There are several options for traveling around Spain. Most people default to public transportation or ride-share platforms like Uber. But as visitors quickly discover, many of those platforms can be sketchy if available in a specific city in the first place.
As a result, many opt for driving in Spain themselves with a rented motor vehicle. It is for these brave souls that Fuse has curated this blog post. Please keep reading for the delicious details tourists should digest before driving in Spain.
Basic Spanish Road Rules
Beginning with the basics, let’s cover the rules of the road. People drive on the right side of the road, similar to the Americas in Spain. Other similarities include obligatory seatbelt wearing, hands-free driving laws, and drunk driving penalties.
There are several differences, however, so let’s get into them.
- The legal driving age in Spain is 18 years old, the same as the legal drinking age. The legal age to rent a vehicle, however, is 21.
- If you use a navigation tool, it must be hands-free.
- Children under 12 and shorter than 4 feet 5 inches must be in a booster or car seat.
Now that we have the basics laid out, let’s get into more details.
Driving in Spain: Licensing and Insurance Requirements
The license requirements for driving in Spain are simple; a valid driver’s license and an international driver’s permit are both required. The latter isn’t hard to obtain but should be taken care of in your home country before traveling.
Seemingly, the majority of vehicle insurance companies in the Americas will not cover an accident or vehicular emergency on foreign soil. Be sure to verify this fact with your insurance company before you travel.
Luckily, car rental companies in Spain offer unlimited third-party liability insurance built into the rental cost. Fuse recommends not skimping on purchasing insurance coverage(s) while driving in Spain. Having it is always better than not having it if an emergency occurs.
Additional items needed while driving in Spain:
- Rental or ownership documents
- Motor vehicle driving insurance details (printed, not digital)
- Valid passport of the driver in addition to both licenses
- Reflective/fluorescent jackets for all parties (necessary for anyone exiting a vehicle pulled off to the side of the highway)
- A minimum of two warning triangles present in the vehicle
Not too bad right? Next up, the laws and expectations of the road that every tourist should know before driving in Spain.
Driving in Spain: Laws & Expectations
Spanish driving laws get strictly enforced by the Civil Guard or the CNP (Cuerpo Nacional de Policia). If driving in Spain as a tourist and stopped by the Spanish Civil Guard for moving violations, expect to be fined.
Not knowing the local language may make interaction with Spanish law enforcement stressful. Remain calm, explain you do not speak Spanish, yo no hablo español. They may know some English but will likely provide you with written materials that can be translated using the Google Translate camera feature.
It’s worth noting that taking videos or photos of Spanish law enforcement is punishable by heavy fines and jail time. Now that that scary detail is out of there, let’s continue.
Fines are routine and, if given, are expected to be paid upfront, or the motor vehicle can be impounded on the spot. Don’t panic in these situations. Do as instructed, do not challenge them, but do remember to get a paper receipt for the transaction.
Emergencies happen. If one should happen to you while driving in Spain, dial 112 from any phone (mobile or landline) to reach the emergency services closest to you.
At the gas stations, vehicles must be completely disengaged, including the radio, and cell phones cannot be used while fueling. Leaded (plomo) is typically labeled as Super, or Super 68, while unleaded (sin plomo) is labeled as 98 or Eurosuper 95. Diesel (gasoleo) is available, but like in the Americas is used for big-wheel trucks or massive engines.
Road signs and speed limits in Spain vary, and remember that distances get measured with metric vs. the imperial system in Europe. So you will see road distances marked in kilometers vs. miles. Urban and residential areas vary in speed from 19 to 31 miles per hour (30 to 50 kilometers). But busy highways travel as fast as 75 miles per hour (120 kilometers).
If you see a road name beginning with the letters “AP” (autopistas) on your route while driving in Spain, it is a toll road. Tolls are typically open systems, which is to say that they are assigned flat fees. The closed systems, most common in Malaga and Madrid, will ask the driver to take a ticket upon entry. The toll amount is then calculated based on the distance traveled vs. a flat fee.
If paying for tolls doesn’t interest you, I don’t blame you! There’s a logical workaround because autopistas in the nation run parallel to a free highway or road. Choose to travel the latter and save the toll fees for lunch.
Parking in Spain
You may opt for a picnic lunch along the way because parking in Spain can be quite a hassle. There are no two ways about it. Almost every city has pay-to-park options both above and underground. Rarely will you find a free parking space, but if you do, pay attention.
- Blue zones (Zona Azul or ZOA): Have a 2-hour limit during the day but are unlimited after 8 p.m. and before 8 a.m.
- Blue or green marked roadsides signify paid parking spots. Most cities use mobile apps or meters for payment options.
- Yellow roadsides mean it’s a residential area. Only those with permits for that residence can park there.
- Unless it’s a one-way street, cars should park on the right side of the roadway and be a minimum of five feet from a corner.
- If your car gets towed at any point, the expense is on the driver, and the vehicle can only be retrieved by paying additional fines at the local police station.
I hope this parking information isn’t a deterrent to driving in Spain because slow traveling the country in this way is spectacular. If you are interested in more insider tips for sustainable traveling Southern Spain, you can find them and plenty more on the blog.
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