Provided you brush up on the road rules and follow some essential tips for driving in Spain, renting a car is a wonderful means of getting around the country. Having your own wheels frees you up to explore independently, get off the beaten track, and generally have greater flexibility in your itinerary.
Beyond the main cities where a car isn’t necessary, the Spanish roads are wide and accommodating. They’re in excellent condition and super safe to drive on in a standard sedan. Many of the best day trips from such cities as Málaga and Barcelona can be enjoyed with a rental car.
Read on for practical advice, driving rules, and key tips for driving in Spain as a tourist.
Requirements for Driving in Spain as a Tourist
The minimum age for driving a car in Spain is 18 years old. However, you need to be at least 21 to rent a car and a surcharge usually applies to drivers under the age of 25. This varies from firm to firm but some might require you to have held your license for at least a year.
In terms of renting a car as a foreigner, it’s straightforward if you’re from the UK, EU, or any other country on this list. All you need to do is bring your driver’s license. However, you may also need to carry an International Driver’s Permit (IDP) if you do not have a photocard-style driving license.
Plus, if you’re staying longer than 90 days you will also need to carry an IDP. Do double-check with your relevant authority before traveling.
If your driver’s license was issued in the US, Canada, or any country that is not on that list, then you will need to carry an IDP. These are cheap and fast to procure either in person at your local post office or via the AAA/CAA websites.
As it’s only possible to apply for an IDP in your home country, getting this sorted out in good time is one of the most crucial tips for driving in Spain.
When it comes to renting a car, you will also be required to show your passport and proof of valid insurance. You’ll also need to leave the details of your credit card on file. This is strictly a credit card only – namely, Visa, Mastercard, or American Express – not a debit card.
Once you’ve got the green light, you need to always drive with a fluorescent jacket and two warning triangles in the vehicle. This is one of the compulsory driving in Spain requirements.
Driving to Spain from the United Kingdom
It’s possible to drive to Spain from the UK via France provided that you adhere to all necessary driving in Spain requirements.
If you intend on driving to Spain from the UK with your own car then you will need to gather the correct documents. Essentially, that’s your driving license plus, in some cases, an International Driver’s Permit. You may also need to take your vehicle log book (V5C). On the other hand, if you’re driving to Spain in a hire vehicle you’ll need to bring a VE103 to show you’re authorized to take your rental abroad.
Further details about driving to Spain from the UK are available on the gov.uk website.
Where to Rent a Car in Spain
Discover Cars is a great shout for where to start your search for a rental car in Spain. They aggregate all the prices across main car rental firms and detail exactly what is included in the lease. You can use this platform to rent a car in Málaga, Madrid, Seville, and beyond.
What to Have in Your Car in Spain
Whether you are renting a car in Spain or you are driving your own car into Spain from elsewhere, there are a few safety items that you are legally required to have in your car.
If you are renting, these things should be provided. Just be sure to check that all are in the trunk of the car before renting.
- A spare tire and all of the tools required to change it
- Two warning triangles
- High-visibility vests or jackets – there must be one for every person traveling in the vehicle
Safety Tips for Driving in Spain – Rules and Regulations
It’s always important to obey all driving rules in Spain– the most important ones are detailed below.
1. Drive on the right
One of the easiest things about driving in Spain as a tourist from the United States is that they drive on the right-hand side of the road. In fact, most countries in Europe do – with the exception of the United Kingdom, Ireland, Malta, and Cyprus.
2. Adhere to speed limits when driving in Spain
Avoid getting stopped by the police by always staying on top of the speed limit while driving in Spain. As with the rest of Europe (bar the UK) Spain uses the decimal system of kilometers rather than miles.
In general, the limit is set to 120 km/h (74.5 mph) on the major motorways (highways) known as autopistas and autovías and 90 km/h (56 mph) on minor motorways known as carreteras nacionales, autonómicas, and comarcales.
A limit of 50 km/h (31 mph) applies to built-up urban areas or 20 km/h (12 mph) in residential urban areas. Of course, you’ll want to keep an eye peeled for the signs on top of memorizing the standard speed limits.
3. Never drive under the influence
While a nice cold beer is hard to resist on a sunny day in Spain, driving under the influence will land you in far hotter water than the Mediterranean Sea in the peak of summer.
Should the police stop you, Spain driving rules dictate officially that it is legal to have a reading of no more than 0.5 g/l in the bloodstream (0.25 mg/l in exhaled air). However, if you are drinking in the heat the alcohol might impact you harder than it would back at home. Therefore, it’s advisable to not drink at all when you are the designated driver.
If you do have a drink while out and about with your rental, leave the car and have a taxi take you back to your hotel. Uber in Spain operates as it does around the world – alongside similar ride-hailing apps.
4. Wear a seatbelt at all times
Seatbelts are a legal requirement for all passengers in a car in Spain. This applies to those in the backseats as well as the front. According to Spanish law, children under the height of 135 cm (4’4”) must always sit in the rear of the car in a restraint seat.
5. Mobile phones are prohibited while driving
It is illegal to use a cell phone or any other mobile device while driving in Spain. That applies to making phone calls, writing text messages, and mapping the route. If you need to look at your maps or amend your journey, you’ll need to pull over or ask your co-pilot to take over.
You can use a hands-free or Bluetooth device to make phone calls when behind the wheel. However, you are not permitted to use any earpiece attachments while driving.
6. Child Seat Requirements
Children under 4.5 feet (135 cm) or under 12 years of age must be in a car seat and must be seated in the backseat of the vehicle. They are not allowed to sit in the front seats of any vehicle. If you are pulled over and breaking one of these laws, there is a fine of €200.
Children who are taller than 4.5 ft (135cm) may use an adult seat belt.
7. Red always means red
Whereas it’s permitted to turn right on a red light in the US, this doesn’t apply to the driving rules in Spain. Any red light means you need to stay put until green.
Tips for Driving in Spain as a Tourist
Safety aside, these are other essential tips for driving in Spain.
8. Keep your documents to hand
Once you’ve gone to the effort of gathering all the relevant documents required to drive in Spain, the last thing you want to do is leave them in the hotel. Just as you would at home, remember to keep all relevant paperwork while driving in case the police perform a routine check.
9. Mind the cyclists
Spanish is extremely popular with cyclists and those taking biking vacations. Always be prepared to encounter cyclists on the road and overtake them with care. Note that as per the driving rules in Spain, the maximum speed at which you can overtake a cyclist is 20 km/h inferior to the speed limit on the road where you are currently driving. Therefore, if the maximum speed is 90 km/h, you cannot overtake a cyclist at a speed greater than 70 km/h.
10. Plan your route with care
Much of the Spanish countryside is blissful and uncomplicated when driving in Spain as a tourist. However, certain coastal roads and hilly interior areas are more challenging. As an example, the route to the White Towns of Andalucia is pretty gnarly and best reserved for experienced, confident drivers.
11. Prepare for a manual drive
The vast majority of cars in Spain have a manual transmission. Automatic vehicles are quite rare. However, you can request one from the rental agency. It’s not a guarantee that all places will be able to accommodate this so you might need to shop around. One of the most practical tips for driving in Spain is to familiarize yourself with driving a manual car prior to travel.
12. Download essential apps for driving in Spain
There are a couple of apps that will make a world of difference while driving in Spain as a tourist.
Google Maps is the obvious as the GPS will navigate you without the need of a printed map.
If you’re headed to remote areas, you’ll also benefit from MAPS.ME. This app is adored by hikers and travelers as it works offline – a bonus that also extends to drivers.
GasAll locates the closest petrol stations and provides pricing details. This means you can shop around for the best deal on gas.
13. Carry cash for toll roads
Most motorways within Spain’s national network are free to use. However, there are a couple of routes where tolls apply – these are marked as autopistas de peaje. On a map they are indicated as AP and then the route number.
These roads tend to be fast and clear of traffic, which means they’re handy for covering long distances efficiently.
One of the useful tips for driving in Spain is to have a couple of euros in your wallet to pay for these. In some cases, you can pay by credit or debit card but this might be more expensive if you have a foreign card.
On the other hand, you can bypass the toll roads with alternative routes. Navigational apps give you the option to avoid toll roads. While these free roads may be busier, they’re usually far more scenic.
You can find out which motorways require toll payment on this website.
14. Book accommodation with parking
If you rent a car in Spain, you’ll want to ensure that you have secure parking every night. There are usually options with free parking although central hotels are likely to apply a surcharge to any parking space. All the classic accommodation apps such as Booking, Agoda, VRBO, and Airbnb let you filter out properties with free or paid parking.
15. Note the different types of gas in Spain
Check what type of gas your rental requires. Leaded gasoline in Spain is called super or super 68 while unleaded is called sin plomo 98 or Eurosuper 95. Diesel is called gasoil or gasoleo.
16. Do not leave valuables in the rental
One of the most important tips for driving in Spain is to not leave your important possessions in the car. As with all countries, petty criminals tend to target those shiny rental vehicles in Spain. Always keep your valuables and important documents with you when you leave the car.
17. Heed parking rules
One thing you don’t want to happen while on vacation is to be slapped with a parking fine. Cars must always be parked on the right-hand side of the road in Spain (except on one-way streets). Never park on a curb painted yellow or red and always pay for parking where it is required. Paid parking spots in cities typically impose a two-hour maximum and are marked with blue or green lines. If you disobey parking rules, it’s pretty likely that your car will be towed.
18. Dial 112 in the case of an emergency
Hopefully, this isn’t a phone call you’ll ever need to make while driving in Spain! However, in the case of an accident or crisis, dialing 112 gets you through to the emergency network in Spain. It should work on your smartphone at all times but there are also emergency telephones dotted across the Spanish motorway system.