amendment from the DGT.”

Myra added that CAB Spain has one solid case of a person being fined for breaching the DGT regulation, and that the organisation will fight for anybody else fined by bringing the matter to the courts. 

“We are confident that drivers cannot be fined if they haven’t changed their photo card licence, but our advice is for people to make their own decisions as to whether or not to change their licence. Until the DGT makes an amendment it still stands that a person can be fined, even though it’s not the law.”

When contacted by the EWN, the DGT central helpline confirmed that only the old style paper licences valid until the age of 70 should be changed. 

CAB Spain has urged anyone who has been fined under the directive to contact them on 952 797 821. Their website is www.citizensadvice.org.es


  1. Have to disagree with the CAB agency on this one and rather than directly support DGT for an allegedly unrefined portion of Spanish / EU law, I WOULD be a supporter of a law that uses common sense issues to expedite a law who’s intention it is, to keep EVERY driver in Spain ( Nationals, ex-pats AND visitors ) SAFE! Primarily, it is the U.K. that caused the safety issues to arise in the first instance, by historically, issuing groups of vehicles to be legally driven onto their licence when in fact, the majority of the existing licence holders of these groups have never even had any experience of driving the majority of the classes they refer to. The most glaring example is to allow somebody to be let loose with a 7.5 tonne truck who has no other experience than at the wheel of a 750kg hatchback town car. Surely the DGT’s main concern IS safety and all they are trying to accomplish in the current exercise, is to ensure that the individual driver has the correct grouping of vehicles on their licence so that they are not only capable of driving those prescribed classes in a safe and prescribed manner but to bring a common sense parity of these aims to ALL drivers on Spanish roads.. If the only way to resolve these obviously ( but seem to be ignored by the CAB ) important safety issues, is for ex-pats to exchange their old and invalidated ( by an outdated British faux pas ) to one that is recognised not only by the DGT and their highway agents but accepted by the Insurance companies in Spain and the rest of the EU. Would the CAB rather read headlines claiming another 12 months of fatalities due to driver error and inexperience, whilst instead, using that uncreative time in taking on an agency for the totally wrong agenda? Whilst typing this response, many of the ex-pats will also be aware that in this very same week’s UK newspapers, the headlines of most brought tragic news of a little girl and 3 adults demise on our own UK roads, that now purports to be as a result of the person behind the killer vehicle, having insufficient experience and ability of driving that very vehicle! Think on that when you wish to take on the agency that is probably attempting to save YOUR loved one’s from a similar fate?

  2. I think you have lost the plot a bit Andy, Spain is trying to force competent drivers to change their licence when it is perfectly legal to drive with anywhere in the E U. The UK paper licence I can understand the need to change that. Many years ago the EU directive was to have a photo credit card size licence so that any police forces in different EU countries could read the licence and view the drivers foto.
    These are legal all over Europe until the foto date runs out then you renew in the country of residence with a new foto.
    Bringing the accident story in is terrible, the lad had had training and had past the required test, and could of happened to a guy with 50 years experience.

  3. Andy. I am not sure what you are disagreeing with. The CAB Spain stance is to follow the law. Nowhere have we entered into the safety aspects of the categories described. The issue is relating to law and law alone. Not up to us to decide on whether an expat driver is capable of driving a vehicle of a category on his or her licence. We are the first to agree that laws must be abided by, that is by the motorists and the DGT alike. A department such as the ministry of the interior in Spain should know better and should be aware of the laws and not leave it up to CAB Spain to note their grave errors. (28 representatives from all the EU countries attend the launch of this protocol and no comment from any embassy or consulate). The laws are not only in relation to driving licences but can relate to residency, healthcare etc. A government body or entity cannot just take the law and use them at a whim as has been done here with the DGT, making legal demands when these are not as yet transposed in the law of the land. No doubt the relevant department, now aware that the faux pas has been noted, will ask the government to debate and approve the options provided in the EU directive, then and only them can the demands be put to the expat community as a regulations. The protocol is illegal therefore not enforceable.

  4. I agree Andy you seem to have veered totally from the point the CAB is raising, which is its a DGT directive that is not backed up in law. The point being is our UK licenses are in fact EU licenses which states that we can drive without having to obtain special ones in EU countries. Myra is right in what she is saying it needs clarifying. The only point I can see also that needs clarifying is to know is it law that after being resident for 2 years you have to change you license to a Spanish one ?.

  5. Myra. I’m not sure why you are making a rebuke on my comment ( touche).. It clearly stated that I was not supportive of the given reasons that were transcribed in the article and at the same time, gave no direct support to the Spanish agency on the very same topic. Perhaps you should re-read the comments before actively taking up legal stances?
    The point I was making ( and a very clear one at that ) was that the LAW, in this instance, should purport to its content as a matter of safety. After all, in matters of licensing ( be it vehicles, construction industries or even consumer goods ), the element of ” safety ” is paramount in the formation of what one can or cannot do. I intimated that there must have been some logical reason, relative to safety, as to why the changes needed to be made and indeed, the example of UK’s historical licensing was certainly a topical example to which, consideration would have been made. Just because you display a bias towards the law is the law, does not make it morally correct or even practical. Awaiting interaction into the ” law of the land ” is a logistical issue and no way infers that the proposal(s) are indicative of isolating any one group of individuals. If you check your history of these proposed changes, you will find they are not instigated solely for Spain. Indeed, the same regulatory foundations were introduced to the Spanish Islands and even as far away as Cyprus. The Cypriot agency actually produced a consultation document on the proposals and rest assured, it was clear from the content, that licence issues in several EC countries were suspect to the unsafe issue and allottment of category entitlement, throughout,, as I have already, made example of. If you care to examine the actual categories applicable to this issue, you will readily identify that it covers a wide spectrum of vehicles and not all drivers are competent in the control of those said vehicles. The DGT hasn’t been seen to be objective in the WHY’s and until they are ( courtesy maybe of EWN’s right of reply ) I can still only ( and logically ), assume that the matters pertained mainly to safety issues.
    Meanwhile, I’m not so green as I may seem to some readers when the alternative hidden agendas do not make an appearance into these issues and matters, I am happy to note that your compliant stature with matters of the law, leave you to agree with me, by default, that there are no excuses for the following relative. For instance,, Do all ex-pat drivers in Spain ( utilising their UK driving licence ) follow the law with regard to;
    The need to register with the traffic authorities within six months of moving to Spain
    The requirement for medical checks, such as ;
    The need to undergo a medical examination at an Authorised Drivers Check Centre (Centro de Reconocimiento de Conductores Autorizado) to show mental and physical fitness and standards that apply similary to Spanish drivers
    and that as and when those same ex-pats decide ( or are compelled to exchange their driving licence ) they will be subject to the following requirements;
    Proof of identity (passport original and copy)
    Proof of residence (Certificate of Registration in the Central Aliens Register – the NIE number (Número de Identificación de Extranjer)
    Valid driving licence to be exchanged (original and photocopy) with 2 recent photographs (32 x 25 mm)
    A declaration in writing stating that the applicant has never been banned or suspended from driving
    A declaration in writing stating that the applicant does not hold another driving licence of the same class in another country and that the licence will need regular renewal.
    A standard Spanish driving licence for a private car or bike is valid for 10 years when the holder is below the age of 45 years, 5 years for ages 45 up to 70, and every 2 years from age70 upwards.
    I have dozens of ex-pat friends, dotted all over Spain and I can honestly say that the majority of them are currently either, non compliant with the laws above in several areas or, were totally naive of these existing Spanish laws.. You can understand then, why it is very probable that these underlying variances are a proportionate reason for the intended rejection of the licence issue?
    Add that collection to pot and you may at last, see why I err on the side of caution and thoroughly promote the SAFETY issues in this campaign.. Give an insurance company any reason NOT to pay out and they will find it. Personally, I’d rather NOT be involved in an accident with an uninsured driver, regardless of how he or she interprets the law as to why he or she thinks they ARE legal..

  6. We did our Spanish medicals a couple of weeks ago Andy and we were asked if we’d like to keep all of our categories, therefore changing our licences will not make the slightest difference to the current stuation. We will have the same groups but will have probably needlessly spent quite a lot of money.

  7. I´m sorry Andy, but your comment is full of inaccuracies. When you register here as resident, you do not have to take any action to make your licence valid to drive in Spain. All the actions you mention are obligatory, but upon renewal of your licence only, when it expires naturally, or when you´ve been a resident for 2 years and need to renew because you still hold the paper-only licence. And the validity periods of Spanish licences are conform the EU validity periods, so those you quote are not correct, I´m afraid.

  8. If you are resident in Spain and you no address in u.k you are illegally driving anyway As many Ex Pats do any way if you want to be safe stay within the law. I know of one brit who didn’t and had to pay dearly.


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