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Importing a car into Spain

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Importing a car into Spain is usually more trouble than it is worth. Unless you are particularly attached to your vehicle, driving a right-hand drive car on the right side of the road becomes increasingly tedious after a while and can be hazardous on winding roads.

Legally, you are allowed to drive a foreign-registered car in Spain for up to six months in any one year. If you keep it there any longer, officially you should have it tested and re-registered as a Spanish car. Many foreign residents totally ignore this rule and carry on driving around in the UK-registered vehicle year after year. However, you need to be careful, as local police are cracking down on this, and are entitled to impound a foreign-registered car if they have good reason to believe it is used permanently in Spain (many people driving this way also have invalid insurance). The relevant test, equivalent to the British MOT, is called the ´Inspeccion Técnica de Vehículos´ or ITV, and can be carried out by any authorised mechanic. Re-registering a car, however, can be an extremely bureaucratic process.

Importing a car into Spain – VAT

If you are officially a resident in Spain and are thinking of importing a car into Spain that you have bought and paid tax on in another EU country, you should be able to do so free of VAT. If you have owned it for more than 6 months then you should also be exempt from paying municipal registration tax. If, though, you bought a vehicle tax-free in another EU country, you have to pay the VAT, usually 18%, when importing a car into Spain. A Customs certificate is issued to confirm that the vehicle is either free of VAT or that the tax has been paid. For cars bought tax-free in other EU countries, as well as the VAT, you must pay the municipal registration tax, which can vary from 6 – 12%. Cars bought outside of the EU are liable to a further 10%t import tax. All of these taxes are based on the original price of the car, but are gradually scaled down so that, after a car is 10 years old, tax will be calculated on only 20% of its current value.

All these procedures can only be done in the ‘Jefatura Provincial de Tráfico’ in the capital of the province in which you are resident. A full list of their addresses on the website of the central ‘Dirección General de Tráfico’ (, which also has a lot of other information on vehicle and traffic laws in Spain, much of it is in English. There are no branch office outside provincial capitals.

The papers cannot be sent in by post but must be presented at the office, although not necessarily by the owner of the car. Hence, this is one of the bureaucratic operations that most Spanish people would automatically have made by a professional and save themselves the trip.

Buying a Car in Spain

Given all of the above, instead of importing a car into Spain, the option of selling your car at home and buying a new or used one in Spain becomes a lot more attractive. Even for second-home owners, who need a car while there but don’t want to drive over every time, getting a Spanish car can be worth considering – although compare it with long-term rental especially when you take into account that cars in Spain are cheaper than in the UK.

Generally, if you buy a new or used car from a Spanish dealer they will register it for you as part of the deal. The registration certificate is called the ‘permíso de circulación’, and is proof of the transfer of ownership. If you buy a second-hand car from a private individual, though, you will need to apply to register the car yourself within 10 days of its purchase.

This is, again, a procedure for which many people prefer to use their lawyer, especially if they don’t have any other reason to go to the provincial capital. Vehicle taxes are mostly paid at different counters in the same building. Hence, overall, it’s much easier to use the services of their lawyer.

Driving Licence

Whether you buy a car in Spain or are importing a car into Spain, you will have to decide what to do about your driving licence. Since the 1996 agreement on mutual recognition of driving licences within the EU, anyone from another EU country can drive in Spain with their original, home-country licence for as long as it is valid, with no obligation to take out a Spanish licence.

Having a Spanish licence can reduce problems and time spent at roadside checks, especially if you ever come upon police officers who are not quite ‘au fait’ with the law and may be suspicious of a Spanish resident driving with a foreign licence, and, in any event, you will be forced to do so if at any stage you pick up a penalty point under the Spanish traffic system. EU citizens can exchange their old licence for a Spanish one fairly easily, without the need for a fresh test, but will have to surrender the old licence.

In any case, if you are resident in Spain but do not obtain a Spanish driving licence you are still legally obliged to present your UK licence to the ‘Jefatura Provincial de Tráfico’ for your details to be entered into their computer system. Citizens of non-EU countries who are resident in Spain are allowed to drive on their old licences for one year, after which they must get a Spanish licence. For this they will usually also have to take the Spanish driving test, which includes a brief medical examination and written and practical tests.

Next Three useful tips on driving safe in Spain
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