Getting your driver’s license in Spain can be a lengthy and expensive process full of frustration. If you live in Spain, you may have heard friends and coworkers complain about how difficult it can be to obtain your license. However, keep calm and read on, because I’m going to give you some insider tips to make the process easier, faster, and cheaper. Not to toot my own horn (pun intended), but with these tips and tricks, you will be driving around Spain in no time!
Note: You only need a Spanish driver’s license if you’re staying in the country longer than six months. For the first 90 days, you are free to use your country of origin’s license. Then, for the first six months after obtaining residency, you can drive with an international license. Some licenses are accepted in Spain beyond those 90 days and can be turned into a Spanish license. You can find that list here. Unfortunately, for most English-speaking countries, you will need to obtain a Spanish license from scratch.
1. Groupon Coupon
Although it is not the only way to obtain your Spanish license, it is recommended to go through a driving school. However, enrolling at one of these schools can be expensive, so it is best to look for either a school offering a limited-time deal, or a coupon. When I obtained my driver’s license in Spain, I searched for special rates and offers online. I used sites like Groupon to check for deals.
It can be confusing, as there are different kinds of driver’s licenses in Spain. To drive a normal car, or un turismo, you will need the Permiso B, which allows you to drive either manual or automatic vehicles.
Keep in mind that almost everyone drives a manual car in Spain. There is a license that allows you to drive only automatic cars, but it requires you to drive an electric vehicle. Also, automatic cars are more expensive to buy or rent. No matter what, you’ll have to take the practical driving exam anyway. Take advantage of this opportunity and learn how to drive a manual car.
After browsing around on Groupon for a few minutes, I was in luck—for just 19.95 euros, I bought a driving school starter pack for the theory portion of the driving class, plus four practical classes behind the wheel. The only catch? I had to complete it within six months of purchase.
Understanding the Time Limit
This is actually the standard for most courses offered by driving schools. (If you don’t complete their classes within a certain amount of time, they will ask you to renew your enrollment.)
The driving school I chose was Gala Autoescuela because it was well-rated and very close to my house. However, Groupon offers coupons for many different driving schools, so another one might be better suited for you depending on where you live.
Note: All courses and exams mentioned in this article were taken in Spanish. The prices in this article are subject to change over time and based on location and available offers.
2. Study Smart, Not Hard
The next step on my journey toward a driver’s license in Spain was to study the materials provided for the theoretical exam. I read the book and took the online course, but I’ll be honest, I didn’t spend much time on those. Instead, I completed every single practice test on the Todo Test app.
What is Todo Test, you ask? Todo Test is a free app that you can download on your phone. From the app, you can access all of the old theoretical exams and practice with them. If you get an answer wrong, you can read a brief explanation or watch a short video explaining the correct answer. You can also retake the tests as many times as you want. I took every test twice to familiarize myself with the questions, the format, and the bonus material that wasn’t included in the course I took through my driving school. Once I aced the tests, I was ready to take the first exam.
Brush Up on Your Spanish
The exams through Todo Test are in Spanish. There is an option to take the theoretical exam in English; however, the translations are rumored to be poor. It is easier to simply learn the vocabulary in Spanish.
3. Psicotécnico: The Secret Hurdle to Your Driver’s License in Spain
I was ready to take the theoretical exam, but there was a hurdle to obtaining my driver’s license in Spain: a surprise exam! The psicotécnico exam is a basic evaluation of your capacity to drive that you must take before the theoretical exam. There are dedicated centers that conduct these tests, and you will need to book an appointment ahead of time. The cost of this exam varies from center to center. I paid 20 euros, however, some centers may charge as much as 80 euros. You can find Groupons for this exam, as well.
The test was fairly straightforward and quick. First, I had to answer some basic health questions, and then I played what was essentially a video game. The objective is to keep the car between the moving lines. It seemed difficult at the time, but I passed with no problem. After this, there is a brief eye exam. If you wear glasses, you can keep them on.
Don’t worry, this exam is a breeze! I was so nervous that when they asked me to raise my left hand, I raised my right, and I still passed. In total, I spent around 15 minutes in the building. It was as easy as one, two, three. In, out, and done.
4. Theoretical Exam: Two Strikes and You’re Out
With the certificate from the psicotécnico, I went to my Gala Autoescuela to register for the theoretical exam. The driving school handles all of the details to sign you up. I paid the fee for the exam, which was 92.20 euros, and handed over my certificate. The secretary told me they would text when I was scheduled for the exam.
A few days later, I received a text with the time and date for my theoretical exam. The Dirección General de Tráfico (DGT) center where they do examinations for Madrid is in Móstoles. Many of my friends dread this building, and some have opted to take more expensive driving courses outside of Madrid just to avoid it. It can definitely be intimidating going to the DGT in Móstoles. (For any Americans reading this, it was very reminiscent of taking the SAT.) The room where the exam is held is huge and filled with desks. We all filed in, were told the rules, and then took the test.
The test is on a computer, and it was very easy to navigate between questions. They advise you to bring a pencil, but this is entirely unnecessary since there is nothing to write down. You only need your ID card and yourself!
With the 92 euros paid to sit the exam, you have up to two attempts to take it. On each of those attempts, you can get up to three questions wrong and still pass. You receive your results a few days after taking the exam, and you can access them online. Should you fail both attempts, you’ll need to pay the fee again to retake the exam. After this test, you’re one step closer to obtaining your driver’s license in Spain!
5. Relearning the Road
After taking the exam and receiving the news that I had passed (with three answers wrong!), I returned to the driving school to schedule my in-person lessons. I already had an American driving license, so I assumed I wouldn’t need more than the four classes offered through Groupon to polish up my skills, learn how to operate a manual vehicle and take the practical exam.
I was very wrong!
As an American, driving in Europe was a completely different experience, and I was out of practice after years of relying on public transport. The rules of the road are different in Spain, and if you happen to be American like me, you will need to get used to the dreaded roundabouts. Additionally, the roads are narrower, the merge lanes onto the highway are shorter, and there are a million things going on at any given time around you: pedestrians, bikes, animals, etc. You must be very vigilant of your surroundings and patient with Madrid’s aggressive drivers. Parking is also something you will likely need to relearn because Spanish people almost always back into spaces.
Preparing for the Driving Portion
Watch YouTube videos of driving instructors teaching the rules of the road and how to operate a manual vehicle. I watched YouTube videos from both Spain and England to supplement my lessons and help build my confidence.
After pulling my hair out in frustration for about 20 lessons during cold, rainy, and dark winter nights after work, my driving instructor told me I was ready to take the exam. I didn’t feel ready, but I wanted to take the exam to become familiar with it. At this point, I had purchased two ten-packs of classes, totaling about 650 euros. I hadn’t used all of them, because I assumed I would fail the first try on the practical exam and held a couple back in reserve.
6. Practical Exam: The Final Stretch
For the practical exam, I had to pay another 125 euros to register and for the driving school to process me. Then I waited, just like before, to receive confirmation of my appointment at the DGT.
For the theoretical exam, you will need to go to the DGT on your own. However, for the practical, three of my classmates and I went with our driving instructor. They walked us through different questions the examiner might ask ahead of time and reviewed the different routes the examiner might ask us to drive. Fortunately, the day of the exam was sunny and fairly warm; totally different than what I was used to!
The Day of the Exam
I was very nervous so I requested to go first, but this proved to be a terrible decision. I completely froze once the examiner began asking me questions. Normally, the exams are only 20 minutes and you take the exam in conjunction with a classmate. One of you drives to the destination the examiner chooses, and the other drives from the destination and back to the DGT. This ensures that both of you drive in town, on the highway, and demonstrate how to park. However, because our examiner was cautious of COVID-19, I was asked to drive both legs of the journey, doubling my time behind the wheel in which to accumulate mistakes.
In order to pass the practical exam, you can have up to 10 minor infractions, two medium infractions, or five minor infractions and one medium infraction. A single major infraction (such as running a red light) automatically disqualifies you. Given my nerves and the amount of time behind the wheel, I failed as expected from a veritable shower of minor infractions. To put a cherry on top of the experience, I also dropped my residency card sometime during the exam! Fortunately, someone found it and took it to the nearest police station, where I was able to recover it.
A Second Chance
If you fail the first time you take the exam, don’t be discouraged! Although stressful, the experience was valuable. I used the rest of the classes I’d purchased to review the mistakes I’d made while taking the exam the first time. Then, after repaying and reregistering for the exam, I took it a second time. I was much more confident and relaxed, and very determined to pass. In fact, I was so much better prepared, that I even managed to pass whilst suffering from a blood clot in my left leg!
After the exam and arriving safely back at the driving school, my instructor congratulated me and handed me the prized green “L” plaque that signifies you are a licensed “learner,” or new driver. Learners need to hang the “L” on the rear windshield of any vehicle for the first year that you have your license.
Finally, I waited for my license to arrive in the mail. While you wait, download a temporary license that is valid for 90 days. However, it can sometimes take longer than 90 days for the physical license to arrive. In my case, my license arrived exactly 90 days after passing the practical exam.
Lessons Learned About Getting a Driver’s License in Spain
From start to finish, the process of obtaining my driver’s license in Spain took nine months. It can certainly be done faster, especially if you have a flexible work schedule and push through the study phase faster. Realistically, give yourself at least six months to complete everything, but be prepared for it to take up to a year or more.
In total, I spent around 1,000 euros over the course of those nine months to obtain my license. I was able to fraction the class payments and exam fees, which did help, but it was very expensive. Some driving schools offer better deals and, with a little luck, you can find better Groupons than I did to reduce the cost. Conversely, I’ve heard from colleagues and friends that the process can be even more expensive. One of my coworkers has spent over 3,000 euros on classes and exam fees!
I was staggered by the amount of money this process required; however, my driving instructor gave me some words of wisdom. He told me that I will spend more money on bread in my life than on driving classes. Now, I haven’t done the math and I’m not sure that’s true, but I understand his point. Getting your Spanish license is a one-time cost compared to recurring costs over the years. And besides, it’s undeniably valuable to be able to drive in your country of residence, as well as learn how to drive a manual car.
If you’re looking to cut costs, study and take the exams on your own without going through a driving school. However, I would recommend going through a school. Mine was extremely helpful and walked me through each step of the process, saving me a lot of stress and hassle. Time is money, too!
Reflecting on the Process
All in all, the process was longer and more expensive than I’d hoped, but not nearly as scary as I’d feared. I learned a lot of vocabulary, made some new friends through the driving school, and, most importantly, finally got my license! After nine long months, I am finally ready to take my dog on road trips!
If you are in the process of getting your driver’s license in Spain, best of luck! Drop any questions you might have about the process in the comments and I will be happy to answer.
Earning a driver’s license in Spain is an important step if you’re thinking about getting a job there or simply traveling for an extended period. Once you’ve followed the steps on this list, you’ll be ready to hit the road! If your journey has landed you in Madrid, there’s no shortage of day trips you can enjoy with your new-found freedom on the road. Click here to check out three of the best.