Driving in Galicia

You’ll read a lot on the net about Spain’s roads being a gauntlet of disorganised madness. In my experience this really isn’t true of Galicia and driving here is generally easier than the UK because the roads are so much less crowded.

There is of course a resident population of arseholes and people who after following for a while you really feel shouldn’t be licensed to drive (the ones in weird, tiny, slow cars in fact aren’t as these cars can be driven without a license), but probably no more so than anywhere else.

There are, however, a few specific issues that incomers should be aware of, namely:


Outside of city centres car parking is free and is normally at roadside rather than in purpose built car parks. Something you will quickly notice is that a significant percentage of the population holds the view that if there is no available space exactly where they want to go it is fine to just stop the car in the road and put the hazard warning lights on for 5 or 10 minutes, especially if it’s raining. This makes town centres a little more tricky than they need to be and is not a behaviour to be encouraged unless you happen to be friends with all of the local police and Guardia Civil.

Right hand drive cars

There is no particular problem with importing a right hand drive car to Galicia but you will find that overtaking, pulling out from certain junctions and also knowing exactly what is around you when you change lanes on a motorway becomes more difficult, although not impossible by any means.


This is the one area of Galician roads where madness does reign supreme. Cities now feature a goodly number of multi-lane roundabouts, but if you try to use them as you would British roundabouts (using lanes correctly and predicting the movements of cars on the roundabout from their positioning and indicator usage) I can more or less guarantee that you’ll be involved in an accident before too long!

The problem is that on Spanish roundabouts lane discipline is not enforced and nor have people learned it. Cars in the outer lane always have priority over those in the inner lane irrespective of whether they follow lane discipline or not and what this means is that all the nervous, slow and new (yes, they still teach it this way for practical survival reasons!) drivers always use the outer lane even if they want to go all the way round the roundabout.
The inner lane, as a result, becomes a sort of high risk overtaking lane favoured by younger men in black Seat Leons.

To exacerbate the situation yet further, city planners have a fondness for siting pedestrian crossings right next to roundabouts, which means that the car you’re expecting to exit the roundabout and leave a gap you can drive into can suddenly emergency stop to a complete halt on the roundabout right in the gap you were aiming for.

My only advice is to assume that you can assume nothing and, if at all possible, to avoid this stretch of road in Ferrol.

Driving/Registering a UK Registered car in Galicia

You are normally allowed to drive a UK registered and insured car in Spain for up to 3 months without problems nor the risk that your insurer refuses to pay up in the case of a claim.

If, however, you are moving permanently to Galicia and bringing your own car then you will need to register it here. As Spain is in Europe, and as the principle of freedom of movement of people and personal possessions is enshrined in European law, you would expect that importing your car from another European country wouldn’t be too difficult… yes, well, in that case this process will be a lesson in the general bloated inefficiency of Spanish bureaucracy and also that wherever an EU obligation seems to threaten in any way the profits of some Spanish commercial sector that can influence Spanish politicians arcane laws seem to appear which the cynic might believe to be a deliberate attempt to make something like purchasing and then importing a cheaper and better car from Germany, for example, simply not worth the hassle and expense. And/or, in the case of bringing your own car to Spain, practically impossible in the 60 day period allowed.

As with most bureaucratic misadventures in an unfamiliar language, of course, the process can seem worse than it actually is because of the difficulty understanding exactly what instructions are being given and also because you have no experience of the process nor knowledge to draw on.

Importing, free of import duty if you’ve owned the car for more than 6 months, a car to Spain is possible and (although if you’re importing a right hand drive car you need to weigh up how happy you are with having the wheel on the wrong side – it does make certain junctions and overtaking a lot more difficult) it also means you don’t have to jump into the pool of sharks that is the Spanish used car market.

The first thing to check is whether your car has (based on manufacturers specifications) emissions of less than 120g/km, because if it does it can be imported into Spain without import duty irrespective of how long you’ve owned it for. If you, for example, plan to buy a left hand drive car in the UK (this can cost thousands less than buying the equivalent vehicle in Spain) and drive it to Spain then this low emissions level is the number one criterion.

If, on the other hand, your car has emissions higher than 120g/km then this is how it’s done (in A Coruna province, so if you’re in Lugo, Pontevedra or Ourense then swap that for A Coruna).

This is the DGT (Spanish traffic authority) document detailing the process, and here is its translation into grim reality:

  • Order a homologacion document

    This step of the process can take a month or two and so ideally should be started about 6 weeks before you officially move to Spain (not longer than this because all official certificates in Spain now have a validity of only 3 months!).
    First up you need to order a document called a “homologación” from a local official main dealer of your make of car.
    This will cost you around 150-200€ and is a certificate generated specifically for your car (from the VIN) to state that it conforms with Spanish safety laws.
    As safety laws have been broadly synchronised in the EU for so long that most cars sold in European countries are identical you could argue that the requirement for this document is nonsensical for EU registered vehicles …unhappily that argument won’t help you register your car in Spain.

  • Register yourself in Galicia

    Next up you need to get two personal registration documents, a NIE from the Policia Local and an empadronamiento from your local ayuntamiento.
    In theory empadronamientos are not allowed to be photocopied, but if you have a modern colour scanner/copier/printer then no-one can tell the difference.
    Alternatively when your ayuntamiento produces this for you tell them that you need 6 copies for various registration processes and hope that they are obliging so you don’t have to keep going back for more.
    Take a similar number of copies of your NIE and your passport, and if you assume that at every step that follows someone will take one copy of each document you won’t be far wrong.
    The registration processes for this are covered in the taxes and laws section of this website.

  • Get left hand drive headlights

    When driving a UK car in Spain you should use headlight beam deflectors. When registering a UK car in Spain, however, you need to actually change the headlights to continental (ie. left hand drive) ones.
    This does make sense because headlights are designed to light up the edge of the road on your kerb side and to not dazzle drivers on your road side, and stick on beam deflectors have a habit of coming off in the rain sooner or later.
    You can buy brand new headlights for your car or you can take the cheaper option of finding a scrapyard (desguace) that you can buy a replacement set of headlights from.
    Either way, these must be fitted and correctly adjusted before you go for your ITV.

  • Take an ITV test (MOT equivalent)

    Next up you need to get an ITV test for primera matriculation (which is a bit longer than the standard annual one).
    ITV centres are all government owned and run (unlike in the UK where private garages conduct MOTs) and this is a good thing as it removes the temptation to find small, expensive to fix faults.
    ITV centres are essentially highly efficient tunnels where you enter at one end in your car, try desperately to understand what the Spanish man shouting at you wants you to turn on or off or press, and emerge from the other end fifteen minutes or so later.
    If all is well then your ITV certificate should be ready in less than half an hour, unless the funccionario is very tired or it’s near lunchtime.
    A matriculation ITV costs 75€.
    ITV centre locations can be found on this webpage, where you can (and should) also book your test in advance (cita previa) …but note that for a first matriculation in Spain you need to make a special appointment specifically for this (which, at least in 2015, the time of writing, can’t be done online).

  • Pay your permiso de circulacion tax (road tax)

    The next step is to get your permiso de circulacion.
    This is normally paid for at your local ayuntamiento, but it can be the case that they are unable to process new instances of this meaning that you will have to go to the main office in the relevant city – the ayuntamiento can tell you where, or search for an office called “Recadacion Provincial” in your nearest big town or city. The cost of this varies according to your vehicle’s engine size and emissions, but is typically around 120€ per year, but lower for low emissions vehicles.

  • Get a certificate of import duty exemption

    Having done all of the above, the next step is to get an acknowledgement that you are exempt from import duty (assuming you are importing an EU registered car from another EU country and have owned the car for more than 6 months).
    This is done at the Agencia Tributaria using a form called Modelo 06.
    At this point you will come up against a particularly infuriating bit of bureaucracy which is the requirement for a form called a “Baja de Residencia”. This is a form that Spanish nationals have to get from their embassy when they take up residence in or leave any country, but it is neither an EU required form nor normal practice for EU countries to issue such a form.
    The UK, in particular, doesn’t issue such a form, and therefore when the Agencia Tributaria funccionario refuses to stamp your Modelo 06 without seeing this form you have a problem, and generally not one that explaining that the UK does not issue such a form will help solve.
    Nor does the UK embassy really help with this – after gently pointing out to Spain that many UK nationals were being asked for this form that doesn’t exist they clearly decided not to make an issue out of it and instead started producing the form on request …for a fee of 154€ plus you need to go to the nearest British embassy, which means Madrid or Bilbao. Yeah, thanks!
    So at this point I got creative and reasoned that Spanish officials have no idea what a British form that doesn’t exist looks like, phoned the local council where I was previously registered in the UK and got a letter confirming my removal from the register of electors emailed to me.
    For me this worked (without even having to get it translated) to get the Modelo 06 stamped. I’m sure a confirmation of leaving an address for council tax purposes would work equally well, although it may well be necessary to get an official translation of whatever letter you use.

  • Go to Trafico and get your matricula

    Finally, armed with a bulging folder full of all of the above (and remember to always take along spare photocopies of everything), you are now ready to go to your local Trafico office in the provincial capital (eg. A Coruna).
    As of 2014 some offices have started working using an appointments only system (cita previa), and so you should check this and make an appointment rather than just turn up and suffer a wasted journey.
    At Trafico (an unpleasant place full of angry, sweating people arguing about fines) you pay a fee of 93.80€ and fill in a solicitud de matriculacion form. There will then be blizzards and avalanches of paper as you scrabble around on the tiny windowsill to find the various papers required from your heap of documents and photocopies of documents.
    If all is well and the funccionario is not unhappy they take your papers and you either go home and wait for a couple of days before getting a phone call to say it’s ready for you to come and collect or, if you’re lucky, they might do the paperwork there and then, which takes around 20 minutes.

  • Get numberplates made and fitted

    Once you have your matriculation document, you need to get some new numberplates made up for your car.
    Many garages and car stuff shops make number plates, so this is quick and easy and normally costs around 25€ for the two plates ready to fix to your car.

  • Get Spanish insurance

    The final step is to cancel your old UK insurance and get new Spanish insurance for your car. These two English companies based in southern Spain offer good prices and service: Abbeygate and Ibex.