Disclaimer: This post is meant to be informative only and should not be considered a substitute for official information. Always check with the DGT for the most up-to-date information about getting a driver’s license in Spain.
Oh, driver’s ed. Most of us have been there: under the haze of fluorescent lighting with a dozen or so other teens, eyes glazed over as we watch videos about road safety and basic car maintenance as the faces of drunk driving-accident survivors stare at us from the walls. I honestly don’t remember too much about the classes themselves, except for the one time when they gave us pizza, which was honestly the highlight of the weeklong experience.
Most of us probably wouldn’t willingly choose to sit through driver’s ed again, and yet almost nine years later, I did. In late 2018, I finally decided to sign up for driving classes and work towards getting a driver’s license in Spain, launching myself into a world of unfamiliar traffic rules, confusing road layouts, and stick shifts.
I come from the US—more specifically, Ohio—where teens are eligible to get their learner’s permit when they’re 15 and a half. The age for a full license is 16, as I imagine is the case in most other states as well. In addition to taking driver’s ed, I also had to log 50 hours of driving with my parents while on my learner’s permit. (Again, this was Ohio back in 2010, I have no idea if things have changed since then.)
Here in Spain, things are quite different. For one, there’s no such thing as a learner’s permit, and you can’t get your license to drive a regular car until you’re 18 (there are some licenses available for certain types of motorcycles and scooters that you can get at a younger age). Having worked with high school students here in Spain as a 20something, I now see that 15 and a half and 16 are way, way too young of ages to be driving. (Why are we trusting these literal children to operate motor vehicles, America?)
Since 18-year-olds are considered legal adults here in Spain, there’s no need to log a certain number of hours driving with a parent. Instead, you just need to take driver’s ed, which comes in two parts: the teórico, or theoretical classes, which prepare you for the written test; and the clases prácticas, or actual driving classes in the car with the instructor.
I passed the teórico exam just before Christmas, so that will be the focus of this post. Part 2, with a focus on the driving section of the exam, will come once I take and pass that portion.
How do I know if I need a driver’s license in Spain?
If you’re only going to be here as a tourist, you likely won’t need one. Those who already have a driver’s license from another EU country can simply use that, while everyone else will need to get an international driving permit (IDP). If you’re from the US, you can get the IDP through AAA for about $15.
The IDP is nothing more than a translation of your original driver’s license into several languages, including Spanish. They will make it valid for a full year; however, it will not be valid for a year in Spain. According to local traffic rules, if you’ll be in Spain for more than 6 months, the IDP loses its validity and you must get a Spanish license in order to drive legally.
There are a few exceptions. Other than EU licenses as mentioned above, some other countries have agreements with Spain in which their licenses are valid here as well. Those countries are Argentina, Bulgaria, Colombia, Ecuador, Morocco, Uruguay, Peru, Chile and Romania. If you have a license from one of these countries, it can be validated in Spain, but you must make an appointment at your local DGT in order to do so.
For everyone else staying here for longer than 6 months, it’s time to sign up for driver’s ed!
Choosing a driving school in Spain
The first step towards getting your driver’s license in Spain is signing up for classes at the autoescuela, or driving school, of your choice. If you’re getting a license to drive a normal car, which is probably most of us, you’re looking for classes for license type B.
A quick Google search of “autoescuelas [your city]” will certainly turn up results and be a good starting point. However, don’t expect to see many prices online. When I called to ask about pricing for the B license classes, I was often told that they couldn’t give me that information over the phone and that I was welcome to stop by in person so they could talk it over with me. This is supposedly so that they can try and get you to make a decision and sign up with them on the spot (my boyfriend experienced a similar phenomenon when looking for English academies to take his B1 classes), but when I went to different autoescuelas in person, everyone I talked to was very kind and professional, and I did not feel pressured at all.
What you’re paying for
Driving schools in Spain often separate their costs into categories, rather than charging one flat fee. Here are a few of the things that you may need to pay for (keeping in mind that many driving schools combine a few of these charges into several broad categories—more on that in a little bit).
- El teórico: The “theoretical” portion of the classes that prepare you for the written exam.
- Matrícula: Enrollment fees—think of it as tuition. Usually includes a book and access to an online platform where you can take practice tests.
- Tasa del examen: Exam fees
- Clases prácticas: Driving classes in the actual car with an instructor. Many driving schools charge a certain amount per class, though mine allowed me to purchase a package of multiple classes at a lower per-class rate.
- Tasa de tráfico: Traffic fees. Sometimes included in the exam fees.
Keep in mind that the total cost of getting a driver’s license in Spain can vary wildly depending on where you live. Here in Andalusia, it tends to be on the cheaper side, whereas autoescuelas up in the more expensive north can cost an arm and a leg.
Questions to ask potential driving schools
While in the process of choosing an autoescuela, I found that simply saying Quiero informarme sobre el permiso B (I would like information about classes for license type B) was all I needed to do, and from there they’d launch into their spiel. All of the schools I visited in person also provided me with an informative handout detailing what was included in the offer and what required a separate payment.
However, if you don’t get a handy little sheet with all this information on it (or you’ve found one of the few autoescuelas willing to give you the info over the phone), here are some questions you may need to ask.
- ¿El teórico incluye la matrícula y el examen? Does the cost of the theoretical portion include the enrollment and exam fees? (This is usually, but not always, the case, so it’s best to double-check.)
- ¿Las clases para el examen teórico son presenciales, o son tests online? Is it necessary to attend classes for the written test in person, or are they available online? (My driving school offered both in-person classes as well as a book and online platform that we could use to essentially teach ourselves. Some deals may require you to take classes in person, while others may offer the same choice mine did.)
- ¿Hay un mínimo de clases prácticas? Is there a minimum number of driving classes required? (Some, though not all, driving schools may require you to complete a minimum number of classes before you take the driving portion of the exam. Mine requires a minimum of 15 45-minute driving classes.)
Preparing for the written test
So you’ve decided on a driving school, made your first payment, and are ready to start working towards getting your driver’s license in Spain. Congratulations! Now it’s time to get to work.
If you’ve chosen an autoescuela with in-person classes, this is pretty self-explanatory. You’ll go to your classes and be able to interact with the instructor and clear up any questions you may have face-to-face. If you decide to go the online route, you have more flexibility, but also more responsibility.
I did the latter, and my method basically consisted of reading a chapter of the textbook, highlighting and taking notes in English where necessary (I have a high level of Spanish, but the manual uses very technical terms and lots of unnecessary wordiness: “a change of direction to the left” um what’s wrong with “a left-hand turn”???). Then, I’d get on the online platform and take the test for that chapter. Once I finished all the chapter tests, there were randomly generated tests including questions from all chapters available on the platform as well, so I took as many of those as I could. I also was able to text the instructors whenever I needed something cleared up and wasn’t able to stop by the driving school in person.
Again, every driving school is different. Ask about the class method and resources available to you so you can make an informed decision about which is best.
The written test
In the US, I took the written driving exam on my last day of driver’s ed, in the class itself. It was a paper test (like I said earlier, this was 2010, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s computerized now) and I found out my grade before leaving class that day.
Here in Spain, everyone takes the written test at the DGT (dirección general de tráfico), which would be their equivalent of the DMV. Your autoescuela will most likely inform you of the next available date to take the written test. If you’re ready to sit for the exam on that date, let them know and they’ll pass your details along to the DGT.
When you show up at the DGT to take your written test, they’ll call everyone’s name, check your ID, and direct you to your computer. (Yep, the test is online!) Your ID must stay out on the desk throughout the entire exam. Your name appears at the top of the exam screen, so they’ll take another lap around the room to triple-check that the person taking the exam is in fact the person whose ID is shown.
The exam itself consists of 30 questions, around 26 of which are ridiculously obvious. (“What is proper protocol when you see a small child playing near the road who may dart out into traffic unexpectedly? a) Slow down and stop if necessary, b) Honk and flash your brights at the child to alert your presence, c) Speed up to clear the area as quickly as possible” was one of mine.) To pass the test, you have a limit of 3 incorrect answers. That means that the remaining four or so questions are designed to trip you up.
The questions are randomly generated and everyone takes a different exam. So even though you’ll be able to see other people’s screens, they’re taking a completely different test. No cheating!
When you’re done with the exam, just take your things and leave. You’ll be able to see your results on the DGT’s webpage later in the afternoon.
I passed! Now what?
Congrats! Swing by your driving school (or in my case, they contacted me) and get your name on the list for driving classes. You’re halfway to getting your driver’s license in Spain!