Do you REALLY need to change your UK Driving Licence to a Spanish licence before Brexit?
Some media sources have engaged in scaremongering by suggesting or implying that UK licences will automatically be refused in Spain after Brexit. However, this is far from the true or complete picture.
It is true that rules governing acceptance of driving licences between EU countries are primarily governed by Article 2 of European Directive 20067126/EC, under which driving licences issued by European Union Member States of the Union are mutually recognised. So technically, as of from the withdrawal date, in the unlikely event that the UK leaves the EU with “No Deal”, UK driving licences would theoretically not longer be recognized by the Member States according to Article 2. However, this is far from the whole story.
First and foremost, we have already explained in our Brexit article above (READ HERE) that the chances of the UK leaving the EU with ‘No Deal’ are slim to none. Meanwhile, any ‘Deal’ that is done will certainly include all reciprocal rights for such straightforward issues such as driving licences.
But what would happen in the extremely unlikely alternative of a ‘No Deal’, whereby the above mentioned EU reciprocal rights would technically no longer apply?
The starting point is that that Spain (and as of 2020, the UK) are Contracting Parties to the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, which both also grant reciprocal driving licence rights. The one inconvenience under this convention is that UK citizens would technically need to obtain a yearly IDP (International Drivers Permit) costing £5.50 from a major post office. This would enable UK driving licence holders to drive in Spain, regardless of the EU’s views on the matter.
However, what many sources fail to mention is that Spain and the UK have already essentially overriden the above provisions and reached their own provisional “No Deal Scenario” agreement on driving licences. the recognition by EU member states of driving licences issued by third countries (i.e. outside the EU) is not governed by European Union law, or indeed by any UN convention or treaty. It is more often regulated between the relevant countries directly, typically via little more than than informal agreement. For instance, some EU countries accept USA driving licences with no IDP requirement and many USA states similarly accept EU driving licences, despite the USA not being part of the EU.
In the case of Brexit, it appears that Spain and the UK have already reached this type of agreement. The following interim rules governing Brits driving in Spain after Brexit is quoted directly from the gov.uk official website: https://www.gov.uk/driving-abroad/international-driving-permit
You will not need an IDP for visits up to 9 months after the date the UK leaves the EU. Then, you will not need an IDP for visits up to 6 months, if you have either a UK photocard or UK paper driving licence.
You will need a 1949 IDP for longer visits.”
So British tourists, visitors or swallows that have not obtained Spanish residency can continue to use their UK licences to drive in Spain without needing an IDP, even in the event of a ‘No Deal’ Brexit.
However, for Brits who are permanently resident in Spain, there are different rules. Spain has stated that under a No-Deal Brexit, Brits who wish to drive in Spain will need to exchange a valid UK driving licence (without taking a driving test) for a Spanish licence, within 9 months of the date the UK leaves the EU.
So, given that the earliest possible date for leaving the EU is now 31st January 2020, Brits resident in Spain will only need to change their driving licences until before 31st October 2020, and that is only on the unlikely assumption that the UK leaves the EU with ‘No Deal’.
Given the unlikelihood of the UK leaving with No Deal, any British residents who would rather keep their UK driving licences may therefore be better off waiting to see how Brexit plays out over the next few months, rather than jumping through bureaucratic hoops that may never actually be required. Then, once the exact legal position is decided following Brexit, even if they are definitely required to change their licences, they will still have plenty of time and notice to do so.
We will update readers further once definitive rules have been put in place following Brexit. However, any nervous UK nationals residing in Tenerife wishing to prepare for the worst and guarantee their rights to drive after Brexit can obviously now apply to change their UK driving licence for a Spanish licence prior to Brexit.
For the avoidance of doubt, readers should note that under the current rules in force today (which will most likely continue if the UK and EU do a deal), there is no legal requirement for UK nationals residing in Spain to replace their UK licence UNTIL it expires naturally on the date stated in the licence.