How long can you drive a foreign plated car in Spain before registering it

How long can I keep a foriegn plated vehicle in Spain

How long can you drive a foreign plated car in Spain before registering it? 

It’s a question that is raised over and over again on social media, and we’re asked almost every week – ‘’How long can you drive a foreign-plated car in Spain before having to  register it?’’

There are hundreds of blogs out there that say you can keep and drive a non-Spanish registered vehicle in Spain for up to 6 months, but we always advise our clients that they can only actually drive them for 3 months (or less in some cases) before registering and here’s why:

To be clear, if you’re taking residency in Spain and intend to keep your vehicle in Spain, then you’ll need to start the registration process as soon as possible to avoid problems with local authorities.

If you’re on holiday in Spain, then you can keep your vehicle here for up to 3 months, at which point if you’re a third-country national (without a visa), you’ll need to leave the country and if you’re an EU citizen, then you’ll need to register as a resident. 

So, why is there so much confusion about being able to keep your vehicle here for 6 months rather than 3? 

The answer to that lies in the detail of the law, so bear with us here.

The law  ‘’Ley 38/1992, de 28 de diciembre, de Impuestos Especiales, actualizada por la Ley 39/2010, de 22 de diciembre, de Presupuestos Generales del Estado para el año 2011 ‘’

States the following:

Deberán ser objeto de matriculación definitiva en España los medios de transporte, nuevos o usados, a que se refiere la presente Ley, cuando se destinen a ser utilizados en el territorio español por personas o entidades que sean residentes en España o que sean titulares de establecimientos situados en España

The means of transport, new or used, referred to in this Law, must be subject to definitive registration in Spain when they are intended to be used in Spanish territory by persons or entities that are residents in Spain or that own establishments located in Spain.

OK, sounds fairly straightforward except that the “residente” means fiscal/tax resident, rather than physical resident and here lies the confusion: you don’t become fiscal/tax resident in Spain until you have spent more than 183 days in Spain in any fiscal year (1st of Jan until 31st of December). 

So theoretically, you should be able to keep the vehicle on its original plates until you become a fiscal resident – which is where the 6 months (183 days) comes from.

BUT in practice, if you’re stopped by the Police, and they check your status, and it says “resident” they are very unlikely to check your ‘fiscal’ status, so they will issue a fine as a resident for driving a foreign registered vehicle (sanctions start at €500). Although you may have cause for argument, it’s very, very difficult to get the fines overturned once issued.

This is why if you’re taking residence in Spain, Upsticks always advise our clients to start the vehicle registration process as soon as possible.

We spoke to the Local Police, they said their ‘rule of thumb is’ to keep an eye on foreign-plated cars for 3 months; a vehicle that drives around for longer than that is liable to get pulled over for a document check.

It’s highly likely that a vehicle suspected of committing an offence will be seized and impounded on the spot, and it won’t be released until any fine and import tax is paid. Most of the time, they also request temporary P-plates that can be used as a form of pre-registration. 

Another reason you could find yourself in hot water is if the vehicle is illegal in your home country (i.e. lacking the relevant tax, insurance, roadworthiness inspection paperwork).

Getting an ITV inspection on a non-Spanish registered vehicle is pointless – all it does is confirm whether (or not) the vehicle can pass the inspection; it doesn’t make it legal to drive in Spain. 

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the Spanish Traffic Police (DGT Trafico) don’t understand foreign vehicle documentation. While the vehicle tax and registration markers can differ between countries, it’s not difficult to check the status of a vehicle online using national databases like the UK DVLA Website for example. 

We live in a digital world and if stopped, you are more than likely to get found out. 

As if that wasn’t reason enough to keep within the 3 months, the green card issued by most insurance companies allowing you to drive a foreign registered vehicle in Spain has a time limit of (guess what) normally 90 days. After that, your policy cover could be reduced to the legal minimum (usually 3rd party only). 

While you may find an insurer in Spain willing to cover a foreign plated vehicle, show this type of policy at a traffic stop, and it’s a dead giveaway that the vehicle’s been in Spain for longer than 3 months – ask yourself if it’s worth the time and money.

Despite the horror stories, it may not be as expensive or as stressful as you think to register your vehicle.  

Talk to Upsticks about how we can help with registering your vehicle onto Spanish plates in Andalucia – Book a Call or email [email protected]

The information in this article was current on the date published.
Article last reviewed/updated 05.08.2022

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