Much conflicting information circulates about how long you can keep and drive a UK registered car in Spain. Even the authorities themselves seem to be confused and give differing responses.
Referencing information from official publications, we aim to present a practical explanation to answer the question.
Contrary to popular belief that a UK registered car (or other vehicle), can only kept and legally be driven in Spain for 6 months, the actual length of time will ultimately be dictated by the following:
- the date that the UK MOT is due
- the status of the driver – whether Resident or Tourist.
In all cases, whether you live in Spain, or are just visiting, to legally drive a UK registered car in Spain, you must of course have a valid driving licence, and the vehicle must be road legal in the UK, i.e. taxed, with valid MOT and insurance.
The absolute maximum time a UK registered car can be kept in Spain, regardless of whether you´re resident in Spain or not, is technically a year (less a few days).
The DVLA deems a vehicle to be permanently exported once it has been out of the country for 12 months or more. This means that the vehicle either has be taken back to the UK before the 12 months is up, or otherwise registered with Spanish number plates.
This link provides more info: https://www.gov.uk/taking-vehicles-out-of-uk/for-12-months-or-more.
Non-Residents Driving a UK Registered Car in Spain
So for tourists or non-residents, as long as the vehicle is road legal in the UK, it could in theory be kept in Spain for up to 12 months, and used during visits providing the total duration of those visits does not exceed 6 months.
Here´s a scenario to illustrate this:
A couple live in the UK and own a holiday home in Spain which they visit regularly over the course of the year. They drive over with a UK registered car to use during their stay.
As “visitors” in Spain, they are entitled to use their UK registered vehicle, provided it’s road legal in the UK, and so long as they do not exceed the 12 month DVLA limit. This means that their vehicle could remain in Spain until the sooner of – when it needs it’s MOT, or a few days before the 1 year anniversary of it being brought to Spain.
Lets say the car is over 3 years old, so its return to the UK is dictated by the MOT due date. If the car was less than three years old it would be the DVLA 12 month permanent export rule that applies (as it would not require an MOT).
Lets also say that the car’s MOT due date is the beginning of January, they brought the car to Spain straight after its MOT, so they can keep and use the car in Spain until it has to be returned for its MOT at the beginning of January the following year.
What they should also consider is whether their insurer will extend their policy to provide European cover for the vehicle being kept outside of the UK for such a long period. Many UK insurers offer a maximum of 90 days of full cover in Europe, thereafter basic 3rd party cover only, which in a lot of cases would be deemed too risky. Some may offer longer, for an increased premium, and there are also some Spanish insurers who will cover vehicles on UK plates.
Other considerations are that the Spanish equivalent of UK road tax, is generally lower than in the UK, as is insurance for Spanish registered vehicles. Therefore, if you don’t travel to and from Spain with your vehicle, and are driving/sending it back solely to renew the MOT – switching it to Spanish plates, or getting a Spanish registered vehicle, will most probably be cheaper over time, never mind being less hassle.
Residents Driving a UK Registered Car in Spain
The Spanish authorities apply the rules of residency when policing UK registered cars. This is probably where the 6 months notion originates and this applies to the person driving the car, not the vehicle itself.
Throughout the EU, the measure for determining your country of residence is 183 days. The assumption that the authorities make, is that if a UK car has been in Spain 6 months, then its owner must have been too and that makes them Spanish resident. Once you´re resident in Spain, you can no longer drive your UK registered car as a tourist, so you’ll either need to switch the car to Spanish plates, or sell it and buy a Spanish registered vehicle.
Local police, ‘Policia Local’, and traffic enforcement, ‘Guardia Civil – Trafico’, do track and record use of UK registered vehicles over a 6 month period, using this as their marker for the 183 day rule. They then warn the owner to either stop driving the car, or register it onto Spanish plates within 60 days. If they find the car on the road again after the 60 days, they invariably impound it and ask the owner to prove that they do not live in Spain, before they’ll release the vehicle.
You can find answers to a lot more questions about driving UK registered vehicles in Spain in our article